Anna, the coordinator for the early shift, waves me over.
‘Jim? I’ve got a P2 for you, darlink. Nothing massively urgent but I think if you could go there this morning that would be wonderful. I’ve sent it through to you. See what you make of it. Let me know if you need anything else. Okay, darlink? Perfect. Okay? See you later.’
I’m about to ask her something but the phone starts ringing again. She pulls a face, holds up a finger, answers the phone – and immediately gets drawn into something complex. It’s early in the shift and she’s already quite red in the face. Some of that’s the office. The boilers here seem to have two settings: OFF for the summer, ON for the winter – ON being approximately The Surface Temperature of the Sun. It’s ironic that there are disposable cardboard thermometers pinned up around the place, the kind that we give out to our elderly and at risk patients. All of them are so far in the RED zone the caption advises calling 999. Nothing ever changes. We stew when we come back to the office to catch up on admin and stay out as long as we can.
I touch Anna on the shoulder, nod and smile as if to say don’t worry, I’ve got everything I need, and loosening my collar, head for the door.
A P2 faller is a patient who needs to be seen reasonably urgently but a little delay is probably fine. The ambulance made the referral. They had attended Mrs Davenport that morning for a non-injury fall, and identified a few things they thought we could help with.
She doesn’t answer the phone when I call, which is a little concerning, given the history. There’s a keysafe number on the referral. I decide to go over there on spec, just in case she’s on the floor again.
‘Hello? Mrs Davenport? It’s Jim, from the Rapid Response Team.’
I’m standing in a long, bare-boarded hallway that stretches ahead to a steep staircase, and past that, into a kitchen with the faintest spill of light.
‘Helloooo? Mrs Davenport? It’s Jim. From the hospital.’
I decide to go into the kitchen first.
The light is coming from a table lamp, set by a rubbed but comfy-looking armchair. There’s a bottle on the floor by one of the claw-foot legs, and a dirty tumbler on a table to the side. I’d guess from the look of the kitchen it’s the place Mrs Davenport spends most time. There’s a Roberts radio next to the tumbler, its aerial so bent she either fell on it or took a bite when the news was bad. Either way, it’s resolutely off.
‘Mrs Davenport? Hellooooo?’
The place has a hunkered-down feel. Stuff piled in the sink. Curtains drawn.
There’s a door at the back. I knock and open it. A toilet and washbasin, both the worse for wear.
I retrace my steps and begin opening the doors along the hallway. The first is the old sitting room, completely dark, nothing to suggest that anyone’s been in more recently than 1962. Opening the next door makes me jump, because there are coats hanging from a hook and they swing out a little. The next door is Mrs Davenport’s bedroom.
She’s lying in bed, completely covered by a quilt. All I can see – apart from the lump in the quilt – is a spread of lank grey hair on the pillow.
‘Mrs Davenport? Hello. Sorry to bother you. It’s Jim, from the Rapid Response Team.’
A clawed hand pushes the quilt from her face and she glares at me.
‘What do you want?’ she says. It’s like I’ve disturbed a wild creature, an owl or something.
‘I’m so sorry to wake you like this,’ I say. ‘I was asked to come and see you by the ambulance.’
‘The paramedics. They said they picked you up when you fell this morning.’
She blinks a few times.
‘I did not fall,’ she says. ‘I slipped.’
‘But you didn’t hurt yourself, so that’s a blessing.’
She blinks again. It’s like being photographed.
‘Why would I have hurt myself? I went to sit on the bed. I slipped gently to the floor. That’s it.’
‘But then you couldn’t get up.’
‘So I pushed my button. As I’ve been told to do. The paramedics came. They helped me up.’
She stares at me, a little more awake now.
‘Who did you say you were?’
I tell her, explaining as simply as I can what the Rapid Response Team is, and how we can help.
‘But I don’t want any help.’
‘That’s fine. We’ve only come round because the paramedics said so.’
‘Well – me. But there are other people on the team, as I say.’
‘I was asleep!’
‘And I’m so sorry to have disturbed you.’
‘I don’t understand why you’re here.’
I take a different tack.
‘Are you feeling unwell?’
‘No! Why would I?’
‘Are you in pain? Is there anything troubling you at the moment?’
She stares at me for a very long time, then hooks the quilt back even further so she can get a better look.
‘Yes,’ she says, eventually.