The hours bleed into one another without distinction. Punctuation has to be self imposed and it is not. A part time job spills into full time without anyone noticing. Boundaries declared from above are lost in the smelt. A free fall blurring swims up to greet us. Until.
‘I think you’re going to have to take me in’, the vulnerable person announces.
It’s a mid-week work morning, getting close to tea break time, that thing of the past. I press a few more keys on the laptop while I absorb. He’s crouch-standing before me uttering these words. Words that he’s been batting down for weeks now. Upping the meds. Swapping them around. Making it up as he goes along, a hot whiskey thrown in for good measure.
‘I’m waiting for the doctor to call back’, he says in a low slow whisper, with a look that tells me I probably shouldn’t ask him to repeat, a thing I tend to do while I decide my best reaction.
‘But I have nothing, no breath at all, just so you know’.
My forefinger continues to press keys and I stare at him in the doorway as the fear announces itself. A tuning fork strikes the top of my head and is left to ring.
‘Okay’, I say, or someone says for me. It sounds good. Pragmatic and soothing all at once. I love when this person steps forward. All clear and actioned, rising out of the mist.
I look down at my pyjamas. A vigorous empowering shower calls from above to be taken during tea break while he fulfils the task I’ve set him. To send me a list of all he might need for a hospital stay. Even as I say it, it seems a little treacherous. Having a hand in it. Packing him off to succumb to the war.
The doctor confirms this is the only course of action and writes a letter for A&E. He gives us a choice with it. It’s up to us whether we brace the super busy state of the art hospital, or the smaller local one. Who needs a choice at a time like this? We banter it out. The super busy hospital is where he was last. All the notes. The consultants. The local hospital. Less Covid perhaps. Close by. All in all less scary. Fingers crossed.
I’m back at the desk, pressing fingers on a keyboard, tuning fork humming merrily in my head. There’s a no caller id phone call buzzing on my iPhone beside me. The pragmatic person says it must be answered. It could be the hospital after all. The tuning fork pitch goes up a notch as I slide to answer. A male voice.
‘Is this Mrs Kelly?’
I wonder if it is. Certainly not something I’d ever call myself. But he does, on occasion, if he wants to irk and have a laugh. I confirm that I reckon it is. The voice announces itself as a teacher. My reaction is delayed at best, verging on rude as my brain works it out. It’s hard to work it out with the fork still screaming. It’s not the hospital. Just a teacher. Marque 5’s teacher. He picks up the slack. Rabbits on a bit while I catch up. Ordinarily talking to a teacher would not be top on my list of fun things to do in a day, but such is the relief that it’s not the hospital he’s treated to a super enthusiastic version of how it’s all going in lockdown. Yes we’re getting through some school work. Not putting the kid under too much pressure but hey, yes, we have it in hand. It all sounds mightily jolly, verging on maniacal perhaps, or as if I’ve hit the gin mid afternoon. I’m almost hanging up when he enquires if marque 5 is here (eh I think so, we’re on lockdown, remember?) and if he can have a chat with him. The tuning fork changes pitch to a low dull boom. I picture marque 5, up playing fortnite, and I look at the phone and wonder how to navigate this. Shall I just say no? If I go up with the phone into the darkened room and announce the teacher wants a chat, there’s no telling what might happen. The fright of it. I’m very frightened myself now. I hear myself saying that I’ll go and search for him, as if it’s a mansion we’re in and there’s no telling where he might be. I leave the phone safely downstairs, away from any reaction that may be a touch unsavoury. His little eyes widen in quizzical disappointment as he removes his headphones and follows me down like a lamb to the slaughter.
‘Well, I get up at eleven’, I hear him say and I think I might just keel over. The rug at the hearth could take me, cushion the blow. But then I rethink it. Of all the things to keel over about today this perhaps is not the one. I listen on.
‘Yeah. I do a few spellings’. Phew. Don’t forget to mention maths.
‘Then I play games’. God. Limited I mutter, the online games. Two hours max.
