smashing trucks

It’s a complex family situation – as they often are – but the long and the short of it is, Jimmy’s been sent home to die.

Although the end has come quickly, it’s not entirely unexpected. Jimmy has had an alcohol problem for a good many years, as punishing to his family life as his liver. Nothing helped, not counselling, drug and alcohol rehab, surgical corrections, medication – it all turned out to be a grave but ineffectual chorus singing downstage of the tragedy.

At least Jimmy still has people around him, though. In fact, the house is pretty full. There’s his brother, Tom, Tom’s wife Stella, Jimmy’s stepson Al and Al’s little boy, Kevin. Kevin is about three years old I’d guess, a cheeky, tow-haired kid in a dinosaur T and red shorts, loving the drama of all these people, showing off by diving onto the sofa, smashing his toy trucks together, sneaking up behind you, touching you on the shoulder and then running away screaming, bending over for no apparent reason and looking at you from upside down.
‘Kevin? Why don’t you settle down on the sofa and watch the Formula One?’ says Al, although I’d guess that’s really what he wants to do.
‘No!’ says Kevin, diving under the table.
‘Don’t worry, Al. I don’t mind,’ I say.
Al shrugs, and carries on unpacking the shopping.

It’s the first time I’ve met the family. Truth is, I’d been blindsided by the whole situation. I thought it’d be an easy call, dropping off equipment and doing some obs on a patient before returning to the hospital to take care of all the referrals that’d piled up that day. When I got there I’d found a patient who was actively dying, and insufficient preparation made for any of it. I couldn’t figure out how it could’ve happened like this. After I’d made Jimmy as comfortable as I could, cutting off his hospital gown with my shears to avoid disturbing him too much, giving him a stripwash on the bed and so on, all helped by Tom and Stella, I’d spoken to the office to confirm we were putting in double-up care that evening, then called Jimmy’s GP, who was as confused and disturbed as I was. She’d promised to get clarification from the hospital, and said she’d call straight back.
‘You’ve been so helpful,’ I say to Stella and Tom as they sit down with me at the table with some tea. ‘I’m sorry it’s been stressful and messed up.’
‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘These things happen. At least he’s not in pain.’
Tom puts his hand on Stella’s shoulder; she gives him a brave smile, then wraps both her hands round the mug of tea, to feel the warmth of it.
‘Our son Billy died this year,’ she says. ‘I suppose I’m getting used to it.’
‘I’m so sorry to hear that.’
‘I was with him at the end. He was struggling, so I put my arms round him to help him sit up. He was trying to say something, but he couldn’t get it out, and I couldn’t understand what it was. So I held him like that, and I said I loved him, and then he fell back, and that was that. And that was the start of the year.’
‘I’m just going to sit with Dad for a while,’ says Al, heading towards the stairs.
‘Okay then’ says Tom. ‘Good lad.’
‘Now you be good’ says Al to Kevin.
‘Look at my trucks!’ yells Kevin, bouncing up and down on the sofa, smashing the trucks together, head to head. Peeyow! Pow! Kapooooof!

the miserable moo

Vera is as formidable as an oak tree. An ancient, wonderfully craggy version, a boundary oak, maybe, with a disposition of knots and old storm wounds that give her a ferocious but at the same time peculiarly forbearing and kindly expression.
‘How did I get like this?’ she says, approximating a walk by rocking from side to side in her vast, rose-pink slippers, pulling the chord of her dressing gown so tight I’m worried her curlers will fly off. ‘Dear oh dear. Sad, innit?’
She stops and gives me a baleful look.
‘Don’t get old’ she says.
‘What’s the alternative?’
‘What’s the alternative? Switzerland.’
She shakes her head and carries on into the living room.
‘Make yourself at home,’ she says, waving dismissively at the sofa, then slowly lowering herself into a well-worn armchair. ‘Mind you, I’ve lived here sixty year and I still ‘ain’t managed it.’
‘I don’t know. Seems like a nice place.’
‘You make the best, d’oncha?’ she says, putting her feet up with an expressive range of ooh-ooh-ooh’s and aah’s.
‘All right?’ I ask her. ‘Do you need a hand?’
‘I need more than a hand,’ she says. ‘What else’ve you got?’
Before I manage to do anything, the phone rings. Vera mutters a great deal as she picks up the phone from the side table, holding it to the end of her nose to scrutinise the number, then making a great fuss of holding it at arm’s length to press the ok button, frowning at the same time, as if she was being asked to do something outrageous, then cautiously and slowly putting the phone to her ear. I can hear the voice on the other end shouting as the phone travels through the air – a man’s voice, saying Nan, Nan, It’s John. Nan?
‘21364’ she says, in a strangely formal voice. But that only lasts as long as it takes to establish it’s John on the other end, and she immediately slumps back into normal Vera again. I prepare the paperwork and get my obs kit out, whilst Vera sighs and tuts and does her best to reassure John she’s all right, and no, she’s all right as far as shopping goes, she’s got enough to last her till Christmas, and yes, she’ll let him know how the appointment goes, and no, she doesn’t want anyone to worry, she hasn’t lived till ninety without learning a thing or two. There’s a moment towards the end of the conversation when John’s seems to be telling her something about himself.
‘Oh? …. What’s that, then? …. You what?…. I thought that was cows…?’
She looks at me, raising her eyebrows and shaking her head, then refocuses her attention on what John has to say.
‘Righto,  then, John. You get better soon, love. And love to the kids. All right? All right? Bye bye, John. Bye bye.’
She thumbs the phone off with the same pantomime of attention as the answering of it, then drops it back with the TV guide on the side table.
‘That was John,’ she says.
‘Oh?’
‘Yes. He’s always ringing me up to ask how I am and then telling me he’s got it worse.’
‘Why? What’s the matter with him?’
‘Foot and mouth, he says. I thought that was something cows got.’
‘He probably means hand foot and mouth. It’s a viral thing…’
‘Oh. I see,’ she says, but I can tell she doesn’t. ‘That’s all right, then.’
She pats her curlers and rearranges her dressing gown whilst she gets her thoughts in order.
‘Only John!’ she says at last. ‘He’s a bloody postman! Although saying that, maybe they give him a new round that takes in a farm somewhere.’
‘Maybe,’ I say.
She sighs and shakes her head.
‘Hark at me!’ she says. ‘I’ve turned into a right old miserable moo!’