the other side of the hedge

When The Old Farmhouse was just The Farmhouse, when all the flints were freshly set in the walls, and the roof was still thatch, the busy main road just the other side of the hedge was probably just a track. Now, it would be impossible to find the place if Megan’s Great-Grandaughter Clarissa hadn’t come out to wave.
But once you’re through the gap in the hedge, the ground widens out nicely, the old house on one side of the lane, and dilapidated outbuildings scattered about in the undergrowth. Beyond the trees at the back you can just glimpse a tidier, more current world, with horseboxes and freshly-painted sheds; here, everything is slowly being subsumed by nature, the incoming tide of green that was kept back for years reasserting itself now, in its own order, and shape.
‘She should never have been discharged,’ says Clarissa, talking and checking her phone at the same time. She leads me up the steps that probably once doubled as a mounting-block, into the tiny house. Bare-boards. A dresser covered with ancient crockery, pictures, mementoes. An ancient radio that if you turned on would probably give you news about the war. Through to the back room, where Megan is lying in bed, asleep.
‘If only they’d kept her in a couple of days longer till Daddy got back,’ says Clarissa. ‘I just don’t think she’s ready for this.’
On the face of it, I’d have to agree. Megan’s been referred to our team for all the usual things, the health checks, equipment provision, intermediate care package and so on – but as she is now there’s nothing in the house to support her. It’s going to take a lot of intensive work to keep her safe, and this at a time of huge demand on the service. I can understand why Clarissa feels overwhelmed; I’m used to the scenario, and still I have to take a breath.
‘One step at a time,’ I say. ‘First thing I’ll do is check to see Megan’s okay in herself.’
‘I just started a new job,’ says Clarissa, helplessly. ‘It wouldn’t look good if I asked for some time off.’
‘Don’t worry. If you have to go, you have to go.’
‘I’ll stay a bit longer.’
She’s remarkably assured, given the stress of it all, but if she wasn’t wearing a leather jacket and clutching a phone, it feels as if she’d fly apart in a shower of sparks.
Megan’s observations aren’t great. Although for a frail old woman in her nineties who survived a fall, a long period on the floor, an acute MI, chest infection and three weeks in hospital, she’s remarkably cussed.
‘What are you doing?’ she snaps, grabbing the duvet back. ‘Leave me alone!’
An OT arrives to help. Between us we make what improvements we can, organising the care plan, liaising with the GP, investigating the possibility of a night sitter, tracking down the DNACPR and so on. It remains to be seen over the next few days whether a programme of rehabilitation is feasible, or whether this is more end of life care. Based on her condition, I would have said the latter, although it’s possible she’ll pick up when the trauma of the discharge home has passed. It’s hard to say. Once she’s rested, I’m sure Megan will be able to put her view across.
‘She was always one of those mad old women, even when she was younger,’ says Clarissa. ‘You know – the kind that shakes their stick for no apparent reason.’ She checks her phone again, and then finally puts it away. ‘She’s been great, though. I hate to see her like this.’

I walk with Clarissa to the door. The sun is so bright it takes a moment to adjust. After the muted gloom of the interior, everything is sharp, too intensely green.
‘She was born here, you know,’ she says. ‘Lived here all her life. Imagine that.’
We both look around. I can see Megan pulling on her boots to play with the dog in the snow, or dashing out in the early sunshine to feed the chickens, or any of the hundreds of chores she’d have had on the farm. Now it’s pretty quiet, nothing much happening, just Megan asleep in the back room, her breathing harsh and quick, the traffic endlessly rushing backwards and forwards on the busy main road a thousand miles away just the other side of the hedge.


2 thoughts on “the other side of the hedge

  1. Touching. There is no such thing as old people, everybody has a different life story. Megan reminds me of my granny who died just short of her 103rd birthday.


  2. Absolutely!
    I think it’s definitely one of the privileges of the job to see the patients in the context of their home & family. It’s unusual to come across someone who’s lived in the same place so long; the perspective on time & mortality can be quite dizzying!


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