Friday, February 08, 2013

two drinks

An elderly woman opens the door to us. Securely riveted into a scarlet three piece suit patterned with golden leaves and tendrils, with her hair – if it is her hair – sprayed, coloured and moulded into an extraordinary shape like a vast spiral space helmet, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turned out to be the visiting President of some alien colony from Mars.
‘She’s just through here, love. Did Colin let you in? He’s such a lovely man, Colin. I don’t know what we’d do without him.’
Colin is the caretaker of the block. Not only did he let us in, but he showed us to the shining chrome and brushed steel lift, pressed the button for us, told us he was there if we needed anything, watched over us as the door closed.
‘This way.’
The woman rolls ahead of us on bad hips into a wide and comfortable lounge where two other elderly women are sitting. One of them, Mrs Silverman, holds a bloody tea towel mid-way down her leg.
‘Oh dear!’ says Rae. ‘What’ve you been up to?’
‘She wants to take more water with it,’ says her friend, rocking backwards and forwards on her chair with the excitement of it all.
Mrs Silverman laughs.
‘I’ve been so stupid,’ she says. ‘I just got up to fetch Maura something to eat, because she can’t be bothered to get it herself...’
‘Hey!’
‘...And I came over a bit dizzy. I lost my balance and just caught the front of my leg on that nest of tables. It doesn’t half hurt.’
‘Tell them about that time you were blown up in the war, Beth.’
‘I was! By a bloody great German mine. It didn’t go off right away, you see. It just kind of sat there, waiting for me. It blew me right across the street. I wasn’t badly hurt, though. Just ruined my hearing. So you see – it takes a lot to knock me off my feet.’
‘Maybe the Germans should’ve dropped a nest of tables instead.’
Mrs Silverman doesn’t appear to have heard that. She just carries on pressing the tea towel to her leg.
‘Let’s see what you’ve done, then,’ says Rae. But just before she takes the tea towel away, she opens her bag ready, sets an inco pad just below Mrs Silverman’s foot, and preps a gauze pad with some sterile water.
‘Eh voila!’
It’s a substantial wound, almost full-thickness, about a hand’s breadth across the top of Mrs Silverman’s lower leg.
‘That’s nasty,’ says Rae. ‘I’ll clean it up a little and put a dressing on there, but I’m afraid it means a trip down the road.’
‘No!’
‘’Fraid so. That needs some attention. We’ve got a chair here for you.’
‘Don’t worry, Beth,’ says her friend. ‘We’ll look after the place till you’re back.’
‘They’re my girls,’ says Mrs Silverman proudly. ‘My gang. We make quite a team. A bunch of old dinosaurs but we get by, don’t we?’
The others agree.
Whilst Rae finishes dressing the wound, they bustle about making an enormous fuss involving keys, taxi money, glasses. To see them busily exchanging items, arguing, putting things in, taking things out, you would think they were sending her off to the South Pole. Through it all, Mrs Silverman tries to keep control.
‘Honestly, don’t fuss! I’m only going down the road,’ she says. Then she turns anxiously to me. ‘They won’t keep me in, will they?’
‘It’s hard to say for sure. Your blood pressure’s high at the moment, and they might want to monitor that. And given that it’s almost midnight, they’ll be reluctant to release you back into the wild in the early hours. But it’s hard to second-guess what they’ll say. Take what you need.’
‘I’ll fetch your winter coat,’ says one of the friends.
‘Not the best one.’

Sometime later, we go.

