Here we go again. Mum’s carer rings me. It’s 5.30pm and she’s called for her half-hour visit, but Mum isn’t there. It’s earlier than the carer should come, and now that the evenings are light and Mum’s days start slowly, I’m not particularly worried. “She’s probably still out,” I say, “but I’ll call on my way home.”
The hospital doctor discharges Mum, joking about all the tests she’s had. “It’s like a 10,000-mile service,” I say. “And she should be good for another 10,000 miles,” he says.
“Oh yippee,” says Mum, sarcastically.
But when she comes out, she is not at all “as good as new”. Away from the bustle she is deflated, quieter. “My get up and go has got up and gone,” she says. The interruption to habits, which kept her on track, has thrown her. Will she remember how to cope?
‘Look at her,” says the nurse, putting her arm round me and escorting me to Mum’s bed. “All dressed up. Where are you off to, eh? Or is it one of the doctors you’re trying to impress?” It’s true Mum looks spruced up, if frail. Unlike others on the ward, she won’t stay in nightclothes. She’s fully dressed, a brooch at her neck, her earrings on and even some lipstick.
When I get to St George’s hospital on Monday morning, Mum looks better than I’d expected after the drama of her passing out on Saturday night. She looks tired and is lying on the bed but she’s fully dressed and seems herself. She tells me she’s been “pulled about” in all sorts of machines.
It’s 7pm on Saturday and John and I are on our way out of London. My brother rings. He had been planning to go over to my mother’s to spend the evening with her. “She’s not back yet,” he says. “There’s probably no reason to worry, but what do you think?”
“Probably not,” I say. “It’s what happened the other week, isn’t it? She didn’t get back until 9pm then, so maybe she’s got a bit lost again.”
‘I was having a good laugh at these,” says my mother when I pop in on my way to work. She’s on the sofa, surrounded by heaps of paper, mainly fading pages from exercise books. They are the letters sent to her in hospital when she badly injured her arm – all are written by the children she used to help with reading. “I like it when you talk about the scwirils,” says one, and all have multicoloured pictures of the animals and insects she always talked about. “I miss you loads,” they all say.
‘That’s a nice haircut,” she says, not for the first time. We’re in a car travelling down to Kent and my mother has a good view from directly behind me. “Who did it for you?” I give her the details for the third time. “Sally. At the salon on Lavender Hill.”
It’s about 6pm and I’m still at work. My phone rings. It’s the BBC looking for someone to take part in a discussion about the Diana inquest. I once wrote a book about her and agree to do it, reckoning it shouldn’t be too difficult to get home, eat something and get to White City in west London before 10pm.
We are off to the hospital again and Mum is grumbling. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she says and, keying into my anxieties, “I bet you can’t spare the time.” But this visit is important because we are supposed to be getting the results from scans conducted after the suspected mini-stroke. “I don’t mind,” I say. “Anyway, it’s our favourite doctor.” She cheers up at the prospect. “He came to visit me you know.”
I open Mum’s bag to check she has enough money. “Wow,” I say as I encounter an amazing stash of little packets. There are 14 salad creams, 11 tomato ketchups, three tartar sauces and six twists of sugar. Even for Mum this is an impressive haul.