‘Seventy-four,’ says Len’s daughter, Karen. ‘Going on eighteen’
Len fidgets on the bed and winces when he moves his legs.
‘It’s good to be active’ he says.
‘Yes, Dad. But there’s a difference between active and death wish.’
‘I like to keep busy.’
‘That’s true,’ says Karen, sighing, leaning against the door. ‘This is the longest he’s ever been in one place.’
‘It’s driving me crazy,’ says Len.
‘Driving you crazy?’ says Karen. ‘What about us?’
‘Ah well,’ he says, closing his eyes and lacing his fingers across his tummy. ‘Now the boot’s on the other foot.’
‘Whatever that means.’
Ken’s a farmer. He fractured one of his lumbar vertebrae when he fell off his quad bike last week. He was discharged from hospital after a couple of days with some physio booked and a bottle of Oramorph. When the Oramorph ran out his GP prescribed more, but at a lower dose frequency. Unsurprisingly, the pain got worse, and when it become unbearable Karen rang the helpline to speak to an out of hours GP. She didn’t get that far; an ambulance was dispatched instead.
‘It probably sounded worse that it was,’ I tell her. ‘Anyway, I think you should probably go back to the original dose at least until Monday, then talk to your GP for a proper review.’
‘Exactly,’ says Karen. ‘I wish I hadn’t phoned. Sorry to drag you out all this way for nothing.’
‘It’s no bother. I suppose it must have sounded worse than it was. But unfortunately we’ll still need to call the out of hours GP to authorise the dose. I’ve got the number here – let’s go down to the kitchen and leave Len to it.’
The kitchen is a vibrantly ramshackle collection of fish tanks, bookshelves, cooking equipment, piles of correspondence, ceramic chickens and a disparate spread of seedlings and plants at various stages of growth. Two dogs patrol the area – one, a large and generously furred Husky, who sits on his haunches over by the Aga, staring at me with a pair of steady blue eyes; and a bull terrier, who keeps presenting me with a punctured beach ball to throw.
‘Dylan!’ says Karen. ‘Will you leave the poor man alone?’
‘I don’t mind,’ I say, tossing the ball into the sitting room where it lands in Dylan’s basket. He clatters away over the flagstones after it, and is back sitting in front of me in the time it takes me to pick up the phone.
I give the basic details to the out of hours receptionist. She says twenty minutes to speak to a doctor and I say fine.
‘They’re going to ring back in a little while,’ I tell her.
Karen pours me a cup of tea.
‘Thanks. You know – your Dad’s doing really well,’ I tell her.
‘He’s always been like it. Always pulling some crazy stunt or other.’
The phone rings.
‘Blimey! That was quick.’
Karen glances at the number on the screen and slides the handset back towards me.
‘You’d better talk to them,’ she says. ‘I’m terrible with doctors.’
I click the phone on and put it to my ear.
- Hello? Is that the doctor?
(In what sounds like a joke country accent) Harse doctor, more loik.
(I laugh. Great! A doctor with a sense of humour. I bet he’s been on the phone all day and he’s decided to have some fun)
- ‘Absolutely! Anyway – thanks for calling back so promptly.’
(Still going with the fake country accent. What a laugh this guy is)
- ‘Okay. So. We’ve been called out to Len, a seventy-four year old man who fell off his quad bike last week and suffered a fractured L3. Was admitted to hospital, in for a couple of days, discharged with physio and a scrip for Morphine Sulphate, every two hours. Ran out last night, saw the GP, who issued a new scrip for the same but at a lower frequency. Funnily enough, the pain’s got worse, reduced mobility etc although can self-mobilise to the loo. No new trauma, neuro deficit or any other concerning symptoms. Obs fine, nothing there. So really we just wanted your advice.’
(A pause) ‘My advoise?’
- ‘Yes. What do you think they should do?’
(Another pause) ‘Waa’ll. Oi’ don’t know. I s’pose if it were down to me I’d jes’ shoot the ol’ bastard.’
(A long pause whilst I struggle to think of a response. Isn’t he taking this whole thing a bit too far?). ‘Don’t worry, mate. (He says, filling the awkward silence). You jes’ tell ‘em Donkey rang.’
- Okay. Will do. Bye.
I hang up and put the phone back on the table.
Karen is frowning at me.
‘That was Donkey’ I tell her.
‘Oh my god! Donkey?’
Two men in dusty overalls come into the kitchen, one of them about Len’s age, the other a young guy of twenty, his powerful arms covered in tattoos. They both pour themselves glasses of water at the sink, shoving the dogs aside with their work boots as they rush over to greet them.
‘How’s he doing?’ says the older guy, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Karen leans back in the chair and shakes her head.
‘Spence here just spoke to the doctor about the morphine question, only it wasn’t the doctor – it was Donkey!’
‘Yep. That’s patient confidentiality for you. It’ll be all over the village by now. All the gory details.’
‘Donkey!’ says the young guy, shaking his head. ‘Oh my God.’
The Husky has settled back down to stare at me from the Aga; the bull terrier is presenting his deflated beach ball to the young guy, who completely ignores him.
The phone rings again.
‘That’ll be Donkey, I ‘spect. For a second opinion,’ says the older guy, switching on the kettle and flashing me a look.
‘At least I’ve rehearsed what to say,’ I tell them, blushing.
It really is the doctor this time. I go through the case again. He authorises a return to the original dose, on the understanding that the whole thing’s reviewed by the family GP at the earliest opportunity. I thank him and hang up.‘Just the paperwork to finish off’ I tell them, leaning back in the chair. ‘Any further problems, just phone Donkey.’