Monday, January 17, 2011

what patty says

The business fuss of our visit is over. Nell has refused hospital despite everything, every threat, blandishment, trick and treat we know. The carer has gone, Nell is propped up on a dozen rotten pillows contentedly spooning a yogurt. Frank is on the phone in the sitting room talking to the out of hours doctor.
I look round the room.
‘Where are you from originally, Nell?’
‘Liverpool. I’m a scouser. D’you know what? When my sister Patty rings, she says “Are you okay, our wack?”
‘Our wack. I like that.’
‘She’s always said it.’
There are several photographs, framed or otherwise, spread across the walls. I point to one, a luminously pretty woman in a tightly buttoned uniformed, her lipstick mouth in a formal forties cupid. She has tried to control her hair, but it still looks as though someone filled her cap with springs and then dumped it on her head.
‘So is this you in the uniform, Nell?’
‘Is this what?’
‘Is this you during the war?’
‘WRAF, Carlisle. Nineteen forty two.’
‘Very smart.’
‘I went all over the place. Norway. Sweden. London.’
She points at me with the spoon.
‘Intake, compression, power, exhaust.’
‘What’s that then?’
‘I was a mechanic. I fixed the trucks. They said to me “Nell, what do you know about the workings of it all?” And I told them. Intake, compression, power, exhaust. The internal combustion engine. In a nutshell.’
She hangs on the memory for a moment, then dives back into her fruit corner.
‘Did you do it after the war?’
‘Wha’d’you say?’
‘Did you do it after the war? Mechanics?’
‘I was Head Usherette at the Hippodrome. See that one there?’
‘This one?’
‘That one there. He came and sang there once and he gave me that.’
‘He’s a fine looking feller.’
‘He’s a fool. He had a sack of them. Everyone got a picture, whether they wanted one or not.’
Frank comes back into the room.
‘The doctor says you’re to come to hospital with us, Nell.’
‘Well the doctor can mind her own business.’
‘You’re not yourself.’
‘There’s nothing the matter with me. I’m not going to hospital, and you can’t make me.’
‘You’re right there.’
‘I just want to be left alone.’
She scrapes round the yogurt carton then chucks it to the side.
‘That’s me Dad,’ she says, wiping her mouth on her cardigan then pointing at the wardrobe. For a moment I think Poor Nell. She really is confused. But then I realise there is a framed picture of a man on the very top of the wardrobe, the top edge of the frame almost touching the ceiling.
Frank rearranges the pillows behind her.
‘Have you got everything you need, Nell? Can we make you a tea?’
‘No thanks.’
‘Nell - the doctor says she’s coming straight over to have a word. We’ll wait in the sitting room till she gets here.’
‘Righto. But I’m not going to the hospital.’
‘Talk to the doctor about it.’

We go next door, into a low-ceilinged room sparsely furnished with a display cabinet of dusty trinkets, a TV, a threadbare Ercol settee and coffee table, everything strewn with toffees, celebrity magazines and random scraps of paper. One of them has shaky handwriting covering one side, notes that Nell had obviously made for a letter to a newspaper: I fought for my country, she writes. This green and pleasant land, so called. And now what do I see out the window? Students marching in the street because they can’t go to college because the government won’t give them any money. I never had the chance of an education so I got it where I could and that was that and I don’t complain. But I didn’t go through a war just to see kids not given a fair chance. Something must be done. This old woman supports the students.

There is a photo book there too – A Day in the Life of Norway. The cover shows a young couple sprawled on a grassy bank beneath a pine tree. The girl is smiling as the boy points something out across the fjord. Behind them, two tethered horses are grazing – except for some reason the horse in the foreground is arching its back and neck, its mouth wide open, just as if it were about to be sick all over the boy. I show Frank.
‘What the hell is this one doing?’
‘I don’t know, Spence. A hairball.’
‘Why would you put a picture like that on a book about Norway, Frank?’
‘They’re trying to tell you something. Norway’s all right if you go by bike.’
Suddenly Nell shouts out from the bedroom. We both go back in.
‘I need the loo.’
‘Okay mate.’
We help her up. Even with her stick she wobbles about.
‘Are you okay?’ I say. She stops, plants herself as firmly as she’s able, and looks right at me.
‘You know all that business about Wayne Rooney? You know what Patty says?’
‘What does she say?’
‘She says if I was his wife I’d cut his nob off.’


Karla said...

Another great post. I found out what a scouser was ( a native of Liverpool) but what is a "wack"?

SarahFrancesYoung said...

what was actually wrong with her?

jacksofbuxton said...

And quite right too Nell.Far too much money and time given to one so dim.

Nell has some fire in her belly,good for her.

Strange how different parts of the world have their colloquialisms.My mother is a Brummie,so I tend to use "bab" or "chick" as a term of endearment (Mrs Jack is used to that now).Since moving to North Staffordshire it's all "duck" or "Shug" (short for sugar I guess).On the day we moved into our current house we spent all day unpacking,making up beds and all the rest of it.It was 10.30 in the evening when we stopped and I went into the little market town we live in (Cheadle) to pick up a Chinese.Being greeted with "Wha'you wa' me duck" by the Chinese lady behind the counter.I wanted chicken.....

Another beautifully written piece Spence.

