Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Suddenly a curtain of fine water sweeps down from the night sky and closes across the world. I’m piloting a submarine, the headlamps straining forwards through the gloom; somebody clutching an umbrella glides past like a jellyfish; I see an elderly woman standing in a lighted doorway, clutching a dressing gown together at her chest with one hand and waving with the other; we turn out of the cab and swim across the pavement towards her.

‘What a night!’
‘Thank you so much for coming. I’m afraid Geoffrey isn’t too good. I just can’t seem to wake him.’

Her bungalow is a warm, yellow sanctuary. The water cascades noisily just behind us beyond the open door, but in here the air is quiet and bright, the walls neatly painted, hung with delicate portraits of people, and dogs, and people with dogs – on a low walnut table guarding the hallway is a marble statue of a Jack Russell, sitting on its haunches looking backwards over its shoulder, as if it had been turned to stone in the middle of a walk.

‘Through here.’

A black and white photograph of a young pilot; an oil painting of a young woman; a row of framed kennel club certificates.
And into a clinically white room where Geoffrey lies slumped on a pneumatic bed, his puffy face flushed red, breathing noisily. He has a nasal canula leading off to a cylinder of oxygen, and a catheter leading out from under the bed sheets to a bag hung on the side.

‘Geoffrey? Hello, Geoffrey – it’s the ambulance.’

He opens his eyes and grunts slightly. We sit him more upright and check him over.
Rae finds the care folder – emphysema, palliative care at home, no DNR.
Geoffrey’s wife Jean touches me on the arm.

‘I didn’t know what to do. I can’t cope if he’s as bad as this.’

It’s late at night. Despite the palliative care order, there’s nothing else available to us but to take him to hospital. We ask Geoffrey if he wants to go, and he nods.

‘Don’t worry, Jean. We’ll take good care of him.’

We can just fit the trolley into the house. I feel bad about the tracks the wheels make down the carpet, but Jean waves that aside. I have to move the table and the statue of the terrier to get along the hallway.

‘Ah, Gertie,’ says Jean, patting the statue on the head. ‘She was a good dog.’
I put the statue to one side, just by the doorway to the sitting room.


As we wheel Geoffrey back along the hallway, Jean asks us to wait a moment whilst she says goodbye to her husband. She pushes a few strands of white hair away from his eyes, looks at him intently, then kisses him lightly on the lips. He barely responds.

‘I hate to see him go to the hospital on his own, but I just can’t cope.’
‘It’s okay, Jean. No one will think badly of you.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Absolutely. Get some rest tonight. Call the hospital in the morning.’

She gives him one last stroke on the arm and we carry on down the hallway.

Looking ahead out of the front door, it seems as if the rain has stopped. We pass the living room. Gertie is there, looking over her shoulder. I expect her to run after us as we manoeuvre the trolley over the front step and head out into the shining dark.


Jean said...

Poor lady. She tried so hard to take complete care of her love.

Spence Kennedy said...

I definitely got the impression she'd done everything she could. The room was beautifully set up, she had a comprehensive care package in place. It was just that she was exhausted and couldn't cope with this final set-back. I hope they managed to get a few more hours together the following day. x

Chris said...

Wow. Your writing is amazing. The description of the weather, the housing units that you go into - I feel like I'm there. You have a gift for writing, truly, as well as a gift for caring for people. Keep up the good work on both fronts.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, Chris. I really appreciate your support. :)

Shade said...

Best description of the weather I've read in a long time - love it!

Sad when caring for someone gets to that stage.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much TE!
It is tough when things get to that stage. Inevitable, of course, but really awful. You have to think about all the good times they had together, and try to be philosophical. But I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for Jean to kiss him goodbye that night.

Mary said...

Nobody wants to see the people they love, suffer. But,neither to abandon their loved ones

Spence Kennedy said...

It's such a difficult balance to strike - for the relatives and the carers. I think everyone did as much as they could in this instance, but sometimes, despite your best efforts, events overtake you.

Unknown said...

My step dad had necrosis from the radiotherapy for his brain tumor, he also had 4 more tumors on opp side of his brain. My mum cared for him 24/7 for 3 years, we had McMillan nurses, (who were fantastic and still keep in touch) 3x a week for few hrs and I mucked in every other day, But it wore my mum down, hoisting, changing, dressing, peg feed, meds etc, she was mentally n physically knackered but refused point blank to have respite care. Unfortunately for him he contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized, dying 4 days later. This may sound harsh to some but I think it came at the right time for both of them. He had had enough and mum was so worn out. Sometimes death is a blessing for all concerned.

Spence Kennedy said...

I can't imagine how tough that must have been on the family - and particularly your mum, of course. Sounds like she did an amazing job. I hope all's well with her now, and she's found some peace after such a rough time. Macmillan nurses are amazing, esp. considering how woefully underfunded Palliative care is in the UK.

Unknown said...

It was tough but you just get on with it and make the most of each day with that person. Mum is amazing, even if she does still shout at me and I'm 43!! Lol. We are all ok now thanks Spence, makes you stronger I think as a person and a family. The nurses are sooooooo underpaid as they made such a huge difference to mum and step dad. It's been 14years and I'm still in touch with one of them on fb which is nice. I have worked in palliative care for 10 years and its rewarding in the way that you have made a difference to people's life's no matter how big or small.

Spence Kennedy said...

You're right. Those personal, practical interventions make all the difference - and they are so rewarding.

It'd be great to get paid more (even a little more). I hate hearing about city bonuses, way out of proportion to the social value of the job they're doing. But hey - it's not all about money! Well - maybe for them...