‘Please don’t do anything. It’s not what she would have wanted.’
‘Is there a DNAR?’
‘A Do Not Resuscitate order. Without that I’m afraid my hands are tied.’
Sheila is in cardiac arrest, and the paramedic doesn’t have the luxury of debate. Sheila’s daughter Rachel is too elderly herself to help, so she leaves the room and he sets about getting Sheila onto the floor by himself. Luckily she doesn’t weigh much. He’s able to gather the bottom sheet and slide her out of bed in a controlled way. As soon as she’s on the floor he starts chest compressions.
When we arrive a few minutes later Angus has cut Sheila’s nightie off and put the defib pads on. She’s in asystole, and stays that way despite all our efforts.
We stop the resus after half an hour. Tidy her up. Put her back to bed.
Rachel is sitting on the sofa with her husband Geoff when I go in to tell them that Sheila has died.
‘I knew she’d gone,’ she says. ‘We live in the flat just below. I should’ve known something was wrong.’
Her husband squeezes her hand.
‘I’ll make us all some tea,’ he says, and goes off into the kitchen.
‘She always said she didn’t want a long illness, in and out of hospital like Grandma,’ says Rachel. ‘She was a stubborn old thing. She had a habit of getting her way in the end.’
I tell her about the next stage, how the police always attend an unexpected death – ‘...purely routine, nothing to worry about. They’re only here as representatives of the Coroner’s Office. They’ll talk you through the next stage.’
It’s still early. Rachel and Geoff are in their dressing gowns. When he comes back into the room with a tray of tea things he sets it down on the table and says they’d better go back downstairs and get dressed.
‘You’ve got plenty of time,’ I tell them as they leave. ‘The police will probably take half an hour or so.’
Whilst they’re gone we tidy up some more, drink our tea, finish the paperwork. We swap gossip with Angus, then he leaves us to it.
As situations go it’s pretty perfect. The elderly mother in the upstairs flat, independent but still a daily part of things; the daughter and her family just below. It’s a bright and tidy place, filled with family pictures, from the slick-haired young pilot standing by a Spitfire with his arms folded, through black and white baby photos, prams in parks, faded colour scenes of weddings, graduations, increasing family groups in gardens so bright the colour has faded almost to white, outings, Christmas gatherings, parties in crowded halls, all the faces turned towards the camera.
Rachel comes back in – a little hesitantly, like it’s not quite the room it was.
‘Thanks for everything you’ve done,’ she says. ‘Can I ....go in and see her now?’
‘How’s the tea?’
‘A lifesaver,’ I say, immediately regretting the faux pas. Thankfully she doesn’t hear me, though. She’s already turned and headed back across the hallway. She hesitates by the bedroom door, gently opens it in the way that you would if you wanted to go into a room without waking someone, then goes inside.