Thursday, 23 December 2010


The instant the doorbell rings, a sharp bark pierces through the biting wind, a pitter-patter of paws runs towards the front door and starts trying to scratch its way out.

"Hold on one minute," calls a male voice, "I'll just put the dog away." Just above the sign warning would-be intruders of the presence of a menacing dog is another, more welcoming sign - Patterson Plaza. We wait outside as we hear the barks fade, and at the sound of a door shutting somewhere in the house, they turn into a distant, sad whimper.

Eventually he returns and opens the door to let us in. "She's in the back room, is Ada. You'd better go ahead of me, I'm a bit slow on the old pegs! Second door on the right. But just be careful, she's right behind the door!"

We peek round to see Ada propped up against a wall, using a glass-fronted unit for support. One of the glass panels is shattered, shards covering the floor and sparkling in the dull amber light. A wound in the back of her head has left her silvery hair tinged with a streak of red.

"I bet I look a right sight!" Ada looks up from her precarious seat on the floor to see two 6-foot plus green aliens in her lounge. The look is almost child-like, a stare upwards that slowly keeps going until reaching the top of the view.

"You look fine Ada, us red-heads must stick together, so we'll make a good job of looking after you." She laughs. "Not much left of your red hair, is there?"

"You noticed, huh?" I kneel down beside her. Apart from the impoliteness of standing bearing over a patient, it also means she no longer has to crane her neck just to speak to us. "Let's get you patched up shall we?"

The shuffling footsteps that had followed us down the corridor finally approached, and Ada's husband joined us in the room. "Mind the luggage, Mr Patterson, it's taken over your lounge a little."

"Oh, I'm alright. And call me Derek! None of this Mr Patterson stuff - you're not my bank manager!" Stern, but friendly and sincere. We check Ada for other injuries and find that she's probably fractured her hip. Derek's warned us that she has a habit of falling, as she uses a zimmer frame to get around, but sometimes gets too frustrated and leaves it behind. When she does, she often tumbles to the floor.

"I've told her she has to use the frame, but will she listen to me? Of course not!" After giving her a glare, he rattles off her list of medications, tells us what each one is for, and how many of each she takes and at what time of the day. "I'll just go get the box and show them all to you, make sure I haven't forgotten any." Derek walks off in the direction of the kitchen.

"He's been looking after me like this for years, ever since the arthritis has stopped me getting around easily," Ada whispers, "but I know he can't go on like this. We're both getting too old. We've been looking into moving into a home together. It's not as simple as it sounds." In the time we've taken to bandage her head and stop it leaking, Derek has returned. Ada stops talking, perhaps not wanting to upset him.

"Right," says Derek, pointing out each of the medications in the box, "this is the one for blood pressure, this one for her heart, this one for the pain from her arthritis, and the big box is full of calcium tablets."

"Thank you, Derek." In the background, the sound of paws clawing away at a door are a constant reminder of the caged animal.

"What dog have you got?" I ask. My knowledge of dogs is limited. I know they have tails, four legs, and bark. And I know that I don't like them particularly. Owners' assurances that "Oh, he's the friendliest dog in the world, you don't need to worry about him," are often followed by a nip on the hand and a now apologetic owner sheepishly mumbling "Well, he's never done that before!" I'd rather not take the risk.

"He's a beautiful Labrador. Wouldn't hurt a fly." At least I know what a Labrador is.

"And who walks him?"

"Mostly I do," Derek answers, a little insulted I fear. "Sometimes, when our son's in town, he'll come and do it for us. But normally I take him to the shops once a day, you know, when I get the paper and a few odds and ends, and he's happy with that." Knowing the area, I realise that the shops are a good quarter of a mile away. "Helps keep me fit, too!"

In the meantime, we've given Ada some pain relief and prepared to move her onto our chair and out to the ambulance. I'd have preferred to keep her laying flat and not moving her hip, but it was an impossible idea, the tiny corridor and curved walls not allowing for a stretcher of any kind. The morphine would hopefully work its magic and prevent her from feeling any more pain.

"She'll want her dressing gown, if that's all right with you? I'll just go get it from upstairs."

"Why don't you give me directions, and I'll go for you. Don't need you running up and down for no reason."

"Right. Well it's up the stairs, first door, right in front of you. It's the light blue one, hanging on the back of the door. The dark blue one's mine, so don't bring that one, or I'll never hear the end of it. But just so you know, it's the room where I put the dog."

Just for once, I decide to be brave. "Don't worry, Derek. I'm sure he won't bite me just for taking a dressing gown. It's probably not his colour anyway!"

"Fine, then. I'll just make sure everything's locked up and switched off downstairs, then I'll join you in the ambulance."

We wheel Ada out wrapped in the ambulance-standard red blanket to keep her warm as well as safe. "Matches my hair now, doesn't it," she muses as she looks down at the crimson cover. Once she's safely on board and as comfortable as possible, I go back into the house, and up the stairs to retrieve the dressing gown. Not before a plea from Ada.

"Make sure you help Derek out when you come back, won't you? He's not so good outside without the dog."

"Of course I will. Don't you worry about anything. That's what we're here for." She relaxes back on the trolley and allows my crew mate to check her blood pressure again.

As I open the bedroom door, the dog is lying on the floor and looks up at me with what seem to be almost contemptuous eyes. "Sorry," I mumble, "we have to look after Ada first." I can't quite believe I'm apologising to a dog. I take the dressing gown, fold it in half over my arm and leave the room with the door slightly ajar. Hopefully if I show the dog a small sign of trust, he'll understand my intentions are only good ones.

I meet Derek at the bottom of the stairs. "Got it!" I tell him.

"You sure it's the light blue one, aren't you?" His question confuses me.

"As you can see, sir, it is indeed! And I got it without being eaten alive!" I try to put on a show of pride.

"Actually, I can't see it. I forget to tell people sometimes, sorry. It's been twenty-five years now." It's then that I see the dog's reins, reflective strips on the straps and bars, and a white cane sitting by the door. I think back to everything he's done. Clear descriptions and directions, knowledge of exactly where everything is, drugs in perfect order, looking after the dog, looking after us, looking after Ada.

And all in darkness.

"Come on Derek, let's get you out to the ambulance. There's a young lady in there asking after you."

His hand holds onto the crook of my arm, and we walk out together, leaving the dog to watch from the top of the stairs.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post.... They may poor health but clearly a love for each other that is very much alive and well.
Merry Christmas IM.

Wayne Conrad said...

Beautiful story, IM. Thank you, and merry Christmas.

Wizard said...

As I read this, my German Shepherd came and licked the tear off my cheek. Didnt even realise.
Happy Christmas,

Anonymous said...

Wow, great one!!

Anonymous said...

Wow that is such a heart warming story!

Anonymous said...