Miss Scattergood was a big hit at the old people's home, but then the silly cow went and died.by Jeremy Clarke / May 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Miss scattergood seemed to have turned the corner. It really was quite extraordinary. She had got herself out of bed, washed and dressed, and come downstairs to join the other ladies, who were sunning themselves in the south-facing conservatory.
None of the other ladies had seen her before. When she came from the hospital three weeks earlier (where surgeons had tried, and failed, to save one of her lungs), she’d come through the front door and gone straight upstairs to bed, where she had been lying, breathless and anxious, ever since. The ladies had heard rumours about her, but they hadn’t actually seen her.
I’d seen her. Twice. Once I took the phone up to her, and once I picked her up off the floor after she’d fallen over between her bed and the commode. She’d cut her arm-there was claret all over the place-and she said she was sorry to be a nuisance. The nursing assistants had all seen her, of course, and some of them had got to know her quite well already. They said what a nice lady she was, and how cheerful, in spite of her breathing difficulties. But to the other residents Miss Scattergood had been something of a mystery.
And suddenly here she was. Dressed and downstairs for the first time, taking afternoon tea in the conservatory and telling everyone how well she felt.
Miss Scattergood was an instant hit. On the whole, talkers like Miss Scattergood aren’t popular with our saner residents. Many a time I’ve seen them take against a new lady because she talked. But Violet (no snobbish nonsense about surnames) said all the right things and knew when to give it a rest. And, refreshingly, her conversation didn’t revolve around herself either. It had perspective.
After tea she went for a walk in the garden. Our ladies were shocked at this. None of them had ventured out of doors this year. It was still too cold to be even thinking about going out. “Bon voyage,” said one of the more cultured ones as Miss Scattergood tottered gamely out of the door, supported on the forearm of Tina, our youngest care assistant.
When Miss Scattergood and Tina passed by on the other side of the glass, the ladies all waved, and Tina stopped so that Miss Scattergood could concentrate on waving back. And for a moment they all stood there, smiling and waving to each other through the glass like a lot of four year olds.
She didn’t go far. About 20 yards there and back all told. Far enough though to feel the earth under her feet and the wind on her face. When she appeared back behind the glass again, horribly breathless, she was greeted with some light clapping.
After getting her breath back she sent Tina upstairs for a bottle of her favourite wine. Hungarian red may not have been an ideal complement to beans on toast, but Miss Scattergood’s arrival on the social scene, plus her daring outdoor walk, had engendered an end-of-term atmosphere in the dining room, where I was summoned to pull out the cork. Some of the ladies joined her for a glass or two, and toasts were proposed. “Continuing good health,” was one. “Friendship,” another. “Man’s best friend,” yet another. And instead of disappearing to their respective rooms without a word after supper, like they usually did, the ladies rounded off the day with an unusually competitive game of Scrabble-Miss Scattergood keeping the score. It was a dazzling debut.
And then the silly cow went and died.
At about 6.30 the following morning I was woken by the night nurse and told that Miss Scattergood was in a bad way. I got dressed and went into her room.
She was propped up on a mound of pillows, her face an astonishing shade of purple, her eyes tight shut. It was a glorious morning. Sunlight was streaming in through the window. Lambs were playing in the field opposite. Beyond, the gentle curve of the bay and the cold sea.
There was no oxygen handy. Her GP told us we wouldn’t be needing any. The nurse and I hooked her up to her nebulising machine, but the vapour went everywhere except into her mouth. She wasn’t thrashing about, but her tight shut eyes, furrowed forehead and extraordinary colour suggested that some sort of titanic struggle was going on. And then, fortunately, she must have had a heart attack, because it suddenly looked like it was all over.
When I dialled 999, the emergency services asked how old Miss Scattergood was. My answer, presumably, was going to determine how much pressure the ambulance driver would exert on the accelerator pedal. I said I didn’t know. Twenty minutes after I’d rung, still no ambulance.
With nothing more to be done I leaned on the window sill and looked out. There was just enough of a breeze to set the trees in motion. Not a soul was out and about yet-just the lambs who looked like they’d been up and about for hours. It was a lovely morning. I really must get up at dawn more often, I told myself. Then I remembered reading somewhere that people who live on the coast usually pass away on the ebb tide, and I looked at the sea, trying to ascertain whether it was going in or out. It was difficult to tell. When I looked in the tide tables later on, it said it had been on the turn.