The last time I saw Beryl she was having an asthma attack and I had to call for an ambulance.
It had all been going so well up till then – so well, in fact, the next step was to discharge her from our service back to the GP. She’d come home from hospital earlier that week with an exacerbation of COPD, a chest infection that had made her asthma worse. She’d improved on antibiotics and steroids, and the hospital were happy to let her go home, provided we kept an eye on things over the next few days. I’d just been signing off the paperwork when Beryl had started coughing, and couldn’t stop, and her inhalers didn’t help, so the next step was to get a crew in with some oxygen and a neb. They were with us in good time, and after making sure they had everything they needed, and saying my goodbyes, I left them to it. The lead paramedic called me a couple of hours later to give me an update: Beryl had recovered nicely, all was well, they were handing back to us. The plan to discharge was shelved for a while. Her meds were reviewed. I was put down for a follow-up visit the next day.
Beryl’s in good spirits. She’s sitting in her favourite armchair, reading the paper and having tea, a teddy bear dressed as a gondolier or something, staring at her lovingly from the sofa opposite. I shift it to one side to make room for the folder.
‘So! Beryl. That was all very dramatic last time. I’m supposed to make you better, not worse!’
She laughs, coughs a little, takes a sip of tea.
‘I mustn’t make you laugh. Remember what happened last time?’
She laughs again.
‘No! Stop that!’
Another sip of tea.
‘How did you get on with the paramedics?’
‘Fine,’ she says, putting the cup down. ‘They were very good. That nebuliser did the trick.’
Her voice is croaky from her illness, and oscillates in a curious way, a symptom of the stroke she suffered a few years back.
‘I wasn’t too keen on the young paramedic, though.’
‘D’you know what he said to me? He said did I suffer from anxiety? I said Yes, when I can’t breathe.’
‘I think he means those anxiety attacks that affect your breathing, you know, the hyperventilation thing. It’s a silly thing to say, though. I mean, if there was a wolf walking down the hall towards me, I think I’d be anxious. But that doesn’t make me an anxious person. That’s a sensible reaction to a wolf in the hall.’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Speaking of which…’
She hands me the newspaper, folded over to an article on a gorilla that escaped from London Zoo the other day.
‘What do you think of that?’
‘Amazing,’ I say. ‘Reminds me of Dad.’
She laughs, coughs, reaches for her tea.
‘Poor thing,’ she says, eventually taking the paper back again and staring down at the beast. ‘Seems a shame to keep him locked up like that, but then again, so many are killed in the wild.’
‘How did he get out? Did he steal a uniform or something?’
‘I think he broke through some glass or other.’
‘Did you hear about that child that fell in the gorilla enclosure? Not here. Canada or somewhere?’
‘I think I do remember that.’
‘And they had to shoot the gorilla. Which was a terrible shame, but I can understand it. You couldn’t trust a gorilla with a crying child. I know what it’s like, when the grandchildren are round. Isn’t that right, Giuseppe?’
She looks at the bear.
I plump his pillow and straighten his hat.
When I’m all done I say goodbye and go over to shake Beryl’s hand.
‘Take care. And try not to worry about the gorillas.’
‘Promise,’ she says, ‘if you promise not to worry about the wolves.’