from an unexpected quarter
and how she changed my life
by Louise Anne Smithson
Chapter 32 - Debbie calls in the cavalry
As soon as I’d realised what had happened to Suzanne I telephoned the district nurse.
‘It’s Clare, ringing about Suzanne Fisher; she seems to have collapsed in the toilet. I can’t get in to help her and she says she doesn’t want me to call an ambulance.’
‘Is she conscious then?’
‘Only half conscious, her speech is slurred and I don’t think she can move.’
‘Leave her where she is, I’ll be with you in ten minutes. I’ll also call the doctor.’
As soon as I finished the call I rang Debbie.
‘Is there any chance that you could come over as soon as possible? Suzanne has collapsed and it looks quite bad. She’s trapped in the toilet and I can’t get to her.’
‘Oh Clare, I’m so sorry. Of course I’ll come, but I’m on the other side of London so it is going to take me at least an hour to get to you.’
‘Thanks Debbie, any help would be really welcome.’
I tried to talk to Suzanne, assuring her that help was on its way and that we would soon have her back in her bed, but wasn’t sure how much she understood. It seemed like ages before the nurse arrived, although it was probably not much more than the promised ten minutes. She took one look at the situation and tried to talk to Suzanne, only receiving a mumbled response.
‘This is serious. She may have had a stroke. I think we’re going to have to call an ambulance.’
‘Suzanne was adamant that she does not want an ambulance, and does not want to leave the flat; it was the last thing that she said to me.’
‘I know, I’ll wait to see what the doctor says but we’re going to need to get her out of there as soon as possible.’
A few minutes later the intercom buzzer went, I pressed the entry button to the block without even checking who it was and then opened our flat door. Andy appeared at the door.
‘Debbie has just contacted me, and I came straight over. Can I be of any help?’
I invited him in.
‘My flat mate has collapsed and fallen behind the toilet door and we can’t get in to help her.’
He seemed to size-up the situation.
‘These internal doors are hollow and usually pretty flimsy. I could try and break through it if you wish.’
‘Alright, but please make sure that you don’t injure her further in the process,’ said the nurse.
‘I’ll be careful. Do you have any tools, Clare?’
‘There are a few in a box underneath the sink.’
I showed him where to find them and he armed himself with a large screwdriver and claw hammer. He shut the door on the latch and proceeded to punch a series of holes through the top half of the door until he was able to insert the hammer claw and begin to rip off pieces of the hardboard covering. By the time the doctor arrived there was a sufficiently large hole for a relatively small person to be able to crawl through.
‘Clare, you’re the smallest here;, could we lift you through the hole? Then you might be able to pull Suzanne out of the way of the door.’
‘Alright, but let me take off this skirt first,’ I replied, and hurriedly found myself a pair of jeans.
Andy and the doctor gently lifted me up and eased me through the hole in the door, feet first, until I was standing on the edge of the toilet pan. I was then able to get down to the floor and carefully ease Suzanne out of the way of the door, so that Andy could get in, and I could get out of his way. Following instructions from the doctor, Andy gently picked her up carried her through to her bedroom laying her on the bed. The doctor and the nurse proceeded to examine her, whilst I waited at her bedside and they carried out their various tests.
At last the doctor turned to me and said: ‘I’m afraid your friend has had a stroke. She may recover some consciousness, but I’m afraid it’s a symptom of her underlying condition. It will be only a matter of time before she has another one.’
‘How long does she have left doctor?’
‘I cannot say for certain; it could be a matter of hours, or of weeks. I suspect that a few days is the most likely prognosis. I’m afraid she is going to need full-time nursing from now onwards. I could arrange for her to be admitted to hospital, but, to be honest, there isn’t a lot that anyone will be able to do for her now other than make her comfortable, and I understand she has expressed a wish to remain at home.’
‘Neither she nor I want her to go to hospital. I have promised to look after her for as long as she needs my help.’
At this point Debbie came in to the bedroom, having been let in to the flat by Andy.
‘Suzanne has had a stroke, I’m afraid she doesn’t have much longer to live,’ I said beginning to sob.
Debbie took me in her arms: ‘I’m so sorry Clare.’
‘I’m going to have to stay home and look after her now. Will you explain the situation at work tomorrow?’
‘Now don’t worry about work. I’ll tell Karen in the morning.’
Now that Suzanne was back in her bed and her condition had stabilized, the doctor and nurse began to get ready to leave us, promising us that one of them would call in the following morning.
‘Would you like me to stay with you tonight?’ asked Debbie.
‘Yes please, but what about your work clothes in the morning?’
‘Perhaps you could loan me something of yours to wear.’
