I’ve been well-briefed about the situation.
‘Try very hard not to get drawn in,’ the social worker said. ‘Just go in, be reassuring but business-like. Do her obs, make her a cup of tea and something to eat, then so long as everything’s okay, leave. She’ll make out she’s dying and she’ll try to get you running around to the doctor’s and lord knows who else, but don’t fall for it. She does have capacity, even though you might not think so. Don’t worry. She’s on the radar. The plan is to get her in for some privately funded respite and therapy in the next few days. In the meantime, we’ll just keep her safe. Oh – and she’ll be wearing everything at once, her entire wardrobe, pretty much.’
He wasn’t kidding. Even though the flat is stiflingly hot, Marie is under a duvet and two throws, wearing a thermal one-piece, a pair of pyjamas, a jersey and a cable-knit cardigan.
‘Help me!’ she says. ‘Please!’
I manage to calm her down long enough to agree to come through to the lounge. I serve her tea, a sandwich and a little custard tart from a box she has in the fridge. It’s strange to see her eat with such quiet focus, methodically working her way round the pastry, from the serrated rim of it to the centre. Then she dabs up the crumbs with a wet finger, looks up, hands me the plate and says: ‘I’ve never felt so bad! Please – do something! Please! You won’t leave me like this before I’m better, will you?’
‘I’ll certainly make sure you’re okay,’ I say, feeling shifty.
She agrees to an exam. It takes five minutes just to free an arm for the cuff.
‘You make me feel hot,’ I say.
‘Well I’m cold.’
‘I can see.’
Incredibly, all her obs are completely fine. Even her heart rate is normal, despite her heightened state.
‘What are your symptoms, Marie?’ I ask her, packing the kit away, struggling to maintain my poise in the oppressive, orchid-house atmosphere. ‘What’s the worst thing?’
‘My back,’ she says. ‘It’s never been so bad. Please!’
‘What about your back? Is it painful?’
‘No! It’s cold. It’s cold!’
And unable to bear it any longer, she stands up, pulls the outer dressing-gown cord so tight she looks like a gigantic cottage loaf, asks me to bring her more tea, and takes herself off to bed.