Friday, October 03, 2008

an urban willow pattern

Bill, the manager of the housing association flats, is using some gaffer tape to fix the black rubber cover back on to one of the key safe boxes outside the main door.
‘Thanks for coming,’ he says, straightening up with an audible click. ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do about Jack. It’s the second call today.’
He shows us inside to the lift. It’s already on its way down, disgorging with a shudder an ancient couple who smile at the three of us with amiable confusion.
‘It’s his breathing, in case you didn’t know,’ says Bill, leaning in to me confidentially. ‘Asthma, but he won’t leave his dog. It’s a terrible mess up there, so watch where you put your feet. If you need me, I’ll be down in the office. Don’t expect he’ll go, but see what you can do. All the best to you.’
We ride up to the tenth floor and find our way along booming corridors smelling of chlorine to a battered blue door standing half open. Just below the knocker there is a scrap of paper taped along all four sides. It’s written out in a blocky, green scrawl: ‘no callers papers sales no jahovers witness.’
As I’m reading this, a barrel-shaped terrier waddles out through the gap to meet us. Its body is so inflated it can only move by leaning from side to side, an arthritic kind of sculling action it performs with a grim set to its face. The dog’s eyes are cloudy like worn-out plastic buttons, and its muzzle sprouts a mess of fine white wire.
I push the door open a little more.
‘Ambulance! Hello!’
The dog – without any change of expression - leans aside to let us pass; its claws clack behind us as we go in.

The air in the flat seems to be made up of two distinct odours - dog piss and filter cigarettes. They fill the atmosphere in visible layers, geological strata of neglect folded one into the other, lain down over many years. Our boots crackle as we walk across the parquet floor.

There is a wheeze coming from the front room. I push the door open.
Jack is sitting in an armchair, leaning forwards, propped up on his arms, his elbows turned out and his hands in.
‘I’m not going,’ he says.

Jack looks dusty, a shop dummy dressed in a fright wig, chequered shirt and braces, then forgotten about in the storeroom.

The dog catches up with us and plops down on his right foot.

We fix up a nebuliser; Jack pulls it over his head in one practised movement.

‘You can’t go on like this, Jack,’ Rae says. ‘You must want help, or you wouldn’t have called for an ambulance.’
‘I don’t want help, I want oxygen.’
‘But we can’t stay here the rest of our lives, can we? You need to come with us, see a doctor, get your meds up to date. You need attention, Jack. I’m afraid you really absolutely cannot stay here.’
‘Well what about Millie?’
‘Millie’ll be fine,’ she says, scratching her behind the ears. ‘Bill says he’ll look in on her.’ Rae flicks me a look –mental note: speak to Bill before we leave. ‘The important thing is to sort your breathing out. One step at a time, Jack. You’ll be no good to Millie if you – er – pass out.’
Jack looks up at both of us.
‘She’s had her walk this morning. I took her out on the mobility scooter.’
‘So she’ll be ok for a little while whilst you come up the hospital. There are ways and means, Jack. We’ll sort it. Important thing is to get your asthma under control.’

He studies us. The silence is underwritten by the spluttering hiss of the nebuliser.

‘Well – okay,’ he says, finally. ‘But I’m not staying in.’
‘Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.’

And I suddenly have an image of Jack as a painted blue figure on a willow pattern plate, escaping over a rickety wooden bridge in his mobility scooter, Millie in the basket in front, their hair and ears flapping behind them as the housing association pagoda gradually shrinks away below the tree-line.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes you have to find a way! Sounds like he was the kind of character you really feel for but have to sneakily bribe and bully into going.

loveinvienna said...

That last image is an interesting one! Do you know - :P - the two doves at the top of willow pattern plates are the souls of two lovers?

Poor Jack - but good on you and Rae for convincing him it would be in his (and Millie's) best interests. Do you know how long they managed to keep him in? Long enough to update everything and get him back on track?

Liv xxx

Caroline said...

Poor old Jack, it's not just the dog is it? it's admitting defeat, relinquishing control - admitting you know you're in trouble - I have a feeling I may be a variant on the Jack theme myself if I live long enough

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Louise
He definitely needed a mixture of carrot and stick. It was a mark of the affection he had for his dog that he could be so sick and yet so resistant to accepting help. Borderline social services, though. Awful flat - but that's personal choice...

Hi Liv,
Embarrassed to confess (like one of my previous jobs) that I have no idea what the outcome was. My guess is that they wouldn't have kept him in longer than it took to stabilise his attack and review his meds. Prob refer him back to his GP. I'm sure he made it back to share his tea with Millie.

Hi Caroline
I often wonder - when I come across elderly patients like Jack - just what I'll be like if I ever reach that age. Keel over / eaten by cats etc. It's pretty ghastly sometimes! Hopefully I'll be able to keep the place clean, at least. The fear is that things slide over time and you don't actually notice.


Wren said...

Your heart is kind and your writing lovely, Spence. I look forward to each new vignette. Thanks for giving us these eloquent glimpses into your good work and the people you care for each day.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Wren! I hardly know what to say in response - except thank you so much for reading the blog and for making such a lovely comment!

baconguy said...

Great writing as ever!
I really enjoy reading your blog.

uphilldowndale said...

Beautifully written Spence

Spence Kennedy said...

Thx BG & UHDD!

Anonymous said...

its not easy to amit you are ill with un contolled asthma. Espicially when you look after well being of animal or family .Asthma is a life threatning condition and can change so dramatically very quickly . your sense of human kindness would not have gone unnoiticed his dog is probaly his family to him .

Spence Kennedy said...

He loved his dog very much, and we knew he wouldn't agree to go to hospital if he thought she'd be neglected. I know his flat was pretty awful - that's a difficult side to the job, seeing how lots of people live in conditions of gross personal neglect - but still it was a life for them together.

Thanks for your comment, anon.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

I think you must have very good persuasive skills! I can entirely understand how it feels to just have a pet and what they come to represent in such circumstances.
I was supposed to go into hospital for some physical rehab a few years back(partly related to a legal situation), I never did for many reasons but I will never forget my solicitor promising she would personally care for my pets if I did agree to go in.