Ella’s son John is furious. Not with us, he says, every now and again, like a cartoon bull kicking and raging around the ring, stamping his hooves, blowing smoke through his nose and ears – then stopping in a cloud of dust to bow to the rodeo clown.
‘Look at her! They may as well have fly-tipped her by the side of the fackin’ road. Like a fackin’ fridge or some’ink.’
‘I know it’s stressful, John, but just try to ease it back a little if you can…’
‘I’m not ‘avin a go at you, mate,’ he says. ‘It’s the fackin’ hospital. And the ambulance. I mean – what was they thinkin’? We’re back to square one. This is exactly the fackin’ situation she was in when she went in in the first place.’ He suddenly seems tangled up in all those ‘ins’ and stands there, breathing hard.
Even though John makes you want to take a step back, and maybe even pick up a cushion or something, I have to admit I can see his point. Ella is a bariatric, self-neglecting patient who’d been admitted after being stuck on the sofa for several days. And even though the flat has had a rudimentary ‘deep clean’ whilst she’s been away, it’s still pretty awful, and here she is, back on the same sofa. The two ambulance crews must have sweated and struggled hauling her in their carry chair up that crooked flight of stairs. And I suppose gravity and the relative height of the chair to the sofa must have worked sufficiently in their favour to make the transfer. But since we’ve been on scene to do the initial assessment and see what Ella needs in the way of therapy, nursing and care support, she hasn’t been able to get up, even with the most enthusiastic, hands-on encouragement. To all intents and purposes, John is right. She’s landed back where she started. If Ella can’t get up from the sofa we’ll simply have to send her in again, as a failed discharge.
It’s a difficult situation, made worse by the fact it’s already six o’clock in the evening. If we call for an ambulance they’ll mark her as low priority. We could be here till midnight.
‘Well I can’t stay,’ says John, reading my mind. ‘I’ve got my own family. I’ve got work in the morning. I’m fackin’ Hank Marvin’ and there’s fack all in the fridge. I mean – where’s the thinkin’? Where’s the planning? Hey? It’s fackin’ pathetic. I told ‘em this’d happen. I told ‘em exactly what’d happen. And what happens? This! This happens! Fackin’ unbelievable.’
I’m here with Drishti, the physio. I know how busy she’s been today, and lately. How much it would mean to her today to finish work on time and get home to her family.
‘There’s no point in us both staying,’ I say to her. Drishti is so essentially kind, though, she won’t have it.
‘No, no,’ she says. ‘Let us remain together and see what we can do. It’s never too late for a miracle.’
The thing I need to do with the most urgency now is redress Ella’s leg. She has varicose eczema. At some point she’s pushed the dressings down and been working away at the scabs. From time to time she reaches down, absent-mindedly pulls off another bloody scrap, and puts it in her mouth. It’s difficult to keep an eye on her to stop her doing it, especially with John ranting around the place.
‘Please don’t do that!’ says Drishti, gently guiding her hand back down and wiping it with a tissue. ‘It’s really not a good thing to do,’ she says.
I clean the leg with saline and re-dress it whilst Drishti calls for an ambulance.
‘Four hours minimum’ she says with a sigh, hanging up. ‘They say it is a busy night. When is it NOT a busy night?’
‘I don’t suppose you’d be able to stay with your mum…?’ I say to John.
‘What? You’re havin’ a laugh, mate? Four hours? I’ve been ‘ere too fackin’ long already. I’ve got my own fackin’ life, y’know?’
‘Has you got anyone else? Any siblings?’
‘I’ve got my sisters, but they’ve washed their hands. They don’t want to know.’
‘What about friends? Neighbours?’
‘There’s no-one. That’s what I told ‘em! She hasn’t been out o’ the flat in seven years! I fackin’ told ‘em all this! I can’t stay, mate. I gotta get up early.’
‘Okay,’ says Drishti. ‘That’s fine. You can go.’
And it’s only when he turns to hurry out of the door that she gives me a steady, sorrowful look.
I call the office to let them know what’s going on and to see if they have any brilliant ideas.
Lawrence is co-ordinating.
‘Ah!’ he says. ‘Oh dear. Erm….Well! Yes. I see the problem.’
If I’d written a film script set in the eleventh century, and there was a scene where a troupe of marauding knights were riding towards a monastery, and the monks were frantically running around, and one of them, a particularly tall and ascetic looking monk, was desperately loading up a cart with armfuls of ancient books and scrolls and things, tripping over his habit, cursing mildly, and then the ass gave a jolt and a wheel fell off, splashing the monk head to sandals in mud, just as the knights came clattering into the yard, swinging their swords, and the monk turned to deliver his line straight to camera: ‘Well. Isn’t that just bloomin’ typical!’ – I’d be sure to cast Lawrence as that monk.
(He already has the haircut).
‘Oh dear!’ he says. ‘Damn and double-damn. Okay. Right. Well. I suppose I could relieve you when the office closes. If you like? I live nearby, so it wouldn’t be so bad for me…’
‘That’s kind of you, Lawrence,’ I say. ‘Maybe it won’t come to that.’
I tell him we’ll keep in touch, and ring off.
We settle in – as best we can, given the environment.
Ella says she’d like to watch some TV. We give her the remote and she flicks through the channels, eventually landing on a reality show about a couple looking to buy a house. They’re standing on a terrace overlooking a fiercely blue harbour dotted with yachts.
‘You won’t see that in Bradford,’ the presenter says.
The couple smile but they look uneasy, shielding their eyes from either the sun or the presenter, it’s hard to tell. I suppose the idea is they could live anywhere. Maybe the next place they show them will be underwater or something.
‘That looks nice’ says Drishti. ‘Hot, you know?’
Suddenly a mobile phone rings somewhere. Drishti locates it in Ella’s hospital bag. She hands it to her.
‘Hello…?’ says Ella, still watching the TV. ‘Yeah. About an hour ago…’
I raise my eyebrows.
‘Ella?’ I say. ‘Sorry to interrupt. Would you mind if I had a quick word with them?’
‘It’s the nurse’ she says into the phone. ‘Okay. Jes’ a minute…’ She hands me the phone, then leans to the side to carry on watching the TV.
The caller is a woman called Stella. She works for a befriending service. Apparently Stella had been expecting Ella home and was planning to come round to see she had everything she needed and so on. I explain the situation, and ask if Stella might be able to stay a little longer until the ambulance arrived.
‘Medically she’s okay,’ I say. ‘It’s just she needs someone to keep an eye on her.’
‘That’s fine’ says Stella. ‘No problem. I’ll be straight round.’
‘Thank you so much,’ I say, then hand the phone back to Ella.
‘Who was that?’ says Drishti.
‘That was your miracle!’
I go to the window, draw the net curtains aside, and look out at the night sky, fully expecting to see a star detach itself, glide gently and magnificently down to earth, hop pointedly across the lawn, and ring the bell.