Thursday, May 16, 2013

charles and emma

The door stands open. I knock and push it open even further. A dark hallway, with dull light spilling down from a first floor landing, over photos and pictures, a narrow shelf of souvenirs, a chair-lift track with the chair upstairs. I say Hello, but there’s no reply, no sound.
We go in, head up towards the light.
Hello? Ambulance?

Charles Westinghouse is fussing over his wife in the main bedroom he’s adapted for her. Everything has been cleared out except the basics – a hospital bed, a hoist, a commode, an electric armchair by the window, and another, simpler chair nearer the door. Emma Westinghouse is lying in bed with the back fully in the upright position. Her wasted arms are along by her sides, the right one under the duvet, the left on top. She doesn’t wear teeth anymore; as a consequence her mouth is a puckered crater. A PEG tube winds out to the left, a catheter tube to the right. Her skin has the waxy pallor of the profoundly inert, someone whose main experience of movement over the past eight years has been the hoist or the body roll, and of the outside world, sunshine filtered through curtains, and traffic passing in the street. Apart from the rise and fall of her chest and a certain flickering of her eyes – which, for all the low light and late hour, seem sharp and blue – she is absolutely still. Surrounded like this by all the details of her care, utterly immobile, she could be the centre of a tough new display by Tussauds, something to bring the collection up to date, Domestic Trials and Tribulations, sponsored by the NHS.

‘Oh! There you are!’ says Charles, straightening up and pushing his thick grey hair back. ‘Sorry to drag you out like this.’
He called because Emma had started grunting in a new way, something that suggested pain. There’s no sign of it now, though. All her observations are within range.
‘We’ll be guided by you, Charles. We’re more than happy to take Emma to hospital. The other option is to see how you go tonight and get the GP involved tomorrow morning – on the understanding that if anything changes you give us a call back.’
‘Will do. Just give us a hand to make her more comfortable.’
Whilst we’re doing that, Emma stretches her face a little more, making strange little panting noises, her eyes flashing.
‘Is that what she was doing?’ I ask him.
‘No. She laughs at me sometimes. I think it’s when I bend over her and my stupid hair flops forwards. Is that it, Em? Is it my hair again?’
We lower the back of the bed.
And slowly, like a doll whose weighted eyes gently close when you lie them down, she drifts off to sleep.


Cassandra said...

Wow. That's really beautiful and sad. Kind of restores a little bit of faith in humanity, though... especially after all the other crazy druggies and wasted lives you see.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Cassandra

An incredibly difficult situation for them both, in different ways. It's astonishing how people cope, really.

Thanks for the comment, C.

jacksofbuxton said...

Radiates love doesn't it Spence?

I do home visits,so I could always nip round and see Charles.

Sabine said...

Oh jeepers, the nightmare of it. At least there is lots of love.

martine said...

That is utterly heartrending, such tenderness.

Crimson Ebolg said...

It's incredible to realise the range of situations you must see on a daily basis, Spence. Wonderfully well written as always, and totally heart-breaking.

Spence Kennedy said...

Jacks - Charles had hair like Ludovic Kennedy - quite a mane for someone in his late seventies. I'm sure he could do with a little scissoring. Or maybe a strimmer.

Sabine & Martine - Def lots of love there. Such a punishing situation. It feels like some kind of awful test - but one that goes on and on. Absolutely dreadful.

Crimson Ebolg - We do get to see incredible variations in the way people live. It's one of the most interesting aspects of the job. No matter how routine you think it's getting, there's always something to catch you out.

Thanks very much for all your comments! :)