With all the fuss centred around Suzanne’s bedside, I’d rather lost track of Andy, who had quietly withdrawn from the bedroom, cleared up the mess that both he and Suzanne had made in the toilet and had even found a piece of cardboard to nail over the hole in the door, so that anyone using it would at least have some privacy. He’d also let himself out of the flat at the same time that he admitted Debbie. I felt truly sorry that I’d not had the opportunity to thank him for his help before he left, but decided that I’d ring him to do so as soon as I got an opportunity.
Debbie slept in my bed, and I slept on some cushions in Suzanne’s room, just in case her condition should change for the worse. In the event it did not do so. It was not particularly late when we went to bed but I was in a state of both mental and physical exhaustion after my day with Dad and then finding Suzanne, so was able to fall asleep quite quickly. Debbie woke me with some breakfast at 7.30 the following morning, and after checking on Suzanne, I found her some of my clothes to wear to the office. She had to leave for work, just as the District Nurse arrived to check on the patient. Suzanne was still drifting in and out of consciousness, but I think she was aware of where she was and recognized me. Together the nurse and I helped her to have something to drink and I tried to get her to take something more solid but without much success. There was not a lot more that the nurse could do so she left me with the instruction to ring her if there were any further developments and the promise that either she or the doctor would call in the next day. By ten o’clock I found myself alone with Suzanne, but she was now sleeping and so I was inevitably lost in my own thoughts.
The knowledge of my acceptance as a transgendered woman by both my parents – the living and the dead – had been a comfort to me, although it was also tinged with sadness and a little regret about what might have been if my mother had been permitted to talk with me on this subject before she died. This revelation had been followed, almost immediately afterwards by the collapse of my dear friend. I’d known that Suzanne was dying for several weeks, and thought that I was prepared for the worst. Yet to find her in that state had been a profound shock to me. I knew now that she would never recover, but hoped there would at least be the opportunity for me to say farewell and tell her how much she had meant to me over the last few weeks. Then, to complicate matters even further, there was the arrival of Andy, just when we had needed him. If only he had stayed a little bit longer to give me the opportunity of expressing my thanks.
I was roused from my thoughts by the sound of the intercom buzzer.
‘Hi Clare, it’s Andy; I’ve come to fix your door.’
I suddenly became conscious that I’d not put on any makeup that morning and certainly looked a total mess, but I couldn’t very well keep him waiting outside. I let him in together with the brand new internal door that he'd brought. He could see my look of surprise.
‘Well I thought I’d better fix it as I’d punched a hole in the other one. I took the measurements last night and have been out to collect a replacement this morning.’
‘But what about your work?’
‘I think I’ve made enough money for the company in the last few weeks. It is high time that I took some time off and did something a little more worthwhile,’ he said in an off-hand way.
(It would be another eighteen months before the bank for which he worked went bust, but that’s another story.)
‘How is Suzanne this morning?’ he asked.
‘Not good, I’m afraid.’
There was an awkward silence between us.
‘Andy, I’m not sure what we would have done without your help last night. Thank you so much, for everything,’ I said.
He blushed and looked at the floor.
He’d been about to say something, but then appeared to change his mind and the subject.
‘I’ve brought some tools with me in the car. I’ll just put this door down here and go and get them.’
Andy spent the remainder of the morning removing what was left of the old toilet door and replacing it with another one, whilst I continued to check on Suzanne, dealt with various telephone calls from Debbie, Karen and my father and also surreptitiously smartened myself up a little. He did a surprising good carpentry job, for an investment banker, and even cleaned up after himself, taking the old door out to the rubbish skip. I offered to repay the costs of the new door but he wouldn’t hear of it, so the least I could do was to offer him some lunch. We sat down together a little awkwardly, neither of us knowing quite what to say. I was half hoping he might make some reference to our last meeting or our trip to Sunderland, but he seemed unwilling or unable to do so. In the end, it was a relief when my mobile phone rang again. I answered assuming that it would be Debbie once again. It wasn’t; it was the Charing Cross Clinic.
‘Hello Ms Simpson, Dr. Roberts asked me to contact you if we had any last minute cancellations. Would you be able to come in for your second assessment interview at ten o’clock on Friday of this week?’
‘I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t do so; my housemate has just been taken seriously ill and I’ll have to stay with her. I’m not even sure that I’ll be able to make my original appointment in three weeks’ time.’
I was about to finish the call, when Andy touched my hand to attract my attention, signaling that he wanted to say something, and that I should ask my caller to hold for a moment. I did as he said.
‘If you have a hospital appointment, I could always stand in here for you.’
‘I’d be away for at least two and a half hours, possibly longer.’
‘No problem, I’ll take another day off work. I have plenty of leave owing to me.’