Spence Kennedy said...

Karla - I think 'wack' is a Liverpudlian term - something like 'mate' or 'love', maybe 8)

SFY - She was a bit confused (?UTI) and had taken more of her meds than she should. The word was she had to go in for monitoring.

JoB - She was feisty. Imagine what she'd have been like when she was twenty, with a wrench in her hand!

I love those regional things. Back in Norfolk you'd get called 'bor'. I had a girlfriend from Lincoln where they'd call everyone m'duck. I love that stuff.

Your takeaway story reminded me of the time I went into KFC with an Iranian guy. He went up to the counter, banged his hand down enthusiastically and shouted 'Hen!'


Thanks for all your comments :)

OKinUK said...

You're better than PostSecret.

BB said...

So much as to what could have been wrong. I had no idea how debilitating a UTI could be until my Dad had one. Doctors thought possible dementia was beginning. He was wacked out. Then they did a test and found out what it was. Gave him meds and he was back to normal in no time. I don't want to get old like that!!

Sabine said...

What a woman. Thanks for giving her a voice on your blog. As always, fabulous writing.

Tiffany Jewelry said...

I can't twig what is wrong with her.

Blair Ivey said...

I discovered your blog a couple of months ago, and like most, stayed for the writing. Not so much for reading the adventures of an EMT, but the way you capture a moment, moments that many of us could see in our own lives if we stopped to pay attention.

The story with Nell was especially poignant. Her generation did so much, and soon, now, they'll all be gone. Thanks for letting them speak a bit longer.

I do have a couple of questions. Do you all have any patients that aren't down on their luck (or are they the most memorable), and are there any male physicians in the UK?


Blair Ivey

Spence Kennedy said...

Mollie - Thanks for the tip. I hadn't heard of postsecret (, but I checked it out and it's fantastic!

BB - It's startling how much of an effect a UTI can have. Def comes across as dementia. Usually if it's just a UTI we can leave the pt at home, but in Nell's case the confusion meant she took way too many of her meds, so she did need to go in.

call me any name - Thanks v much. That's one reason I started the blog - meeting all these people and wanting to record what was happening to them / how they were coping.

TJ - It's a mystery sometimes. A process of deduction - and failing any insights, of referral!

Blair Ivey - Thanks for reading. V much appreciated.

I suppose 'down on your luck' is a broad brush, encompassing mental health, drug addiction, the problems of growing old, accidents etc - in fact, our bread and butter! Just reading back through the last couple of months, there are only three or four out of twenty where social deprivation is the main thing. But it's true, the socially and economically disadvantaged feature more prominently in our workload than any other group. You'd have to speak to a social anthropologist about why that is, though!

Who knows the proportion of female to male docs in the UK. I'd guess there were more male, like most other professions, because of the continuing burden of childcare falling on the woman and interrupting career progression. But again, that's just a guess.


Thanks for all your comments :)

Unknown said...

I could imagine myself sitting there listening to Nell talk about her past when she's more herself, of course.

You captured a woman, who though not 100% at the moment, is clearly full of color, vibrancy and venom.

I would imagine her life experiences would be both entertaining and educational.

Jane Brideson said...

Lovely, warm picture of Nell - she sounds like a great character. Hope she was monitored and sorted so she could go home again.
You're right Spence, I'm a Scouser and a 'wack' or 'wacker' is a mate. It's years since I've heard that expression, think it may be dying out.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Nari. Nell was lovely - ninety something, but full of life. I loved the way she was planning that letter in support of the students. It shows she's still very much outward looking and positive.

Thanks Jane. Although UTIs are surprisingly disruptive, they're very treatable. I'm sure she'd be back home in no time. Ta for the comment, wack! (Is that how you'd say it?)

:) x

Anonymous said...

JoB, the line for the use of the endearment of 'me duck' runs right through the middle of Buxton, you won't here it north of Spring Gardens.

I think I read recently that female medical students have just taken the lead over the males, in terms of numbers going to medical school.

Spence Kennedy said...

Yay to that! It's about time. My favourite GPs have been female...

Unknown said...

Wow Nell sounds great, I could spend a lot of time with her, bless her. Down here in nottm it's Aup me duck lol.
As you know, I work in a care home, except 2, our other 18 residents have dementia of some sort. It is very difficult to decide if a uti is present or their dementia is worsening. It does help when you know them, assisting them everyday, unlike you not knowing your patients. Left untreated it can play havoc with the mind!

Spence Kennedy said...

I helped build a fence round Gedling Wood in Nottingham! (A while ago now..)
Dementia's such a terrible illness. It's a good job you're doing in the care home, Carla. Hats off to you!

Unknown said...

Oh was it near the carlton-le-willows school???
It's very sad when you see the person so frustrated because they can't tell you what they want to tell you. Parkinson's is the cruelest I think because you know your going daft (as one of my ladies described it) but some are quite happy. One lady we helped got mugged outside a list office and was punched so hard it wobbled her brain about n caused her dementia, (bstards) and all for a fiver!!! According to her family, she'd never been as happy now she had dementia as she knew nothing about the attack, all she was aware of was her name. She sang and laughed all the time.
And thanks for the compliment spence, we all do our best for them. Bit scary when you start understanding them though!!