Sometimes it’s exactly the wrong time to knock on a door. You turn up with the best intentions, only to find yourself blundering into a fraught domestic scene, the inappropriately smiling representative of a system that’s catastrophically failed. Sometimes it works the other way, though. Sometimes you knock on a door at exactly the right time.
‘Oh my word! You’ve come to us like an angel!’ says Joyce, clapping her hands together, looking about as delighted as someone could be, just a welcome mat away from divine intervention. ‘I was just wondering what to do about Eric’s dressing. And the surgery was busy. And the emergency number they gave me didn’t work – and then you turn up! But that’s just wonderful!’
I float across the threshold, irradiating the hallway with a humble yet deeply affecting grace.
‘Oh Good God!’ says Eric from his riser-recliner. ‘Now what?’
Eric and Joyce are both in their eighties. Whilst Joyce is pretty healthy, all in all, Eric has a whole shopping list of what they call co-morbidities, the combined effect of which means that he can no longer hold a tea cup with any degree of safety so has to drink from a beaker, and has trouble catching his breath when he walks to the wet room and back, and suffers from an increased risk of falls. Still, they’ve made every adjustment and adaptation they can to keep Eric safely at home, and managed to stay positive despite it all.
As I re-dress Eric’s arm, he tells me about an operation he had recently.
‘It nearly finished me off,’ he says. ‘They’d sewn me up and were wheeling me back to the ward when they had to do a quick about turn and rush me back in. I said to them after, I said: you should put a little Velcro flap down there, so you can come and go a bit easier.’
‘Do you know South Park?’ says Joyce, over-looking from the side.
‘The cartoon? I used to watch it. Haven’t seen it in a while, though. Why?’
‘Our grandson brought round a box-set, and we watched a couple of episodes with him. And when he left it here I’m sorry to say we got a bit hooked…’
‘No shame there,’ I say. ‘South Park’s great.’
‘I like the theme tune,’ says Eric. ‘Goin’ down to South Park…d’ow, d’ow…’ playing an imaginary banjo and stamping his leg.
‘Just hold still one second longer, Eric.’
‘We got to be quite big fans of South Park,’ says Joyce. ‘Look.’
She opens a drawer behind her, takes out a handkerchief, and flaps it open so I can see. In the corner is a picture of Cartman.
‘What d’you think of that?’
‘It’s part of a set.’
She holds it up to the light a second, then folds it up again, flattening it between her hands, and carefully putting it back in the drawer.
‘One of the nurses on the ward gave it to me the day after Eric’s operation. When they wheeled him back in I said Oh my god! They killed Kenny! And she fell about laughing, and the next day she brought me in the hankies.’