‘Why won’t you come to hospital?’ says Rae, leaning forwards and stroking Rita’s hand. ‘What is it that’s worrying you?’
Rita’s daughter Valerie sobs once, loudly, in the kitchen. After half an hour of fruitless persuasion she suddenly broke down and had to take herself away. Valerie’s husband John passes her another tissue.
Rita is lying on the sofa, emaciated, the worst I’ve seen, her flesh fallen away from her bones like the sea from a wreck at low tide.
Rae has the doctor’s letter on her clipboard, and a note for the crew: Rita has a large abdominal mass that needs urgent assessment. Do your best to persuade - otherwise we need to consider our options. The family have driven half way across the country this morning. They knew she was bad, but this sudden deterioration has been a shock.
‘Rita? We won’t do anything you don’t want to do,’ says Rae. ‘But you’re very unwell and you need your tummy looking at. You’re dehydrated and you’re in pain. We can help with that here, but ultimately you need treatment at hospital otherwise you’ll just get worse. Do you understand?’
Rita licks her cracked lips, but carries on staring up at the ceiling.
‘The hospital won’t keep you in any longer than they have to, Rita. Once they’ve made you comfortable and seen what needs to be done, you can think about what you want to do next. How does that sound? You really can’t go on like this, though. You need to go to hospital.’
Slowly, Rita turns her lustrous eyes on us, and when she smiles, her teeth seem too big for her mouth.
‘It’s cancer,’ she whispers. ‘I know what it is. And if I go to hospital, I won’t be coming out again.’
She gives Rae’s hand a squeeze, as if it were Rae that needed to hear the truth of it and not her. Then she turns her face back to the ceiling.