The bell activates the dogs. I stand back from the door and listen to what sounds like a bear fighting a pack of wolves. If it is a bear, though, it has learned our city ways, how to curse and swear and slam a gate. A minute later and a paw materialises behind the frosty glass to flip off the latch.
The bear turns out to be Jon, a frazzled middle-aged man in a Motorhead t-shirt, his long, wild hair thinning at the top; the wolves a couple of miniature schnauzers who glare and rage at me from behind a baby gate.
‘Sorry about that!’ he says, pushing the hair back from his face. ‘Come on in! Just ignore them.’
I go past the growls through to a narrow front room where Jon’s wife, June is sitting in an armchair, dozing, her face propped on the flat of her hand. The room is dominated by a hospital bed that must have only landed there recently, everything else pushed to the side to make space, things piled quickly on top of each other.
‘It’s the nurse,’ says Jon, gently touching her shoulder.
She rouses blurrily as he helps her to sit up.
The moment I’ve finished saying hello and explaining why I’ve come, Jon throws himself into a long and frantic description of everything that’s happened recently. It’s a monologue that’s as traumatised as the room, big things mixed in with small, a jumble of information that’s hard to get straight. Jon scarcely seems to breathe as he talks, everything spilling out in a rush. The best I can do is nod and say Yes or Right or I see, letting him vent.
These are the closing hours of a fiercely hot day – the last of a run of hot days. Outside the sky is thickening with storm clouds, the air oppressively close. The windows in the little front room are all open, but nothing moves except the traffic outside and an occasional shout from the street. The net curtains hang straight down.
There’s a cushion on the back of the sofa behind me – a photograph of a schnauzer in close-up, eyes wide, mouth open.
I start to sweat.
I can’t gauge how much Jon is accepting of June’s recent End of Life diagnosis. The job was given to me when I was out and about, an urgent visit to assess the home environment and give guidance to the carers on what’s safe or not. I couldn’t figure out from the attachments exactly how much had been explicitly stated to June and Jon, and it was too late now to ring the other agencies involved for advice. All of the falls and manual handling struggles Jon describes could be put down to June’s declining health. But maybe as a family they’ve opted to do as much as they can to normalise the situation, which would be completely understandable. So I find myself trying to do three things at once: piecing together a timeline of events from everything Jon’s describing; trying to figure out if any of this shows they know and have come to terms with the diagnosis, and worrying how I’m going to talk about safe manual handling for the carers without acknowledging the most significant detail.
June slaps the top of her head and groans.
Jon goes over to her to comfort her.
‘Don’t worry, love,’ he says. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll get there – wherever there is.’