“Holy Moly, Eve.” Dr Sands fights back the stronger expletives.
And the smell, Jesus.
His patient, Eve Anderson limps in with a plastic shopping bag on her left foot.
He dons an apron and gloves, before lifting the bagged foot into his lap.
“Nothing we haven’t seen before, eh?”
Workman-like, he takes the elastic band off, then the bag, then the thick sock.
The smell of putrid infection and a hefty maggot-infestation hits his stomach.
After thirty years, he thought he was immune to any smell.
He glances at the notes on his screen.
His patient is 69, and an infrequent visitor to the surgery. Non-smoker. Not diabetic. If anything, a little underweight although hard to tell under her coat and hat with a handbag clutched to her chest. No children. Husband died in 2012.
Looks like the infection entered at the base of the big toe.
Not just an army of writhing, munching, white maggots, but a reserve battalion at the ready in the form of larvae and eggs about to hatch. The toe is bulbous, hot to the touch and the infection is spreading, eating flesh en-route.
The smell is something else.
“I think we need to get you to hospital,” he says, cradling the infection in a gloved hand.
Eve’s eyes widen.
“No hospital,” she says, small but emphatic.
IV antibiotics and clinical debridement are what’s needed.
She senses what he’s about to say and clutches the bag tight.
“I’m not going to hospital.” The terror in her voice.
“Ok. A deal.” He takes her hand. “If I can get hold of Nurse Whittaker, we’ll have a good clean at it after surgery. Freeze the foot, cut away the infection. Yes?”
He sees the tension ebb. He can’t admit her against her will anyway.
“But we send the nurse to see you every day, clean the wound, change the dressings, check for infection, make sure the antibiotics are doing their job. Unless we see significant improvement by the end of the week, it’s hospital.”
Eve shakes her head and clutches the bag.
He senses she’d run, limping at breakneck, if he didn’t have her foot.
“I can just come here every day. Take up less of your time.”
The old GP shakes his head.
“Our District Nurses are tip-top. You let them worry about what’s best.”
Eve starts to protest.
“I should be sending you to hospital Eve,” he says gravely. “That’s the choice. Hospital or home.”
He doesn’t relish the prospect of touching the sock again.
“We’ll pop you into a clinic room for now.” He grins at her. “We don’t often get the chance to do things the old-fashioned way.”
It takes Dr Sands and Nurse Whitaker over an hour to wash, clean, cut away, scrub and dress the foot in the bright, white room.
“Call me Tina,” says the nurse, giving Eve a warm hug across her stiff, bony shoulders.
They work in tandem. Tina bringing bowls and implements, opening sachets.
Eve is recovering in the waiting room with a cup of tea, prescription installed in the clutched bag. The taxi to take her home is ordered.
No, there’s no-one they can contact, she tells them for a third time.
She’s shaking in the back of the taxi.
The need to be home is overwhelming.
She leans forward and taps the glass of the driver’s compartment.
“Pull in for a second?”
He looks confused.
“Pull in, love?”
“Yes, just there. Those black bags on the right. By the lamppost. I won’t be a moment.”
She hops out, left foot raised above the ground.
A pile of old National Geographic magazines. Sacrilege! A gorilla smiles at her from the top copy. Under that a looming Mount Etna. Damp, but treasure nonetheless.
Wilson would never forgive her if she didn’t rescue them.
The need to gather is a pain greater than anything her foot could feel.
A man’s shirt. Tattersall check. She holds it up to check the fit. That’ll do.
And a David Bowie album.
Aladdin Sane. Ziggy Stardust.
She feels the rush of emotion.
A mixture of joy and loss and togetherness.
An album they’d listened to many a time. Not their favourite, but one of a mountain of good times.
Eve smiles. It’s a warm glow approaching happiness. The feeling’s addictive. Something she can bathe in, roll around, surrender herself.
She squeezes her treasures and climbs back in.
Wilson will approve.
Tina Whitaker makes no comment on the house.
The front door opens wide enough for her to squeeze through.
A tower of magazines, books, albums and assorted papers, higher than the doorframe itself, blocks its opening.
She’s amazed it doesn’t topple over when the door hits it.
Its structure is reinforced by a tower of mystery things behind it, and another tower behind that. No bugger is getting beyond that without a pole vault.
“So,” she says breezily, smiling at Eve, “let’s sort this foot out. Probably easiest if you’re lying on your bed.”
Eve’s body crumples. She stares at the floor.
“Or a chair. Chair’s fine.”
They squeeze down the other side of the hall and manage to sidle into what Tina assumes is a living room.
There must be a sofa under the piles of clothes. Mostly men’s clothes and books.
A towering stack of National Geographics lie alongside, yellow spines outwards.
There are an inordinate number of ornaments. In boxes, on shelves, on piles, on tables and units. A preponderance of those 70’s shire horses pulling carts. Fossicking badgers, foxes, shrews. A million other randoms.
There’s a blanket on a chair that looks like it’s used for sleeping on. A television is almost visible. A large bird cage in the corner.
Eve looks strung out. A nervous bag of tears about to burst.
The house hasn’t had a visitor in ten years.
