It’s a complex family situation – as they often are – but the long and the short of it is, Jimmy’s been sent home to die.
Although the end has come quickly, it’s not entirely unexpected. Jimmy has had an alcohol problem for a good many years, as punishing to his family life as his liver. Nothing helped, not counselling, drug and alcohol rehab, surgical corrections, medication – it all turned out to be a grave but ineffectual chorus singing downstage of the tragedy.
At least Jimmy still has people around him, though. In fact, the house is pretty full. There’s his brother, Tom, Tom’s wife Stella, Jimmy’s stepson Al and Al’s little boy, Kevin. Kevin is about three years old I’d guess, a cheeky, tow-haired kid in a dinosaur T and red shorts, loving the drama of all these people, showing off by diving onto the sofa, smashing his toy trucks together, sneaking up behind you, touching you on the shoulder and then running away screaming, bending over for no apparent reason and looking at you from upside down.
‘Kevin? Why don’t you settle down on the sofa and watch the Formula One?’ says Al, although I’d guess that’s really what he wants to do.
‘No!’ says Kevin, diving under the table.
‘Don’t worry, Al. I don’t mind,’ I say.
Al shrugs, and carries on unpacking the shopping.
It’s the first time I’ve met the family. Truth is, I’d been blindsided by the whole situation. I thought it’d be an easy call, dropping off equipment and doing some obs on a patient before returning to the hospital to take care of all the referrals that’d piled up that day. When I got there I’d found a patient who was actively dying, and insufficient preparation made for any of it. I couldn’t figure out how it could’ve happened like this. After I’d made Jimmy as comfortable as I could, cutting off his hospital gown with my shears to avoid disturbing him too much, giving him a stripwash on the bed and so on, all helped by Tom and Stella, I’d spoken to the office to confirm we were putting in double-up care that evening, then called Jimmy’s GP, who was as confused and disturbed as I was. She’d promised to get clarification from the hospital, and said she’d call straight back.
‘You’ve been so helpful,’ I say to Stella and Tom as they sit down with me at the table with some tea. ‘I’m sorry it’s been stressful and messed up.’
‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘These things happen. At least he’s not in pain.’
Tom puts his hand on Stella’s shoulder; she gives him a brave smile, then wraps both her hands round the mug of tea, to feel the warmth of it.
‘Our son Billy died this year,’ she says. ‘I suppose I’m getting used to it.’
‘I’m so sorry to hear that.’
‘I was with him at the end. He was struggling, so I put my arms round him to help him sit up. He was trying to say something, but he couldn’t get it out, and I couldn’t understand what it was. So I held him like that, and I said I loved him, and then he fell back, and that was that. And that was the start of the year.’
‘I’m just going to sit with Dad for a while,’ says Al, heading towards the stairs.
‘Okay then’ says Tom. ‘Good lad.’
‘Now you be good’ says Al to Kevin.
‘Look at my trucks!’ yells Kevin, bouncing up and down on the sofa, smashing the trucks together, head to head. Peeyow! Pow! Kapooooof!