Thursday, November 01, 2007


‘Don’t you dare look at me – aren’t you nice? – you’ve seen worse - I haven’t got my teeth in – toy boy like you – what’s your name? – I had a man who wanted to see me again – he was only forty four – I said I’m seventy three – he said I don’t care - just don’t look at me – oh, I do feel dizzy...’

We are sitting like disciples around her, Rae, me and the psychiatric nurse who called us out this morning. We nod and smile sympathetically, but we are mutely aware that our collective life force is being leached away by this woman. If people can really be classified as either radiators or drains, this woman is an oceanic trench. Her monologue is a hypnotically plosive drone, her wrinkled mouth wobbling around the words, her light blue eyes flicking open only occasionally to see if there are still people alive in the room.

The psychiatric nurse smiles at us, and taps her diary encouragingly, directing us back to the idea that time still exists outside this room.

‘Dotty did seem a little breathless and out of sorts when I got here. Sorry if I’ve called you out unnecessarily.’

She opens her diary and writes something in it. I hand Rae the blister pack that contains all Dotty’s medication so she can write it down on the patient report form. There is a crudely written note by the pack – a list of things to do. At the top of the list is 'put teeth in mouth'.

I stand up and approach Dotty to make the serial observations; I feel like an astronaut, bravely alone, moving towards the thrumming source.

‘…That’s the first time I’ve been touched by a man in a long while – oh, I’m getting a funny feeling in my arm – should I take my top off? - my first husband didn’t want to know – left me alone – not this house, another one - when I had my first he was nowhere – it was supposed to be the last baby on Christmas Day – they said ‘when’s it coming then, Dotty?’ – I said, 'there’s something not right,' – I could feel the elbows digging in – then it was the next day – and the next – no-one listened to me – no-one believed me – and then when it came out it took most of me with it – I was in for weeks – stitched me up with an infection and everything turning black…’

Occasionally Dotty pats her head, which is tightly wrapped in a transparent plastic bonnet. It’s as if you can see her brains – yellowing, tightly curled. Her hands are a puffy red, because she spends most of her day at the sink continually washing them.

I finish the health check and everything is fine. Rae patiently begins the build-up to our leaving, weaving in little encouragements and pieces of advice between Dotty’s constant output.

‘….what if I go unconscious? – what happens if I fall over? – at least you didn’t leave the door open – I used to have a dog, but he ran away – the last ambulance who came out left the door open – they pulled faces at me and didn’t give a damn – you’re all nice, though – especially you – oh, listen to me – did I say that? - everything’s swimming – I suppose you’re going, too, now….?’

I pack our equipment away and back away, nodding and smiling, through the door. The psychiatric nurse, clutching her diary like a bible, throws us a brave smile as we go.

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