“This chair will do the job.”
She clears some clothes, blankets and newspapers off a small coffee table, placing them on another floor-pile and pulls it towards the chair so she can take Eve’s foot in her lap.
She opens her bag and lays out a bowl, sterile wipes, dressings and some saline sachets.
“You picked up the antibiotics?”
Eve nods, grateful to Tina for ignoring the junk-elephant in the house.
With the foot washed, checked and re-dressed, Tina goes in search of a kitchen.
She sniffs tentatively at some milk in the fridge and cleans mouse droppings from two mugs.
District Nurses learn two things early on. The first being the power of tea to solve anything. The second being that boiled water kills all known germs.
She’ll discuss the situation with Dr Sands when she gets back. They could raise an Adult Protection case with Social Services. They’d likely call Environmental Health and Eve Anderson would be decanted. They’d deep clean. The contents of her house dumped in several large skips. It would destroy her.
“Give me a week,” she asks him later.
Tina buys two big Empire biscuits from the bakers.
Foot checked and dressed, they eat them over more tea from well-washed mugs. Tina tells Eve about her son, his interviews for university and how she’s dreading his departure after the summer.
“Pre-emptive empty nest” she tells Eve wistfully.
Tina buys them Greggs sandwiches. Chicken mayo.
Eve tells her about her stillbirth, forty years ago. A little boy.
“You didn’t get much support back then. They just took him away. Wilson was devastated. Never got over it.”
“He always collected things. Boardgames, books, spare parts. It got worse after the baby died. Clothes, toys, bits of prams and baths. As if the things were replacing something that could never be replaced. Getting rid of them was giving up hope. I felt guilty. Losing the baby was my fault.
Tina reports back to Dr Sands that Eve’s foot is improved. No signs of continued infection.
Eve tells Tina that she sees Wilson around the house most days.
Behind stacks of treasures or sorting through his albums and books.
Wearing one of the checked shirts she’s found for him.
Sometimes she puts on music and they sort through things together. Talking about the books they come across. Magazine articles they find.
“I mean I know he’s dead,” she says matter-of-factly. “He likes to keep tabs and make sure I’m ok. That I’m not throwing anything precious out. Does that sound silly?”
Tina shakes her head.
Eve hobbles off into another room.
“He says to show you this one.”
She hands Tina a photo of a middle-aged, proud-looking man in a checked shirt and cords. Hair slicked back, arm around a younger, happy-looking, more filled-out Eve.
“A fine couple. Movie stars.”
Tina grins. Eve grins back.
Eve is waiting for Tina behind the door.
The words tumble out quickly as if she’s been practising them. A new idea. Seize on it quickly, before it’s swallowed up by the piles of stuff.
“Will you help me bury the parrot?”
Tina looks at her.
It’s not a request you hear every day.
Eve motions her head at the bird cage.
“I think it’s where the infection started. Wilson’s parrot. He’s dead. I don’t know what to do with him. Wilson loves him.”
Tina notes a rotting carcass at the bottom of the bird cage, vaguely impressed that she’d not noticed it before.
Tina smiles as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
She wants to hug her patient.
Tina and her son Tom arrives with a spade.
A garden party.
Eve has a dress on.
She’s bought some lemonade, which she puts in a jug with ice. She’s also bought two cakes. Carrot and chocolate.
She puts everything on a garden table, alongside four plastic chairs.
Tom digs a deep hole (to stop cats or foxes, he says).
Tina makes Eve put her foot on the spare chair whilst she washes and changes the dressing,
“It’s looking great,” she says to Eve triumphantly. “Another week of dressings and it’ll be done.”
Instead of looking relieved, Eve frowns.
“I’m going to miss you,” she says softly.
They both look at the leaflet.
“GATHER – PLACE IN THE SPACE”
It lies on the table beside the yum-yums and tea.
Wilson sits on the sofa flicking through his National Geographics, smiling at the two women.
His wife has been on her own too long. It’s good to see her eating cake and laughing.
About time they sorted through the stuff.
Only so many checked shirts a man can wear. Silly mare keeps bringing more home.
“Will you go with me, Tina. I don’t think I’ll have the confidence to go on my own.”
Tina beams at Eve.
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
This time, she can’t help herself. She wraps her ample body around Eve’s fragile frame and hugs her.
It’s been quite a journey.
“Let’s hope their cakes are decent, eh?”
“PLACE IN THE SPACE”
Hoarding in the time of global isolation (Covid 19)
1 to 2 people in every 100 have a problem with hoarding. It can be caused by life events or mental/physical health problems.
If you hoard, you might have one or more of the following:
- Very strong positive feelings whenever you gather something new.
- Feeling very upset or anxious at the thought of throwing/giving things away.
- Finding it hard to decide what to keep or get rid of.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
‘Gather’ offers a non-judgemental approach to talking about the meaning of the things we collect.
Meeting others and sharing strategies to cope with overwhelming feelings can help you set your own goals and aspirations to declutter.
We meet every Thursday evening 7pm to 9pm
White Room, Meadow Community Centre
We offer group and one-to-one support, coffee and a chat.
For more information, or just a chat, Tel: 07352 3672536