Terry is lying where he fell sometime in the night, wedged in the corner of the bedroom, his cadaverous arms and legs crooked up like some giant, woebegone crane fly. His only covering is the curtains he pulled down on top of him, hooks, track, plaster and all. Luckily it’s been warm and the radiator stayed off, otherwise he’d have suffered burns to his side. All in all, though, he seems to have escaped any fractures, cuts or scrapes. The carer tells us that Terry’s ninety-two and pretty fit. A little underweight, perhaps, increasingly reliant on the carers first thing in the morning, last thing at night, but other than that, rubbing along pretty well. Unfortunately he’s not been able to throw off a chest infection that’s been bothering him the last few months. He spent some weeks in a home to help him over it, was discharged just the other day. But his situation has deteriorated. And now here he is, stuffed up on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, confused, distressed, his withered buttocks and legs encrusted with faeces.
I fetch a selection of cleaning materials from the ambulance and together we set to cleaning him up. He’s so light I can lift him at the hip on my own, giving Rae and the carer just enough room to make a quick scoop of the worst of the mess, and slide an inco pad underneath so we can get busy with a bowl of soapy water. In fact, I’m tempted to clean him up like I used to clean the girls when they were babies: left hand / ankles; right hand / wipes.
The whole time we’re working, Terry mutters incomprehensibly. We make reassuring noises. None of it connects.
Terry’s daughter, Margaret comes in. A brisk elderly woman with brisk elderly hair, she harrumphs into the room, dumps her bag and keys on the bed, and immediately sets about getting in the way as efficiently as if it the whole thing was scripted.
‘I’ll change that water’ she says. She takes the bowl of suds, misjudging the weight and slopping it everywhere, then comes back with clear cold water and a bar of soap.
‘Thanks’ I say. ‘Watch out for the curtains. They’re quite badly soiled.’
She dumps them on the floor, right in the middle of the route Rae had cleared for the carry chair.
‘I knew he wasn’t ready to come back,’ she says, wiping globs of faeces from her hands on an old towel then tossing it onto the bed right by my shoulder. ‘I’ve never seen him as bad as this’
Even though the carer has told us a fair bit of information, she’s new to this address and doesn’t know the whole story. Whilst we work, I ask Margaret a few more questions about Terry, to get a clearer picture of what might be wrong – his past medical history, medication regime and so on. It’s impossible to get much sense from her, though. Even a simple question about when he last saw the doctor only acts as a door through which she hurries down another long avenue of stress and complication.
Meanwhile, the carer finds a clean pair of pyjama bottoms.
‘I don’t suppose you have all this written down somewhere, do you?’ I ask Margaret, feeding Terry’s legs through.‘Why? I’m telling you now!’ she says, then turns away, throwing up her hands in frustration.