watertight

Glenda’s smile is so utilitarian I imagine she keeps it on a hook by the door.
‘Thank you so much for coming,’ she says – then waits in the hall for me to enter.
‘Shall I take my shoes off?’
‘Not many of your colleagues do.’
‘It’s what I do at home,’ I say. ‘It feels weird otherwise’
She watches as I slip them off and line them up with the others.
‘Easy on, easy off!’ I say, although the faux-Cockney falls flat.
Glenda watches me, one hand hooked over the other, a self-conscious and mechanical kind of coupling, like a robot that hasn’t had the soft skills upgrade.
‘What people don’t realise is the toxins they’re tracking through the house if they don’t take them off,’ she says.
‘No. Exactly. And anyway – I like the feel of a wooden floor under my socks. So…’
I wait for her to lead me through to her mother, the patient I’ve come to see, but Glenda stands absolutely still.
‘Take tarmac, for instance. They seal it with a cocktail of chemicals that are severely detrimental to one’s health. The sun comes out, the sealant becomes tacky, it adheres to the underside of the shoe, and you walk it in. Tests have shown the average household dust carries concentrations of harmful toxins such as PAH, which is implicated in respiratory and other illnesses.’
‘I bet.’
‘And then there are the bacteria, of course. E coli. C. diff. Klebsiella’
‘Yes.’
‘Not to mention all the debris and dirt you’d expect to find in the street and the garden.’
‘So – are you a microbiologist or something?’
She flinches.
‘No! I’m a lawyer’
‘Oh.’
I shoulder my bag in a resolute way that’s supposed to indicate I’m ready to move on.
‘You do understand the situation here,’ she says, after a significant pause.
‘Well – I think I do. The basics.’
‘Perhaps I’d better explain,’ she says. I adjust the weight of the bag on my shoulder.
‘My mother is ninety years old, a fully independent person who lives without assistance in a small village in Somerset called Duckton. She was on a visit to us when she became ill with a urinary tract infection, and suffered a minor injury fall, and was taken to hospital, where she spent three days. The hospital deemed her to be medically ready for discharge, on the understanding was that she should have one month of community rehabilitation, with therapy and nursing support, and care three times a day. Which is where you come in.’
‘Okay.’
‘There have been a number of medication changes effected at the hospital, and these have all been ratified by my own GP, who has taken temporary care of my mother whilst she is away from home.’
‘Great.’
‘Now. What I need from you – other than a medical review this morning – is to provide a report detailing all therapeutic programmes undertaken by your department, nursing interventions and so on, and for these to be communicated to my mother’s health authority in Somerset. I want assurances that all possible measures will be taken to maintain her safety when she returns home, provision of all necessary equipments and so on, and continuing care support from agencies in that county. Is that something you can help us with?’
Glenda talks in such a relentlessly steady way that it’s something of a lurch when she stops, like coming down a long flight of stairs and unexpectedly putting your foot down flat.
‘Well…erm… that’s not usually how it works.’
‘Explain to me how it usually works.’
I blush, and cast around for a friendly face. All I can find is a vast, frowning, butterscotch cat staring at me from the cushion of a Windsor chair. It looks so severe I wouldn’t be surprised to see it reach up and place a square of black cotton between its ears.
‘The thing is – Glenda,‘ I say, swallowing drily. ‘We’re an acute team. We get referrals from the doctor, the ambulance or the hospital, and we go in, and we make sure everything’s okay. Nursing, therapy, care or what have you. And when we’re done we refer back to the GP. Or make other referrals for chronic, longer-term needs, to the district nurses and others. And that’s about it.’
She sighs, once, heavily, as if she’d asked for architectural plans and been given sugar paper with a crayon sketch of a house.
‘It’s a question of resources,’ I say, helplessly. ‘A real world thing. We struggle to look after the people who live here, let alone the other side of the country.’
‘As I explained to you,’ she says at last. ‘I’m a lawyer. Now. A piece of paper with a signature on it constitutes a contract. And your service has contracted to provide us with one month of therapeutic, nursing and auxiliary care needs, prior to repatriation.’
‘Has it?’
‘Are you telling me this is not actually the case?’
I pick my bag up.
‘Glenda,’ I say.
She gives a small nod of her head, activating another, thinner smile.
‘I’ve come here this morning to see your mother. To see how she is, do her blood pressure and so on. I have an awful lot of other patients to see today, so I haven’t really got time to talk about the finer points of these things, much as I’d like to. So do you mind if we…?’
The smile flicks off again.
‘For example. If I was buying a boat,’ she says.
‘A boat?’
‘Yes. A boat. There are certain rules pertaining to the transaction that would need to be adhered to in order for that transaction to be properly concluded, to be watertight.’
An anguished voice calls out from the front room.
‘Who’s that at the door, Glenda? Is it the nurse?’
‘Coming!’ I say, shrugging, and holding up my hands. ‘Just losing the shoes…’

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