It was 10pm when I pulled into the drive of number 12. I struggled to stifle a huge yawn. What sort of confidence would they have in me if they were watching through the window? I hadn’t expected to be called out that night, but couldn’t refuse knowing the circumstances. A quick glance in the mirror assured me that I looked even more zapped than I felt.
The door was ajar and a youngish man popped his head around it. He smiled wanly as I extended my hand. “Hello, I’m Chrissie from the Community Nursing Team. You must be Tommy?”
“That’s right.” He opened the door. “Thank you for coming at short notice.”
His war-weary, heavy eyed demeanour confirmed to me that losing my night’s sleep was a paltry affair in comparison with the trials and heartache of this family.
“No problem Tommy,” I assured him as he gestured toward the living room. Grace lay in her bed under the window. Chairs and boxes cluttered the corners in order to make space.
“This is my dad, Frank, and my sister Carol,” he politely introduced me. Frank was sitting at the bedside, his hands cupping his wife’s. Her frail bone structure and network of veins could easily be traced through delicate, tissue-thin skin.
Carol gently mopped beads of sweat from mom’s forehead with a damp cloth rinsed in a bowl of tepid water.
Grace’s respirations were long and deep; sometimes stopping, then starting up again with a sharp intake of breath.
The malodorous atmosphere, mingled with vain attempts at neutralising concoctions, was heavy with the characteristic traits of the dreadful disease.
Frank expressed his concern right away. “She’s taken a turn for the worse since Tuesday Chrissie. She was on her feet until then. It happened so quickly.”
I couldn’t lie to him. “She’s very poorly Frank.”
“How long do you think?” I felt his despair. He looked me in the eye. “Two days; three? A week?” He almost pleaded with me for more time. Carol began to sob; Tommy flopped back onto the sofa with head in hands, but Frank’s face remained impassive. “Grace could die tonight. Right?”