the long way down

Nora is asleep, lying on her side in bed, her legs crooked up, one hand to her cheek, the duvet gathered snug to her chin. She hardly looks real, more like an elderly doll, her silver hair stranding over her face, her features slack and doughy and scoured with lines, eyes scrunched shut.
‘Someone to see you, mum,’ says Helen, leaning over her. ‘Someone from the hospital.’
She opens her eyes and looks at me. I wave and smile. She stares for a few seconds, then closes her eyes and goes back to sleep.
Helen sighs and straightens up again. Helen is the one who should be in bed. She looks exhausted, hollowed out with stress, her hair standing out like frayed rope.
‘They’ve set the hospital bed up in the front room downstairs,’ she says. ‘D’you think you could help me get her on the commode? And then maybe we could get her dressed and take her down on the chair lift?’
‘Okay. I need to do some obs first, just to see how she is. And then we’ll have a look.’
After I’ve woken Nora up and made her comfortable, I work through the exam as gently as I can. All the readings are borderline  – nothing radically out, but still, the overall picture suggestive of an underlying problem. I take some blood to screen for the usual things, then help her sit up.
‘Just a minute!’ says Helen, anxiously searching under the bed for something whilst I support Nora.
‘Here!’ she says, fitting two ancient green slippers on her feet. ‘She’s got a phobia about floors.’
I look at Nora to see her reaction, but she sits on the edge of the bed as passively as before. Once the shoes are on we set about transferring her to the commode – a hazardous operation, as Nora barely takes her own weight at all, leaning back against our arms, anxiously paddling her feet.
‘I’m not sure taking her down on that stair-lift is going to work,’ I tell her, once Nora is safely on the commode.
‘But the bed’s downstairs,’ says Helen. ‘What else are we going to do?’
‘We can ask patient transport to come and carry her down.’
‘What in?’
‘They have special chairs.’
She gnaws her lip, looking at me with the expression of someone who disagrees but doesn’t feel able to voice it.
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘And they’ll do that, will they?’
‘Absolutely. It might take a few hours, and it might not even be today – depends how busy they are.’
‘I’ve managed it on my own before.’
‘I’m surprised. The thing is, you’ve really got to take care of your back. And it’s not all that safe for Nora, either.’
‘She’s not always like this. She gets better through the day.’
‘Even so. You said yourself her mobility has got worse lately.’
‘A lot worse.’
‘And you’ll sort it out, will you?’
‘Yep. Let’s get your mum back to bed, then I’ll give them a call.’
It’s as fraught as it was getting her onto the commode. She grabs and paddles and leans back, and it’s all I can do to stop us all from being rolled left and right in a heap on the bed.
‘There!’ I say, finally managing to position her on her side. Nora immediately resumes her original position, one hand to her cheek, legs drawn up, duvet snuggled close.slippers
‘I don’t know about the ambulance, says Helen, arching her back and pushing her fists into the small of it. ‘That wasn’t too bad. I reckon we could do it. Couldn’t we, mum? Hey? We could do it.’
But like a doll that closes its eyes as soon as it’s horizontal, Nora is already asleep.

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