I can’t ignore the foot.
I’ve blundered into this situation like the most naïve of fools – Hello sky! Hello trees! Hello sheltered accommodation warden! – and now here I am, mesmerised by that foot, struggling to think how to make things better, how to get away in one piece.
‘None of you care what happens to my mother. You just want her off your hands as quickly as possible.’
Thump, thump, thump goes the foot.
It’s like Thumper from Bambi. If Thumper had grown two metres, aged forty years, put on a cable-knit sweater, hadn’t shaved for a week.
‘I’m putting in a formal complaint. I’m making this a safeguarding issue. I think it’s an absolute disgrace. A family friend is a nurse and she agrees with me. This should never have happened.’
Thump, thump, thump.
I do what I always do in these situations, which is to adopt a more aerodynamic profile. I make sure I’m sitting in an attentive but neutral position (but not too obviously); I maintain eye contact (but not too much); I listen to his concerns and then repeat them back to him in a way that shows I’ve listened and understood what he’s said (but not too glibly). I’m amazed he doesn’t laugh out loud, it’s all so obvious, a TedTalk on Dealing with Difficult Customers. But it seems to work. The foot taps a little less aggressively, and settles into a vestigial twitch.
This unexpectedly hostile reception isn’t my only difficulty. There’s also a strange disparity between the son’s anger and his mother’s situation. If you had told me to study the son’s fury in close-up and then guess the scene that inspired it, I would have said that his mother must have been fly-tipped by the side of the road at midnight. But here she is, sitting very comfortably, thank you, on a sofa with everything to hand, in a beautifully warm and well-kempt flat, carers arranged for the morning, food in the fridge, a personal alarm, and family that lives locally. And whilst it’s true she suffers from dementia, it hasn’t progressed to a disabling loss of cognitive function, more of a mild, essentially benign dissociation with the present.
Careful not to apportion blame or make promises I can’t keep, I tell him I’ll look into the circumstances of the discharge, and in the meantime, offer some things that we as a service can do to help right now. He breathes heavily through his nose as I lay out my wares: a toilet aid, a perching stool, a walking stick.
Thump goes the foot.
A review of the longer-term issues of care support.
‘Why wasn’t this all taken care of before my mother was discharged? She struggled to get out of bed this morning and wet herself.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
I’m also tempted to ask why he wasn’t able to be at home with his mum when she came home, to make sure everything was okay in the short term. I don’t, of course. Rule number whatever: don’t get drawn into an argument. And anyway, it’s essentially a monologue with some gaps for comment, certainly not a conversation. The practicalities are almost secondary. For now – and for whatever reason – he simply needs to vent his frustration, and if I can’t for the moment see what’s really behind it all, at least I can acknowledge it, however uncomfortable it makes me feel.
‘Okay. Well. Actually – the reason I’ve been sent round today is to do a simple medical screen,’ I tell them, slowly drawing out my folder of paperwork.
‘I need the loo,’ says his mother.
‘Okay. That’s handy! Because one of the things I need is a sample of urine!’
His mother stands up. I offer my arm. She threads her hand through the crook of it and we walk slowly out of the room together, bluebirds twittering and singing in a circle over our heads, all the woodland creatures, the owl, the family of field mice, the deer and the baby horse, all lining up to smile and nod as we process – all except Thumper, the old crosspatch, who folds his arms and scowls at us from the other side of the room.