Thursday, February 10, 2011

a vase of flowers

A broad and pleasant tree-lined avenue. Most of the Regency houses have long since been sectioned up into flats, but still, from the street at least, they maintain a facade of wholeness. The black wrought iron railings, Grecian porticos, black and white tiled thresholds and intricately leaded porch windows make me feel we should really be pitching up in a carriage and four rather than an ambulance. But the rack of chrome buttons by the front door are a reminder that time has moved on.

Mrs Mackenzie comes to the door.

‘Oh. You’re here. Come in.’
She turns and leads us past the letter boxes, bicycles, notices, hand-written reminders and alarm consoles, diagonally across the hallway to her front door. She shuffles like a careworn, domestic bear in a purple roll-neck top and brown slacks, a little absent, as if a long hibernation had been interrupted. We follow her into a bright and comfortably furnished studio flat, with silver family photos and porcelain nick-nacks on the mantelpiece, and a radio playing softly in the background. Mrs Mackenzie silently manoeuvres herself in front of a black leather sofa, then sits down in two distinct stages – the first, a slow and cautious bending of the knees; the second, a sudden release past the tipping point, dropping down with a gentle sigh. The silver haired cushion at the other end of the sofa turns out to be a cat. Bounced awake by the shock wave, it gives her a murderous look, then hurries away into the bedroom.
‘What seems to be the problem?’ says Frank, drawing up a chair. ‘Why have you called us?’
‘I don’t know. I’m not sure.’
‘So talk us through it. What happened this afternoon?’
‘I was at the hairdressers and I didn’t feel right.’
‘In what way?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Were you in pain? Did you feel sick or dizzy or short of breath?’
‘Any pins and needles anywhere? Numbness, loss of control? The shakes?’
‘Okay. So what did you do at the hairdressers?’
‘I came home.’
‘Right. Then what happened?’
‘I’ve got these numbers you see.’
She leans forward and picks up a neatly typed list of names and numbers from the coffee table.
‘I wanted to ring Janice to cancel her for this evening.’
‘Who’s Janice?’
‘Janice. My helper.’
‘But when I tried to dial the number, I just couldn’t do it.’
‘Do you mean your fingers didn’t work properly?’
‘Not really. And then when I got someone on the phone, I couldn’t find my words.’
‘Do you have any of these funny feelings now?’
‘No. Everything feels fine.’
‘Nothing untoward at all?’
‘No. I just feel a little foolish.’
‘Let’s do a few tests and see what’s what.’


Mrs Mackenzie is reluctant to come to hospital.
‘How will I get home?’
‘There are ways and means. The important thing is to get you checked over by a doctor. Worry about getting home later.’
‘But am I all right?’
‘Everything looks fine now, but there’s a chance you might have had a mini-stroke.’
‘But I’m all right now?’
‘Now, yes. Don’t worry about it. These attacks are quite common. But you are more at risk of a bigger stroke, so you should definitely come with us up the hospital now. Your health is more important than anything else.’
‘Yes. I suppose. Will you call Janice?’
‘Yes, I’ll call Janice. Let’s get your meds together, your coat and keys and whatnot. Okay? No rush. Let’s make sure we get everything.’
We help her up off the sofa. She wanders around the flat, dropping things into a carrier bag, muttering to herself. I leave a message on Janice’s answer machine, then open the door ready to go. For the first time I notice the strange vase in the centre of the mantelpiece – an old, craquelure white ceramic head of a smiling young woman, her eyes closed, the top of her head cut off above the ears; and from the hollow space there, a bunch of young carnations rising up in delicately spreading whorls of pink and red.


jacksofbuxton said...

I do hope Mrs Mac is ok.It's quite interesting to note that when people of a certain age call you out they seem to be very apologetic,I'm sure it's nothing etc etc.Perhaps we should all be a little more matter of fact about these things.If Mrs Mac has had a mini stroke then it's best to check her out,yet the fear of wasting your time,I'm sure it's nothing,I feel silly bringing you out contributes to people being more seriously ill at a later date.

Ali_Q said...

I think that vase would freak me out a bit.... I'm no good with ornamental people! I hope she was ok? I think it must be awful to feel like you're losing control... Scary!

Wordfiend said...

Another lovely story.
(I think the word is spelled "craquelure.")

Spence Kennedy said...

JoB - It's true, the older patients seem to be more reticent about what's wrong or having called you out at all. It's a good to be independent - but it's also good to know when you need help!

Alison - It'd freak me out, too. I'm the same with Toby jugs. And porcelain clowns. I'm not a fan of glass animals. And chintzy ceramic shepherdesses bring me out in a rash.

Wordfiend - Thanks v much (and I'll make the correction!)


Thanks for all your comments :)

Unknown said...

Hopefully, Mrs. Mackenzie turns out to be fine but it must have been somewhat disconcerting to see a vase representing an empty open head while dealing with a case of possible stroke-even as it held a colorful spray of flowers.

BB said...

Hope the dear was ok? That vase would have been creepy to me also.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Glad you caught she might have had a stroke. That's the first thing that ran through my mind as well. My dad has them.

Weird how strokes just kind of throw you off but don't really cause pain or any kind of symptom you can put your finger on. Hope I can avoid them when I get older but you never know.

Alexia said...

Another heart-touching story. And the best simile of 2011 so far: "like a careworn, domestic bear in a purple roll-neck top and brown slacks, a little absent, as if a long hibernation had been interrupted"


Spence Kennedy said...

nari - Her BP and everything else was fine, so I'm guessing she'll be okay. It did sound like a TIA, though. It was very strange to see that vase. I wonder if the flowers will show up on the MRI scan? :/

BB - Def quite creepy! Although I wouldn't have minded roses so much.

VMSP - TIA's are such a strange and disturbing phenomenon. But that's the link between the 'plumbing' of the brain and the manifestation of any kind of problem.

alexia - Thanks for that. I think I use a lot of animal imagery in my writing. Maybe I should've been a vet.

Cheers for the comments! :)

lulu's missives said...

Hello Spence,
That was beautifully written.
At first when you were describing the housing, I thought maybe you were in somewhere like Bath.
Hope all is well with you.
x jo

Jane Brideson said...

Love your description of the avenue and Mrs M.
I hope she was OK - she sounds like a gentle sort of woman. The vase & flowers sound bizarre - a bit like a brain in red and pink!

Spence Kennedy said...

Jo - The road did have a Bathy vibe. Like a row of giant doll's houses.

I'm fine thanks - a bit pale and post-shift this morning. Hope things are good with you.

Jane - I think the recovery rates from TIAs are pretty good, and so long as things are monitored to guard against more / bigger events, she should be fine.

V bizarre vase! Not one I'd pick - but the flowers were lovely. :)

Unknown said...

Hi spence, hope the lady received the right treatment and is doing well now. Tia`s are quite unnoticeable sometimes or complete opposite. The vase did sound scary... I'm scared of clowns, I want to run n cry when I see one.

The cushion turn out to be a grumpy cat.... Lol brilliant.

Spence Kennedy said...

Clowns? *shiver* Unless they're modern versions without all the paint...
Cats are often at risk of being mistaken for cushions. No wonder they have quick reactions - years of sprinting out from beneath oblivious, descending butts.