Mrs Nelson sits on the edge of the bed.
‘What’s happening to me? Can someone please explain?’
She looks over my shoulder, like there’s a crowd of people waiting to speak and not just me.
‘I think you’ve got a urine infection,’ I tell her. ‘That’s why you feel so out of sorts, and it’s probably why you fell yesterday. But it’s perfectly treatable, so don’t worry.’
‘Oh dear! I don’t want to be a bother…’
Truth is, though, the UTI is just the latest episode in a six-month decline.
Mrs Nelson’s next door neighbour, Tom, put me in the picture:
She hasn’t got any family to speak of, so I’ve been helping out where I can. It’s been fine up till now. I mean, she’s normally pretty independent, going out, doing her own shopping and so on. Now? Oh my Goodness! She’s a different woman. She barely leaves the bedroom, let alone the house. She’s had these falls, you see, and they haven’t helped. And then there’s the phone calls. She’s been on the phone to me day and night, terribly confused and anxious. I don’t mind helping, but there’s a limit to everything and I’m sorry to say I’m almost there. It can’t go on like this. I’ve tried talking to her about the possibility of some residential care, but she won’t hear of it. I mean – all her memories are here, of course. Sixty years is a long time! But one way or another something’s got to give and I’m afraid it’s going to be me. I’m in my seventies, you know! Enough’s enough. She’s just not safe.
I make her some tea and biscuits, and then carry out the examination. She turns out to be physically in good shape, despite the infection, and despite the trauma of the falls. A short course of antibiotics should take care of that side of things, but there are other, more resistant questions to be addressed.
‘What did you used to do for a living before you retired?’ I ask her, taking the blood pressure cuff off her arm and looping the steth round my neck.
‘I managed a bank,’ she says, suddenly seeming much more collected, her hands in her lap, her thumbs moving circles round each other whilst she sights me along her nose. ‘I sorted out people’s money problems.’
‘I bet you did!’
The expression holds for a good while, but unlaces as irresistibly as her hands, so that by the time she’s reaching up to gather the collar of her dressing gown more tightly about her neck, she’s casting round the room again in alarm.
‘What’s happening to me?’ she says.