heavy duty medication

The two most startling things about Morris are his height and his baseball cap. The cap is for the Toronto Blue Jays. I only know that because when he turns round the name is printed in big letters on the fastener. That bold splash of red, blue and white seems to draw the colour out of the rest of him – a great, stooping stalk of a guy, dressed in brown slippers, grey slacks and a leached, off-white shirt.
‘In here,’ he says. ‘Follow the bear.’
We go through into the lounge. It’s orderly but lonely, the kind of place that doesn’t have much but what there is falls easily to hand.
Morris takes his cap off and points to a scabbed wound a cinch above his left eyebrow.
‘Ouch!’ I say. ‘How’d that happen?’
‘I fell,’ he says. ‘It’s a long story.’
‘But you didn’t go to hospital.’
‘Nah. What would I want to go there for? It’s full of sick people.’
I have to nod at that.
I go through the usual questions, with a slant towards someone with a head injury. Everything seems fine. He’s getting over it. The doctor adjusted his meds. Things are happening.
‘Everyone’s been very kind,’ he says, slapping the cap back on.
I start the examination.
‘Tell me a bit more about this fall,’ I say. ‘Was it a trip kinda deal? Or did you have a funny turn?’
‘Neither. I fell outta bed and cracked my head on the side table. It bled like a bastard so I called the paramedics. But these things bleed a lot. So. Apparently you need a lot of blood up in your head to keep your brains afloat. There was just one paramedic. He was very, very good. Surprisingly cheerful, even though it was the middle of the night. I said to him, I said: How d’you manage it? Being so cheerful n’all? And he turned round to me and he said: Morris? I love my work – but I’m also on some heavy duty medication. Which I thought was a good answer.’
‘I like that!’
‘Heavy duty medication. That’s what I need, I think.’
‘You’re not doing so bad.’
‘I suppose you’ve got to have a sense of humour in that line of work.’
‘Have you fallen out of bed before?’
‘Never. This was my first time. But I won’t be rushing back to repeat the experience.’
‘What happened exactly?’
‘Promise you won’t laugh?’
‘I’ll try.’
‘Okay. So. I was having this dream. I was playing at Old Trafford, I was running up the pitch with the ball at my feet, taking them all on. I could see George Best making a play for it way over on the right. And I was just about to cross when some bastard came studs up from nowhere and took me down. And when I woke up I was lying on the carpet  covered in blood.’
‘That’s a red card, right there.’
‘When I told the paramedic what happened he laughed and said he’d seen some bad tackles in his time, but never one that knocked someone sixty years into the future.’
‘I wonder who he was.’
‘What? The paramedic? I don’t know.’
Morris sighs and straightens his cap.
‘The way things are these days, I probably dreamed him, too.’

stand by your beds

Jack is sitting slumped on the edge of his bed, a huge brown dressing gown draped over his shoulders.

‘I’ll make more sense when I put my teeth in,’ he says. ‘Get ‘em for me, would you? Go through to the kitchen. Hard left. Over to the sink. On the window ledge, by the soap dish. You’ll find ‘em there. Give ‘em a rinse and I’ll bung ‘em in.’
It’s the fourth or fifth trip I’ve made to the kitchen. First it was a cup of tea. Then it was his slippers. He wanted a knife to open the letters I’d pulled out of the letterbox – but not the knife I brought through. He wanted his frame….

I find the teeth, soaking in an old yogurt pot. They look a little scummy, so I run them under the tap.

‘That’s the ones!’ he says, reaching out for them. ‘Jes’ a minute.’
He puts them in – an extraordinary process, his wrinkled mouth gabbling round the plates. It’s like watching an octopus trying to crack an oyster. Finally he gets the teeth into position,  then hands me the yogurt pot again.
‘Done,’ he says. ‘Put that back.’

I don’t mind his bossiness. There’s something about the way he gives all these orders, directly and without an edge, that makes it entertaining. Anyway, he’s had a hard time lately. Not only has he fallen over twice – once in the surgery, once at home – but now his boiler’s broken and there’s no heating or hot water.

‘Never mind that,’ he says. ‘Set that sofa back over there, would you? Not there. There!’

He used to be a motor mechanic and I can quite imagine him up to his knotty elbows in grease, a fag in the corner of his mouth, shouting something across a garage in the nineteen fifties. Something about a wrench.

He’s got so many wounds on his arms and hands it takes me a while to check them all and renew the dressings.
‘There!’ I say at last, tossing the last of the wrappers in the rubbish bag and peeling off my gloves. ‘That’ll get you through the MOT.’
‘You think?’ he says. ‘We’ll see!’

I take the trash out and bring him another cup of tea.
‘Put it there,’ he says. ‘Now – move the table closer. That’s it! Y’know – them girls’ll miss me down the surgery. I was supposed to go there today with my feet. Not that they’d have been open. Not with this virus flying about. You wait till till they hear what happened, though,’ he says, wrapping his horrible brown dressing gown more tightly around himself. ‘They’ll piss ‘emselves laughing.’

His old friend Sally has been keeping an eye on things, but she’s in her eighties, self-isolating, hasn’t been round in a while.
‘I don’t suppose I’ll see her for a few weeks,’ he says. ‘If ever. Did I tell you how we met?’
I’m writing the notes up, so I’m only half-listening when he tells me the story, a long and complicated affair that mostly seems to focus on a guy called Barry. I lose the thread and ask him who Barry is.
‘Oh never mind,’ he says. ‘It was a long time ago.’

The last thing I do before I go is make Jack’s bed up. These days he’s sleeping downstairs on a rickety put-you-up, something he’s adamant he doesn’t want changing.
‘I’m used to it,’ he says. ‘I know its ways.’
I make the bed as well as I can, shaking out the duvet, plumping the pillows, smoothing the bottom sheet, lining up the duvet and tucking it in the wall-side, putting his favourite tartan blanket neatly over the bottom half of the bed, then turning back the near corner so it’s ready. When I’m done, I stand at the head end and salute.
‘Military man?’ he says.
‘No,’ I tell him. ‘I thought about it once, but I’m no good at taking orders.’

feeling the heat

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.’
Nothing.
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.’
Nothing.
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.
‘Hellooo?’
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.
‘Hello?’
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.’
‘What?’
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 who?’
‘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.’
‘We?’
‘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.