Clothilde sits slumped in her wheelchair, the despondent centre of a Glade-scented hurricane of concern.
‘We’re very worried about Clotty,’ says the Warden. ‘Sam! Shut the door before I say any more. Sam!’
Sam is an intense twenty year old with barely a millimetre of nose between his eyes. With his shaven head, black t-shirt and black jeans, he looks like an off-duty commando. At the first bark of his name he flashes the door shut - just in time. A care assistant had been shuffling by with a decrepit old man on her arm, and he had been ready to smile at us.
‘She’s really not herself,’ says the Warden, and then: ‘Sam. Sam! Go and get Clotty’s notes, would you? Now, please.’
Her rather hectoring manner with Sam seems bizarrely misplaced. He’s standing right by us, is quick to do whatever he’s asked, doesn’t have a problem with language or hearing – unlike Clotty. Her twin hearing aids squeal dreadfully. You have to put your lips to her ears to make yourself heard.
Sam dashes out through the smallest gap possible and is gone.
The room still feels tiny despite his absence. An overheated, floral box, it has space enough for a bed, a side table, a wardrobe, and two child-sized teddy bears. They stare at us with an overstuffed placidity. I wonder how long they have been resident here.
‘In what way is she not herself?’ asks Frank, readjusting his position on the edge of the bed and taking Clotty’s hand in his. ‘How is she different?’
‘Well normally when I come round with the pills I shout “Hello Clotty! Good morning, Clotty!” and she makes a face like this … and holds out her hand … like this.’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘The other thing is that usually she tramps about quite confidently with her Zimmer. Not a million miles an hour, but quite effective in her own way, you know. But this morning she just stood there, and when we asked her she said her legs were all gone to jelly.’
‘Did she fall?’
‘No. We got her into the wheelchair, lickety split.’
‘Has she fallen recently?’
‘Was she okay last night?’
‘Fine. The old Clotty we know and love.’
The door opens a crack and Sam the Shadow slips back in with a blue folder. He hands it to the Warden.
‘Let’s have a look,’ she says, opening it on her lap.
Frank and I take this opportunity to check Clotty over. She passes the stroke test, says she is not in pain, does not feel dizzy or sick. Her sats are normal, breathing easy and clear, her pulse is irregular but for a ninety five year old we would expect nothing less. The only thing that seems out of place is the Warden’s concern.
‘Obviously we don’t know Clotty,’ says Frank.
‘Oh – we do,’ smiles the Warden. ‘Lovely Clotty.’
Clotty looks sideways at her, then back to the front. Her hearing aids squeal, making that minimal movement of her neck seem like the attempt of a rusted iron statue to have a look around. Her whole expression during this interview has remained a welded shield of disdain.
‘You’re a paramedic,’ says the Warden. ‘You must have seen this before. What’s wrong with her? What should we do? Call a doctor? Send her to hospital? We don’t want her waiting up there hours and hours.’
Frank tells them that in this situation we have to be guided by them. To us, Clotty doesn’t seem too bad. It doesn’t look as if she’s had a stroke (what the call was given as), but it’s possible she’s had a TIA and not showing it much. She may be developing a UTI – there are a number of things that could be up. All we can do is accept that she’s noticeably ‘not herself’, and take her to hospital to see a doctor. On the other hand, she could stay where she is and have a doctor out to her in due course.
Frank looks at the Warden. ‘So what would you like us to do?’ he says.
The Warden hugs the folder to her chest. ‘What do you think, Sam?’ But before he has time to open his mouth, she says ‘Okay. Take her to hospital. She won’t be there long, I’m sure.’
I strike the resus bag, prep the vehicle and return with a chair.
Nothing has changed in the room. The two bears on the bed have shown more activity than Clotty, who sits slumped in her wheelchair as before.
There is a lift in the home, a dark brown, shabbily veneered affair, with concertina doors and dirty plastic buttons. I wheel Clotty inside. There’s just enough room for the two of us. Sam leans in and pushes button number one – which surprises me. We’re currently in the basement; I would’ve expected him to press the ground floor button. But maybe this home is built into a hillside or something (I try to think – is it?) and the floor plan is misleading. Maybe he hit the button for me because it was easier to do that than explain.
The doors clank shut, and we grind upwards slowly. I hear Frank, the Warden and Sam walking up the stairs, the Warden describing how lovely all the residents are.
We approach the ground floor, and I can see the blurred image of the three of them through the square of safety glass, standing waiting. Then we continue upwards.
‘Er – Spence. Where are you going?’ says Frank. But he’s below me now and we’re arriving at the first floor. The doors clank open. An elderly woman is standing there with a plastic jug. She tries to get into the lift, despite me telling her that there’s no room, that I’ll send it straight back up. She frowns, as if the air has thickened for some reason and won’t let her progress. Luckily, Sam bounds up the stairs and up to us.
‘Edna. Let the man go. Let him go.’
He eases her backwards, and looks at me.
‘You want the ground floor,’ he says.
There’s no point in me saying that he pushed the wrong button. I smile and nod – and then just as I go to push the ground floor, he leans in and pushes it for me.
‘There,’ he says. ‘Ground floor. That’s the one you want.’
The doors clank shut. I can hear him trying to explain the situation to the woman with the jug, as we sink down with a loose-cabled judder.
We approach the ground floor. I hear the Warden talking to Frank. The little windows match up – and then un-match, and we carry on sinking downwards.
‘What’s he doing?’ says the Warden.
‘Spence?’ says Frank.
I reach the basement. The doors clank open. The care assistant with the old man on her arm is standing there. He plants the gummy smile on me that he’s been saving all this time; she merely frowns. I make a joke about the strange lift they have here but she shakes her head as if she doesn’t agree. Before I have a chance to press the ground floor button, the doors clank shut again. We rise up.
‘Sorry about this, Clotty,’ I say to my patient. She makes no movement or sound.
We reach the ground floor. The windows match, un-match. We continue to rise. We reach the first floor. The doors clank open. The old woman with the jug tries to get in. Sam runs up the stairs again and pulls her out.
‘The ground floor button!’ he says.
‘There were – people in the basement,’ I begin to say. I sound crazy.
Sam reaches in to the lift and looks at the buttons.
‘Button number one,’ he says. ‘It’s wedged in. Someone’s pressed it too hard.’ He prods around to free it, then looks at me.
‘Don’t press any buttons,’ he says, then presses ground. The doors clank shut. We sink.
We arrive at the ground floor and the doors clank open. The Warden gives me a doughy smile.
‘There,’ she says. ‘Well done you.’