I hesitated, not knowing what to do for the best.
‘Just accept the offered appointment before it is given to someone else.’
He seemed quite genuine and persistent in his offer so I went back on the line and confirmed that I would be attending the clinic, noting the new date and time.
‘Thank you very much, Andy, that’s very kind of you.’
‘No problem! What time should I come round on Friday?’
‘Nine o’clock, please.’
‘Nothing serious, I hope.’
‘Your hospital appointment.’
‘It was the Gender Identity Clinic, I’m beginning my permanent transition to a woman.’
He might have said something, or at least offered me good luck!’ I thought. ’He seems to give out such conflicting signals.’
By this time we’d both finished our meal. I cleared the table and he began to pick up his tools and got ready to leave. Once again there was an awkward silence. I really wanted to kiss him, but I was a girl now and mustn’t be seen to make the first move. I therefore hoped that he might kiss me, but he seemed unwilling or unable to do so. Maybe it was me who was misreading the signals and I was trying to see something beyond what was simple kindness on his part?
‘See you on Thursday then,’ he said.
‘Alright, and thanks again for everything.’
There was some slight improvement in Suzanne’s condition during the afternoon. I even managed to get her to eat a little broth and take a drink although she seemed to have some difficulty swallowing. I also gave her a wash and helped her to use the bedpan. She was even able to speak a few words to me.
‘What happened?’ she asked, in a slurred voice.
‘You fell over in the toilet, but you’ll soon be better again,’ I lied.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘My friend Andy broke down the door, but he has fixed it now.’
She attempted to smile.
‘Good, I liked him when we met. I’m glad you are friends again.’
I started to tell her about my meeting with Dad, but by then she was no longer listening so I sat with her stroking her hair for half an hour or so.
‘Thank you Clare,’ she said, at last drifting back into consciousness.
‘For not letting them take me into hospital.’
‘Thank you, Suzanne, for everything that you’ve done for me.’
‘Would you mind if Andy kept an eye on you for an hour or so on Friday, whilst I go to the clinic?’
‘Of course not, you go ahead. I want to see you settled before I die.’
Soon afterwards she lapsed into unconsciousness once again, and I wondered whether this would be the pattern of her last few days of life.
Debbie called round again after work, to see how we both were. She even offered to stay the night again, but I told her that there was no point. After all she had her own life to lead. She promised instead that she would call in from time to time and maybe even bring her new boyfriend round one evening.
‘Thanks for explaining my situation to Karen, she rang me afterwards.’
‘So what is going to happen about your job?’
‘As ‘Clare’ had only been working since mid-January, there was no way I could qualify for any sick pay, but Karen said that she will try and manage with only occasional temporary help for a while. That way my job will still be open until ….’
‘Until after Suzanne has died,’ she said, completing my sentence.
‘Yes. I suppose so.’
‘How will you manage for money in the meanwhile?’
‘Suzanne paid most of the bills by standing order, including one for her credit card, which I will be able to use for telephone purchases. She also has an account to have her groceries delivered. I should be alright for a few weeks at least.’
(I didn’t mention the annuity monies paid in to Clare’s current account each month.)
Then, changing the subject, Debbie said: ‘I must say you have got that door fixed quickly. How did you find a builder so soon?’
‘Andy did it. He came round this morning with a new one.’
‘I’m glad that I thought to ring him last night. I knew he would be able to get here more quickly than me.’
‘I’m glad you did as well.’
She looked at me as if she was expecting me to say a little more on the subject of Andy and myself, but there was not a lot more that I could say.
Over the next two days I discovered that the job of a full-time care giver is not an easy one, especially if you are emotionally attached to the patient concerned. Everything is centred around catering for their physical needs. The carer becomes housebound, with few outlets for mental stimulation or outdoor exercise which might take their mind off the decline of their loved one. Suzanne had come to play a vital part in my life as a woman. She’d quickly become the big sister that I’d always wanted, my mentor and my best friend. But now she was almost entirely reliant on me.
There were intermittent periods of lucidity where Suzanne pointed out to me where to find her will and the various private papers, deeds and certificates that I would need as her executor.
‘There’s also a letter addressed to you, Clare, but only to be opened after I die.’
‘If we have anything to say to one another before we part I think it is better to say it face to face,’ I said, remembering the sadness associated with my mother’s letter to me.
‘Don’t worry, it is only detailed instructions, and my good wishes for your future life. I always intended to tell you how much I’ve grown to love you, Clare.’
With that she attempted to raise her head to kiss me. I leaned my face over towards hers to make it easier.
‘I’ve grown to love you, too, Suzanne,’ I whispered.
With that she again fell asleep, although with the trace of a smile on her lips.
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