Ted is ninety-three. Five years ago he had a serious stroke that left him bed-bound, unable to speak, incontinent, swallowing problems and so on. The best he can do is intimate pain – everything else is subject to the attention and good offices of the nursing home staff. He’s padded and catheterised, spoon-fed pureed food. He takes a dozen meds including prophylactic antibiotics for urine and chest infections. Every morning after breakfast Ted is hoisted out of bed to a wheelchair, bolstered with cushions, then pushed through to the lounge where he sits with his back to the window, facing the TV. There is no DNAR.
The last couple of days Ted has stopped eating and drinking. There’s a suggestion that he may have had another stroke but of course it’s difficult to say. The doctor was informed over the phone. After reviewing the situation he arranged for Ted to be collected by ambulance and brought to hospital with a view to fitting him with a PEG – a tube that passes through the abdominal wall to the stomach.
He’ll be admitted via A&E, pending an available bed further up the chain.
Ted’s daughter Fiona arrives. We tell her how things stand at the hospital, the delays, the queues in the triage area. She’s quite stoical about it. She says she faced a similar ordeal a few months back when he was admitted with his breathing.
She rests a hand on his shoulder and leans in to shout in his ear. Don’t worry Dad. I’m coming with you.
He stares ahead, his mouth hanging open.
The nursing staff hoist him onto our trolley. We collect his notes, his medication, his personal effects. We head out of the lounge to the lift.
‘Going on a trip?’ says one of the nursing staff, holding the lift door for us. ‘Have a good one!’
We ride down, the bright down spots of the lift casting all our eyes in shadow.
Fiona pats Ted on the hand, fusses with his blankets.
We wheel the trolley through the lobby, passed a potted fern, a couple of soft focus canvases, four leather armchairs round a glass table displaying a circle of leaflets.
Fiona takes a call on her mobile, makes arrangements.
An assitant in the lobby keys a sequence into a pad and the doors slide open. The wind out in the car park hits us cold, blowing in from the sea across a swathe of dark, freshly-tilled earth.
‘Won’t be long now,’ says Fiona.
There’s no reaction.