Mrs Kerridge isn’t at all how I imagined her from the phone call a couple of days ago. Instead of a velociraptor in wig and slippers, shreds of flesh trembling from her teeth, I shake hands with a trim, short-haired woman in her sixties. Her smile does seem a little flat, though, like those masquerade half-faces on a stick – but to be fair, mine probably looks just as forced. We’re both doing our best.
‘Good to meet you!’ I say, holding out my hand.
‘You too!’ she says, shaking it.
‘Sorry for the confusion.’
‘Can’t be helped.’
We stand in the hallway, smiling, swaying slightly.
‘Lovely house!’ I say, shoving my hands deep into my pockets.
‘Thank you! We do try.’
Greg, the equipment technician saves us, wiping his boots hard on the mat.
‘Mind if I check the lie of the land?’
‘Not all!’ beams Mrs Kerridge. ‘It’s going to be quite a house full!’
We go through to the living room where Mrs Kerridge’s father has been installed on a hospital bed. His mobility has deteriorated to the point where he needs a dynamic, pressure-relieving mattress, but because he’s non-weight bearing – and a hoist had been ruled out due to the distress it causes him – the only solution is to assemble the replacement bed and mattress next to him, slide him across, strike the old bed and then move him back into position. I’d tasked two of my colleagues to help with the transfer. They arrived in good time, and we stand around making chit-chat whilst Greg puts the new bed together.
Mr Kerridge snr is oblivious to the whole procedure. Opposite, half-way up the wall, is a large, flat screen TV. It’s currently playing a Zoo Vet programme. There’s a ventilated lion on the operating table, vets in scrubs standing around with their gloved hands in the air, like no-one wants to be first to start.
‘A lion!’ says Mrs Kerridge.
For some reason, what it makes me think of is the last time I’d spoken to Mrs Kerridge. She’d rung the office to complain, and even though I didn’t know anything about the case and had had no contact, I was the only one available to take the call. She’d been furious, incandescent. There were a number of things that had gone wrong since her father had been with our service. Promises made and broken. Conflicting advice. Disruptive appointments. It was a list that spooled out furiously as I held the phone slightly away from my ear. And even though I had the patient record open in front of me, and tried as hard as I could to make sense of what she was saying, there was nothing I could come up with that would placate her. In fact, it was less of a complaint and more of an audio onslaught, a release of verbal steam, and the best I could do was lob-in the occasional I’m sorry to hear that or let me look into that for you. The advice in these situations is never to take it personally. The complainant feels aggrieved, so just hear them out, make notes, and resist the urge to promise to fix things that might only end up making the situation worse. It was difficult to bite my tongue, though. I could see from some of the narrative entries on screen that she’d been hostile in the past, refused help and then complained when it didn’t arrive, turned equipment away, and generally made life difficult for the therapists and clinicians.
‘I think there’s some sort of family rift,’ said Anna to me afterwards. ‘Best not go there. Once the bed’s in he’s open to the district nurses, so…’
Of course, it just so happened that the bed was late. There was a misunderstanding between the therapist who ordered it and the senior therapist who signed it off (it’s an expensive piece of kit). So the delivery date got bumped, and I was tasked to call Mrs Kerridge to tell her we couldn’t make the appointment but would be there the following day at the same time. I was fully expecting her to reach through the phone and throttle me, but it went to voicemail. I left a message. I heard nothing back. Everything was eerily quiet. The kind of quiet that falls on a lush rain forest in the lee of a volcano before it blows.
I was dreading the appointment. I’d volunteered to be one of the three, not just because I felt mean off-loading it onto someone else, but because I was curious to meet the woman who’d been so vile on the phone. What would she look like? How would she be? How well would I be able to withstand that kind of assault in person? It was something of a morbid fascination, like feeling drawn to the edge of a cliff to look down on the wild sea raging below.
But no. Here we are, perfectly calm, half watching Greg assemble the bed, half-watching a lion having its gall-bladder removed.
‘Amazing!’ I say to Mrs Kerridge.
‘I wouldn’t want to be the one who wakes it up, though. Would you?’
And she nods at me, and smiles.