‘I go for a long walk. Yes. Everyday’. Good man.
I’m back on to the teacher as he scribbles out his damning notes and tells me it’s great to hear the little voice. I treat him to a last blast of lockdown coping jollity when I tell him how we’re watching films most nights too. The whole family together. No mean feat. Sometimes they’re in French, great for the old reading the teacher is supposed to deduce, or perhaps I announce, all those subtitles. Late to bed, late to rise but hey, there are many forms of education.
‘He asked me what my routine is Mum’, marque 5 says, eyes sparkling in cahoots with me before turning around and running back upstairs. Routine. What a curious word. I’m left battling a competing mixture of pride and guilt. That the child knows what the word means, as he certainly didn’t pick it up here – pride. That I’m not doing enough with and for him – guilt. I allow pride to win and declare another school day over. Yay.
The patient is on the line. He was triaged over the phone from the car park in case he’s a risk. In a flash he went from being a sick person in need of health care to being a person who is a potential health threat. He’s respiratory and must be treated as if he has Covid. We know it’s not Covid. They probably know it’s not Covid. The precautions are welcome though. The corridors are emptied as he’s admitted, this bio risk. He’s in isolation and he’s tested. Anyone coming anywhere near him has the full PPE. He’s not allowed to go to the toilet. A commode is left in the room instead. The care is exemplary. A good call to choose this hospital, he reassures. Quiet and excellent. Drips and nebulisers and steroids all while he waits for his Covid status. When it comes back negative he’s shifted to a small ward. Two other men, one young, one old. Immediately the tuning fork starts up again. I’d prefer if he stays by himself, away from all other humans. We’ve been so careful with him, cocooning from well in advance of the directives. The next day he tells me how the young man has been removed from the ward. He had tested negative for Covid, but then developed a fever over night. The tests can be wrong, apparently. Back to isolation for the young man as a precaution. Excellent. But then our vulnerable person may have just spent a night with someone who is positive. I push it right down. Choose to not go there. There’s no room in my brain to go there.
It’s my father’s 86th birthday and the excellent nursing home staff are facilitating a visit. They will wheel him out at 4pm into the garden and we can see him in the flesh from a distance. They are angels and they love him. Everybody loves him. Quite right too. He’s a sweetheart. I’m there with all my boys. My sister and brother stand 2 meters apart from us and from each other. I’m feeling slightly nauseous. How will it be possible to see him and not touch him? Will I be able to resist the urge to seize the wheelchair and run off with him, away from danger to somewhere safe? The pragmatic actioning person is summoned and dutifully arrives. At two minutes past four, as the door to the garden opens and he is pushed through, blinking into the light she bats back the tears, beams, congratulates, loves from a distance. His eyes twinkle behind his glasses as he reads our words on cards held up to him. He declares the staff who managed to organise this to be geniuses. And they are.
The patient banters with the kids on WhatsApp. They plan a heist. He’s to emerge with the valuables – sanitizers, face masks, nebulisers. One of them will run the XC90 at the main entrance. One is to bring toast and jam. They are to dress in squirrel costumes. Two of them actually pop by the hospital on their walk. Tell him to look out the window onto the street. They’re readying themselves for the heist. A bad scary situation turned on its head with a bit of humour and fun. The kids showing the parents how to do it. Once again.
Four days later he lands on the doorstep. Parachutes in. One of the troops returned to us on a sunny afternoon, bag slung across his shoulder, multi-coloured stubble on his face. He decided to walk rather than ask for a lift. What? Some mighty steroids thrum in him. He sits out in the sun while I make him a bacon sandwich. Laughter fills the garden as he catches up with the kids. He bites into the soft bread, sucking out the salt his body has craved for days. He declares it the best sandwich he has had in his life. What other drugs pulse in him? Can I have some too please?
The episode has crystallised the hours for us. No longer do they spill and bleed. The important stuff has risen to the top and left the murk well below. We blaze on with new definitions.