I don’t remember ever seeing these gas holders full. The cylinders are permanently down, just the bare structure standing. A fancy roost for starlings come evening, or today – the anchor for a long piece of ragged plastic sheeting that’s become snagged on a support and trails out in the wind, rustling and snapping overhead.
Jean lives in a tidy little terraced house just the other side of the road. Her neighbour Jerry lets me in. He’s a stocky, purposeful man in jeans and a low-slung tool-belt, his Reactolite glasses as yellowed as his moustache. He looks like a DIY sheriff, taking care of business.
‘She’s resting in the front room,’ he says, centering his glasses with one finger (and I’m sure if he’d have been wearing a hat, he’d have tipped that, too). ‘If you want me I’ll be in the kitchen.’
He saunters away.
Jean is sitting propped up on cushions in a chair by the window. When she smiles, the corners of her mouth push out deeply incised lines in her cheeks, and her eyes glitter in their sockets.
‘Sorry I’m a fright,’ she says. ‘I just feel all used up, you know? I don’t have the energy for anything.’
She tells me the story – how she’d gradually become unwell a few months ago, how she’d lost her sense of taste, gone off her food, and the weight had simply fallen off. The tests the doctor ordered hadn’t shown anything. There was no explanation for it. They’d tried a few things, but none of them worked. They were all scratching their heads. Meanwhile, she wasn’t getting any better.
I explain why she’s been referred to us, what we can do to help, the equipment, the care calls, the monitoring of her basic obs whilst the doctors come up with a plan.
‘It means another blood sample, I’m afraid,’ I say, unzipping my rucksack.
‘Be my guest. If you can find any.’
Jerry comes in and stands in the doorway, wiping his hands on a dirty t-towel.
‘All right?’ he says.
‘I don’t know, Jerry,’ she sighs. ‘Maybe I need a new set of batteries.’
‘Yeah? Well – I’m happy to fit them if you show me where they go.’