‘Have you any idea how off-putting it is, staring at me through the hatch when I’m trying to have a conversation?’
I’m completely thrown by this. I thought I was just letting Stella know I was there. In fact, I thought I’d been pretty circumspect. I’d been on the verge of walking into her office, but I thought – no, she’s on the phone, I’ll do the decent thing and I’ll wait outside. And look through the hatch occasionally.
‘Sorry. I thought – you know…’
‘You thought you’d bully me off the phone so I’d see to whatever it is you want first.’
I can’t make out if she’s genuinely cross or not. She’s a formidable presence, chilly blue mascara and a hairstyle that looks like it’s held in place with a pop rivet in either ear. Still, I really need to speak to her about Gerry, so I figure the best way to proceed will be to smooth things over and apologise.
‘Sorry. You’re right. I’ve got into bad habits. It’s so busy back in the office, if someone’s on the phone too long we have to force them off using the power of our minds.’
I widen my eyes and raise my eyebrows. And then blush when she doesn’t react.
‘Anyway,’ I say, floundering. ‘I expect you know why I’m here.’
‘I can’t wait to find out.’
‘Ah! Gerry!’ she says, lacing her fingers and lowering her chin. ‘What are you going to do about him?’
I’d must admit I’d been expecting worse. The referral said he’d not been coping. A long history of alcohol abuse, drastically underweight, faeces on the carpet, non-compliant with meds – with everything, come to that. I’d seen cases like Gerry many times before, of course, and I’d made sure I had some plastic overshoes to slip on before I went through the door. In the event, it wasn’t too bad. It was true about him being underweight – he was a great, rotten-bearded, etiolated stick of a man, his old leather belt on ‘tourniquet’ setting, his teeth too big for his mouth.
‘Nah! Ah’ve always bin’ like it,’ he said, swiping the air, shaking my hand, sitting back down. ‘Always! The medics in the army, they all came round to have a look, a prod an’ a poke. We’ll soon have you fattened up, young man they said. Nothing ever worked. I could eat cake and chocolate all day every day and never look no wider than a sparrow’s chuff.’
He gets meals on wheels but hardly touches them. He still drinks, but not as much. ‘I gave up my wild ways twenty years ago. I only take what they call a maintenance dose, if you know what I mean?’
And as for the faeces on the floor – well, I noticed a scattering of tissues in the bedroom, and the bed sheets caught the light in a worrying way, but otherwise, I hardly needed the overshoes at all.
I ran some obs. Everything was fine. I asked him a few more questions and then headed back out to the fresh air and a chat with the Scheme Manager.
‘It’s a complete nightmare,’ says Stella. ‘He’s a nightmare. The only reason it’s as decent in there as it is, is because our cleaners blitzed the place trying to make it habitable. I mean – they fought their way in with shovels! I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve changed his bedding. You should’ve seen it – like something out of a farm. It’s not a mental health problem or any physical thing. He’s just idle, bone bloody idle. He’s got a toilet, with a frame around it. He’s got the equipment. He just doesn’t use any of it. And then there’s his friend, Babs. I say friend, but I don’t think he particularly wants her coming round, because he hides when she turns up. And when he doesn’t answer, she rings all the bells, and then calls the ambulance and says he’s on the floor. We’ve tried getting the police involved but nothing works. We had the fire brigade the other day because he put a lamp with a bare bulb on the sofa and forgot about it. I mean – we all like him. He’s actually quite a sweet guy. We couldn’t have put up with him as long as we have if we didn’t like him. It’s just we’re reaching the end of our ability to cope.’
‘It’s a difficult one, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure he’s got capacity.’
‘Oh he knows what he’s doing all right. It’s just not anything anyone else would do. And that’s fine, as far as it goes. Except he’s not living in a cave in the middle of the woods. He’s in sheltered housing. There are limits.’
She touches her fringe, in three places, like someone checking for weak spots.
‘I mean – he dragged his duvet into the wash room the other day. Full marks for trying. But it was covered in faeces! And what do you think the other residents had to say about that?’
‘They didn’t like it?’
‘Damn right they didn’t like it! They didn’t like it at all!’