Mary isn’t being straight. Not with her doctor, not with her friend, certainly not with us. Even her cat Bob takes the long way round to the kitchen.
‘No. I haven’t had a drink tonight? What do you take me for?’
‘It’s just that your speech is a bit slurred, Mary. And there’s a carrier bag of empty vodka bottles just inside the door.’
‘Yes, well, I gave up drinking a long time ago, thank you very much. An’ the reason I might possibly-be-slurring....’ (she exhales down the three words with her eyes half closed) ‘... is because I’m very, very tired. Okay? Officer? I’ve had a busy day, what with one thing or another. Now then. What are you going to do about my back?’
Mary’s next door neighbour Janet came round as soon as she got in from work and picked up the message on her answer machine. She’s still got her coat on, and the spare set of keys in her hand. Caught between wanting to help Mary and wanting to go home, she sits perched on the edge of the armchair, periodically glancing at the door.
‘Mary’s had trouble with her back before,’ she says. ‘Haven’t you, Mary? She saw the doctor last week and he gave her some different pills, but they haven’t really agreed with her. And then of course she had that fall.’
‘When did you have the fall, Mary?’
She shrugs. ‘Last week.’
‘Did you see anyone about it?’
‘The doctor! Keep up.’
She tuts and closes her eyes.
‘And what did the doctor say?’
‘He gave me some more pills.’
Janet hands me a paper bag.
‘I think this is everything.’
It’s obvious from the blister packs that Mary hasn’t taken her full complement.
‘It’s no wonder you’ve got pain if you’re not taking your meds,’ I say to her.
‘You don’t like me, do you?’ she says.
‘Do you know, you’re the second person who’s said that to me recently.’
‘Oh? Coincidence, you think?’
‘Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s beside the point. Let’s see how we can help you tonight. Are these the only meds you take?’
‘She has diazepam, too,’ says Janet.
‘Really? So where are they?’
‘I told you, Janet. I don’t like taking them things. They make me go funny in the head.’
‘But were they prescribed for your back pain?’
‘I don’t like them.’
She starts to cry.
Bob looks in from the kitchen, hesitates, then turns and goes out through the flap in the back door. I have a strong urge to follow him, but I take a steadying breath and carry on.
We’re there some time.
We refer her to the out of hours.
Much later, we get a call to an elderly fall. I’ve been to this address before – some time ago, but I know the ambulance makes frequent visits here. Agnes is ninety something, unsteady on her feet, but still living with her husband Norman, who has Parkinson’s.
We use the keysafe to gain entry and find Agnes sprawled half on and half off the bed. Agnes has activated her careline button – not so much because of her position on the bed, but because of Norman – and I can see why. He seems flushed and confused, wandering about the bungalow on some obscure mission. We can see from an ambulance sheet that a crew’s already been out tonight. All things considered we can’t leave them alone. We take them both in, as a job lot.
I park alongside another ambulance at the entrance to A&E. Dermot is round the back of his truck, putting the ramp up.
‘We just brought in someone you know,’ he says.
‘Oh? Who’s that?’
‘Yep. The out of hours went round, saw her slumped on the sofa, banged on the window but got no response, so he called the police who smashed down the door with their big red key.’
‘Is she all right?’
‘Pissed, is all. Complaining of back pain but we couldn’t get much sense out of her so we brought her in.’
I start to open the back of our truck.
‘Funnily enough, we’ve got one of yours.’
‘Agnes! So what about...?’
‘Yep. Norman, too.’
I swing the door open to reveal the bright interior, Agnes on the trolley, Norman on a side seat. They both look out, see Dermot, and wave.
He waves back.‘And so the circle is complete,’ he says, in a mock heroic voice. ‘Our work here is done.’