‘Are you from the hospital?’
‘Yes! My name’s Jim. With the Rapid Response Team.’
‘Not quite so rapid, then, are we? What’s poor Lenny supposed to do? Curl up and die?’
Lenny’s neighbour, Barry, is obviously, worryingly furious, his face the size and colour of a boiled ham.
‘Erm, yes, well, erm,’ he says.
It’s not an auspicious start. I was banking on Lenny being a quick in-and-out. Half an hour tops, then back to the hospital to catch up on admin. We’d had so many referrals with significant care needs it was all-hands to the pumps – (hoists, actually). Ever since I’d got in at quarter to eight I’d been frantically busy, double-up calls from one end of town to the other. When you’re in a rush to get out first thing in the morning, there’s a tendency not to get the full story behind each referral. I was regretting that now.
Two cleaners from a specialist company are working round us, doing their best to bring some semblance of order and hygiene to what is obviously the flat of a serious, long-term hoarder. Half a dozen old TV sets have been excavated from a corner of the room. One of the cleaners, a startlingly tall, wild-looking kid in a death metal t-shirt, gestures to them proudly and smiles with a rack of teeth that might be better employed in a wrecking yard: My children! he says.
‘I can’t be doing with this anymore,’ says Barry, snatching up his keys and phone. ‘I’m not a well man myself.’
‘Let me just have a quick look at the notes…’
Lenny has had a recent diagnosis of cancer. Admitted to hospital recently but self-discharged and non-compliant since. Known to the palliative hub. Referred to us by the GP as a last resort. He needs so much it’s difficult to know where to start. Equipment of every description. Physiotherapy, nursing support. Carers for toileting, personal care, medication – none of which he seems to want. He’s been deemed to have capacity, though, which makes it all worse. One of the most difficult things to understand – for clinicians as much as friends and family – is that sometimes someone can choose a course of action that’s not in their best interest. Sectioning isn’t always appropriate. People are just difficult, sometimes. It’s complicated.
Meanwhile, the cleaners have made incredible progress. Lenny had already said he didn’t want the televisions throwing out, so they’d cleared out a deep closet to put them in. The kid in the t-shirt has just managed to stack the last set in there. He stands proudly beside them all, smacking the dust from his hands.
‘Behold!’ he says. ‘The TV room!’