The CPN lets us in at the front door and leads us through. Annie is sitting in the front room, surrounded by bags of clothes, Tupperware containers filled with pill packets, a scattering of magazines. She is carved upright, pale and alert, glasses so thick they dilute the central portion of her face.
‘Annie is having problems with her right side,’ says the CPN.
‘I’ve had a stroke.’
‘Annie’s been an in-patient with us at the psychiatric hospital for about six weeks, due for home discharge but delayed a couple of days as she’d complained of feeling unwell, loss of feeling and so on. The doctors had a look at her, couldn’t reach a conclusion but decided she was okay to come home as planned. Unfortunately when we eventually got home things seemed worse. She said she couldn’t move her arm or leg at all, so I got the GP in to discuss everything, and she recommended a trip up the hospital, just to be sure.’
‘Is there a letter from the GP?’
‘No, but I’ve got a copy of all the recent hospital notes for you.’
I read the final entry.
‘Annie? It says here that at the hospital you were having problems with your left side, but now you say it’s your right.’
‘It’s always been my right. They got it wrong.’
I look at the CPN and she smiles with a level strength that wills me to understand the situation.
‘Annie’s been very worried about coming home today,’ she says.
‘What do you think? Do you think I’ve had a stroke?’
‘I don’t know Annie. It’s certainly unusual, what’s happened to your arm and leg. The doctor wants us to take you to hospital to get to the bottom of it, so that’s what we’ll do.’
On the ride to A&E, Annie keeps flopping her right arm over the side of the trolley, even though I secure it with a blanket, and then a belt.
‘I can’t control my arm,’ she says. ‘It’s completely numb. What do you think’s the matter? Do you think I’ve had a stroke?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘How does my speech seem to you?’
‘It sounds ok to me.’
‘Am I speaking more slowly?’
‘I don’t know what you sounded like before, Annie, so it’s difficult to tell.’
‘Do you like your job?’
‘It’s got it’s good points. I like the time off.’
‘I think you should be reassuring me a little more.’
‘I’m sorry, Annie. I’m doing my best.’
‘What will they do for me when we get to the hospital?’
‘The nurses and doctors will take a look at you, see what they think.’
‘But what do you think?’
‘I don’t know, Annie. I’m not a doctor. But all the tests we’ve done look okay.’
‘But I can’t move my arm and leg. That’s not normal.’
We go round a corner, the ambulance sways. Instinctively Annie reaches her right hand out to steady herself on the cot. She stares at me.
‘Well, that’s encouraging,’ I say.
A concerned huddle at the end of the store by the pharmacy counter. No one notices me as I walk up, but when I say hello the group thrills and breaks apart, revealing an elderly woman sitting on a chair and a middle-aged daughter kneeling by her side. There is a momentary beat whilst each member of the group – shop assistant, assistant manager, manager, a couple of elderly shoppers, the woman and her daughter – checks the uniform, checks the name badge, checks the big yellow bag, allows that help may finally be at hand, then:
‘You were quick.’
‘Thanks for coming.’
‘Weren’t you quick?
‘Aren’t they quick?’
It feels like I’ll be signing autographs in a moment, but instead I say: ‘Don’t get used to it,’ then squat down by the woman’s feet. ‘What’s been happening?’
The daughter, a woman whose wild blond hair seems animated more by intense concern than bad weather, rubs her mother’s neck and looks down at me.
‘Poor mummy went woit as a goost.’
I look at the mother.
‘Why was that, then?’
‘I dunno. I had this sudden tarble spraint down the side of me face, I come over all unnecessary, then the inside of me mouth went mumpsy.’
Frank comes up with a chair, sets it up with a couple of blankets to the admiration of the two elderly shoppers.
‘And how do you feel now?’
The daughter rubs her mum’s neck some more.
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘It just feels like I’ve gone and lorst me pip’.