***

‘We’re all over ninety,’ says Mrs Silverman on the trolley, her hands clutching the bag on her lap. ‘Think of that. Or don’t think of it, more to the point.’
‘It’s lovely you all have each other.’
‘Ye-es. It keeps us going. But you know, I lost my husband a couple of years ago, and it’s not the same anymore.’
She checks the contents of the bag again, sighs, and then her thoughts seem to wander inwards for a while.
She looks across at me.
‘It’s all wrong of course,’ she says.
‘How d’you mean?’
‘Medicine.’
‘In what way?’
‘It’s all very well and good coming up with a cure for everything, for old age. But you’ve got to die of something. And what it means is nowadays you’re expected to live forever.’
‘But I thought you seemed pretty happy? You’ve got the gang.’
‘I know, and if it wasn’t for them who knows how I’d cope. But really I’m ready to go now. I’ve got all these niggles, all these stupid things going on. And what do they do? They fiddle around and so on – and it’s nice of them to do it – but really I’ve had my time and I’m ready to go.’
‘It’s a difficult subject.’
‘It is a difficult subject, particularly when it’s you that has to live it.’
She raises her eyebrows and leans towards me.
‘What’s the name of that clinic? In Sweden or somewhere, isn’t it?’
‘Dignitas. In Switzerland.’
‘That’s the one. Well. Apparently it’s all very nice. They give you two drinks. A milkshake to make you feel relaxed, and then something stronger to pop you off. All very easy. I must admit I  like the idea. It’s just such a long way to go.’
She leans back.
‘Because it’ll never happen here. And you know why?’
‘No, why.’
‘Because of all those old bishops in the House of Lords. It’s against their religion, so whenever the Bill comes up, they vote it down. And I just wish they wouldn’t.’ She glances around the cabin. ‘Because it means all this. Bashing your leg open. Trips to hospital in the middle of the night. Not that I’m not grateful for all you’ve done, of course.’
‘I know.’
‘I should’ve gone when Bill went. He always was very tidy. He just kind of rolled over and that was it. And the funny thing is, I’ve always been the one with all the problems – it doesn’t make sense. And now look. Here I am, hanging around, when all I want to do is be off. It’s difficult to know what to do, sometimes.’
‘It’s late. You’ve had a nasty fall. I’m not surprised you’re out of sorts.’
‘You don’t mind me talking like this, do you? I’m not upsetting you, am I?’
‘No. I think people should talk about it.’
‘You don’t think I’m being morbid? Maura always says I’m being morbid. She doesn’t like to hear about it.’
‘No. Some people don’t.’
‘But you don’t mind.’
‘No.’
‘Two drinks. That’s it. One to relax you, one to send you on your way. Done.’ She stares at me. ‘Now that’s an appointment I wouldn’t mind keeping.’

10 comments:

Kirby Obsidian said...

Beautifully done. You always get just the right notes. As always!
Kirby

laputain said...

eloquently written, as ever.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Kirby & Laputain!

Lynda Otvos said...

Effective and expressive use of the language, Spence; your blog ranks as one of the best-written medical blogs.

jacksofbuxton said...

There is a lot to be said for easing people onto the night ferry.I wouldn't let,for example,my dog suffer any unnecessary pain (and he's certainly moving onto that road now,sadly)

I suspect that for many years that that happened as well,perhaps the morphine ramped up etc.But Shipman changed all that.

Currently watching my grandfather die.Terminal cancer.At the moment he's pretty compos mentis,but once the cancer takes over fully then I'd like to see him go pretty quickly.But how do you make that decision?I know you can request DNAR,but who makes the decision that enough is enough?The ill person can't,they're in Catch 22.Too fit to go if they can say so,or too far gone to make it happen.

On the plus side though,at least they're not there to see the squabbling over the will.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Lynda!

Hey Jacks - Really sorry to hear about your grandfather. It's a helluva thing for him to go through - and the whole family, too. I hope he gets all the help he needs, and more.

There have been developments in palliative care recently, aimed at an easeful death. The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) is one of them, but it's still not a national thing, and it has been controversial, with complaints it's been applied without proper consultation, and maybe subject to budgetary influences etc.

It's a huge and emotional subject, with fierce arguments from both sides. But personally speaking I've seen enough suffering - both physical and emotional - not to be convinced that it would be a good thing in some instances to allow some people, under certain conditions and strictly administrated, to end their lives at a given moment. It seems the humane option, and it's frustrating the only way you can get that currently is to pack up and go to Switzerland. I'm with Mrs Silverman on this one.

Lots of love and luck with your grandfather's treatment, Jacks.


jacksofbuxton said...

He died Saturday morning Spence.Pretty peaceful in the end.

Spence Kennedy said...

Sorry to hear it, Jacks - but then glad it was peaceful. Hope the family's bearing up okay.

Chaz said...

I hope your book made you some money Spence. The quality of your writing really deserves it.

I'll buy the next one as well.

Spence Kennedy said...

Well it did make a little, Chaz, but I'm going to have to postpone the retirement (til 80 or so, no doubt, like everyone else).

I have got another book coming out in a few days - not an ambulance one, though - a ghost story, partly set in 1012! But I'm thinking of doing a sequel to Frank's Last Call. Prob kill-off Spence the main character in a big shoot out or something. Then what? Hmm.

Thanks very much, Chaz. I owe you!