I’ve been coordinating all day. Which isn’t a plea for special consideration, more just a recognition of a physical fact, like admitting the Atlantic is pretty big, or yes, on balance, it’s probably true, the Himalayas can be bumpy. I’ve been shackled to the galley of this desk, working the keyboard and the phones, from half past seven in the morning, with everyone breezing in bright and fresh and grabbing coffee, to seven in the evening, most of the crew gone, the dishwasher churning in the background, the motion sensitive lights starting to click off, and a radio playing Christmas songs on a loop in the background Twas Christmas Eve babe…in the drunk tank…. There are only a few of us left now, the stragglers, the no-hopers, the hangers-on, the lost. One of the latter, Will, is a new physio, struggling to finish his paperwork. I’ve helped him out with bits and pieces, but he still has a way to go. He keeps coming up to the desk, holding his laptop in the flat of his hands like he’s offering up a bird with a broken wing that he doesn’t think can be saved.
I’ve been wearing a mask all day, too, which doesn’t help. It’s like having your head under the duvet, which – after eleven hours of coordinating – is a dangerous state of affairs.
‘That last call took me way longer than I expected,’ says Will, approaching the desk with his laptop again.
‘It’s tricky, to begin with. There’s a lot to think about. You’ll get quicker.’
‘Yeah. Also….the family were quite challenging.’
‘Were they? In what way?’
‘Oh – he was alright. It was his wife. Mrs Tuttle. She was quite hostile. I don’t think she wanted me there.’
‘Let’s take a look…’
I call the patient’s records up.
‘Hmm. It says here the last time he was on our books, about six months ago, we had trouble getting access. Looks like she didn’t want anyone coming in the house. Concerns about Mr T. Social workers … dah, dah … yep, definitely sounds tricky. We’ll have to go carefully. I think you did an amazing job to get as far as you did, Will.’
‘Thanks,’ he says. ‘I took it slow. Which I had to do anyway. It’s just…’
‘You couldn’t call her, could you?’
‘Who? Mrs Tuttle. Of course! What for?’
‘Well – I had to get out of there pretty sharpish in the end, and I wasn’t sure she really understood about the way it works with the carers.’
‘I can explain it to her. No worries.’
‘Thanks. lt’s things like letting her know that they can’t ring before they turn up. Also that they’ll be respectful about waiting before entering the house. And the kind of things they’ll do when they go in.’
‘Absolutely. I can do that.’
‘Thanks!’ he says, looking relieved. ‘I don’t think I could face talking to her again.’
‘How bad could she be?’
He smiles at me, then slowly backs away.
I have to admit, helping Will like this feels good. It makes me feel like an old hand. I’ve visited so many patients now, in the ambulance and in the hospital avoidance team. I’ve seen it all, good and bad. I see myself as Will no doubt sees me – one of those helpful, easy-going, thoroughly competent colleagues who’ll always be there to pour oil on troubled waters. I sigh, lean back in the chair. Pick the phone up. Hang the mask off my ear like a marine. Check the number. Punch it out.
When the phone picks up I introduce myself.
‘Why are you ringing?’ says Mrs Tuttle. ‘The other man was only here five minutes ago.’
There’s a formidable clip to her voice that immediately registers. I feel like I’ve put to sea drunk in a swan-shaped pedalo and woken up five miles offshore. In the rain.
‘Yes. I know. That was Will. The Occupational Therapist.’
‘Oh! Well. He told me he was a Physiotherapist.’
‘Yes! You’re right! Sorry. That’s what I meant. Physiotherapist.’
I want to tell her that he’s only just started here and I was momentarily confused, but the words burn away just as surely and instantaneously as my sang froid.
‘It’s just like the hospital,’ she carries on. ‘They tell you one thing and do something completely different. They say my husband won’t be coming out for a week and then five minutes later I’m called by the ambulance to say he’s on his way. They promise the earth and give you nothing. And now you.’
‘Well. Yes. It must be frustrating.’
‘Frustrating?’ she says. ‘Would you mind waiting there a second?’
‘I’m just going to put on the recording device.’
‘There!’ she says. ‘Now. Start again please. Tell me your name, your job description, and the purpose of your call.’