‘That’s got to be one of the worst discharges I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. I mean – for heaven’s sake! It was tantamount to fly-tipping!’
Rosie is smiling like she always does – an easy, enfolding, wise-woman kind of smile that’s been tested for years in the community and is all the warmer for it – but I can tell even Rosie is shocked.
‘I mean – poor thing’s end stage COPD. Thin as a rake. Can’t stand on her own – certainly not safely. I wouldn’t send her home with a live-in carer, but she’s still only got people going in twice a day. When I went in she wasn’t wearing her nasal specs, so her SATS were non-existent. She was in a right state.’
‘So what did you do?’
‘I sent her straight back in! I know they’re short of beds, but that was ridiculous.’
It’s early evening. The rapid response office is cooler and calmer. The change from the morning is astonishing. Then, every desk space was occupied, the kitchen crowded with people making drinks, people walking backwards and forwards, stopping for urgent briefings, catching-up, gossiping, serious conversations, hilarious conversations, secretive conversations, the whole thing layering and building and rising with the press of the day’s business until it reaches a peak and all you hear is a great massy buzz, the murmuration of a large community health team getting ready to fly out over the city. Now, at the end of the day, the last of us are coming back, handing over, doing admin. It’s quiet. There’s plenty of space. I love it.
‘And that’s not all,’ says Rosie, sitting on the edge of the desk and reaching into her pocket. ‘I brought back a friend…’
She pulls out a clear plastic specimen tube, about as big as your thumb, with a screw-top lid. She holds it in front of her and gives it a little shake. Inside is a bed bug. It’s on its back wiggling its legs in the air, but she taps the tube helpfully, it rights itself, and begins pacing up and down the tube, exploring the confines of its prison.
‘The place was riddled,’ she says. ‘They were supposed to have fumigated it but it obviously didn’t work. You’d think they’d have checked. These things are indestructible.’
She waggles the tube again; the bed bug tenses.
‘I heard they’re a really ancient life form. They were being a pain when the dinosaurs were around. Although they probably weren’t called bed bugs then.’
‘No? Probably Tyrannosaurus Rex bugs.’
‘Jurassic pain in the arse bugs.’
One of the admin workers at the far end of the office has the radio on quietly, which is always a nice touch this time of day. It starts to play the famous intro to that Frank Sinatra song, New York, New York.
Rosie gives the tube another shake and holds it up to her face to have a close look.
‘They’re quite cute, in a horrible kind of way,’ she says. ‘I suppose we’ve all got our roles in life. You have to respect that.’
‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘Oh – I thought I’d probably put him down the toilet. Burial at sea. Poor thing. I’ve got enough pets, though.’
She smiles, and starts singing along with Frank.
‘I’ll make a brand new start of it, New Yoooork, New Yoooork…’
She slips the tube back in her pocket and jumps off the desk.
‘But that’s the way of the world, I guess. Somebody singing New York, New York; somebody getting flushed.’