He is ill. Very ill indeed. I believe it to be terminal. There is no point in calling for a Doctor. There’s nothing he can do now, anyhow, it is a Friday evening, there is no hope of persuading the man to make a housecall.
Calling NHS Direct proved fruitless. You see, when I called the surgery, they merely told me to call NHS Direct, the Doctors simply will not respond if one falls ill at the evenings or the weekend. After speaking to the young lady at NHS Direct, explaining the symptoms, she suggesting calling the Doctor. I told them I had tried, without success. I had best go to A&E then, was the advice.
Of course, the A&E department was closed three years ago, there is now just a minor injuries unit. The nearest A&E department is over twenty miles away. I’m not at all convinced the old man would survive the journey on the potholed road from here to there.
We’ll have the dour man with the dark suit and the tape measure then.
Undertakers will always do housecalls. One of the conditions is that the object of their attentions is dead. To steal a phrase from Monty Python, ‘he’s not at all well.’
The Underaker is a busy man, but he acts with decorum and gravitas. ‘What are the symptoms?’ he asked, when I requested he wait for the death rattle.
My response was to tell him about the auto-immune condition, where the immune system, supposed to defend the body against harm, attacks perfectly healthy parts. Strange things, auto-immune conditions, always entertaining. The Undertaker was interested, and leaned forward in the chair he was sat on, outside the bedroom door, ‘Oh yes, do tell.’
‘Amazing’ replied the Undertaker, ‘is this common?’ I explained that it was all too common, and whilst a small episode like this was not fatal, it was an indicator of bigger problems, a signpost which, if researched, could uncover things that the body was unaware of and were only seen if one looked very hard indeed.
The Undetaker later revealed to me, in a moment of explicit candour, that hs is no man of medicine, he informed me with a wave of the had and in a most self-depricating style, that he is more akin to a meat packer or a butcher. He knew, he said, which bit should go where, but had no understanding of the internal workings.
He pressed me on the bigger problems. I recounted how the first auto-immune condition was similar to the body having a slight falling out with itself, but the main, more hidden problem, was like all out war. The body was, in effect, using weapons of mass destruction on itself, in a catastrophic civil war.
The Undertaker gave a sigh. He told me how one of the certainties in his job was that he would make regular visits to the care homes in the area. It always seemed to him that either the body went, or the mind went. The nursing staff always seemed to display a sense of almost cruel relief when someone with a perfectly functioning mind, but trapped in a contrary body, departed. It was almost like a release from an inescapable prison.
I mused on the point, would it be better to have lost one’s mind and be unaware of one’s predicament, than to be imprisoned with no chance of parole? I came to the conclusion that it was.
However, the Undertaker was labouring under a mis-apprehension. Not only was the body at the end of a slow and attritional campaign of self-destruction, but it had also undergone this internal battle with a great and debilitating insanity.
Firstly, the ailing old man had descended into a psychopathic episode. Unaware to recognise the damage he had done to others, uncaring for those he had hurt; selfishness and disregard had become his mark.
A bi-polar condition had also taken hold. With the old man consistently acting against his own counsel, suffering delusional states of self-perception where one has acheived the impossible, arguing with his better nature, miserly one minute, surrendering his childrens’ inheritance, gratis, the next.
The poor old man now lies in bed, coughing and spluttering, his compexion as grey as the weather outside his window. He decries his body as a traitor. He insulted the doctors who had tried to minister to his needs as charlatans and snake oil salesmen and has damned his descendents to penury.
Not many will mourn his passing. I think back to the Undertaker’s account of the response of the nurses at the care home and think to myself, perhaps it is for the best.
The Undertaker sits in his wheel-back chair on the landing, the slow ticking of the clock marking the old man’s last few moments. He has reached into the inside pocket of his frock coat and is reading a small volume he obviously carries for inescapable delays. This is a man used to waiting.
He waits tonight, and with the trace of a tear in the corner of his eye, he remembers what a grand, proud and respected man Mr. Britain used to be.