Maude ran a finger along the shelf ‘Nurse Simmons!’ she called out. ‘More attention to the dust and less to the new registrar if you don’t mind!’
Her senior staff nurse glanced briefly at Dr Tate, raised an eyebrow and hurried back to give the shelving another wipe over with a damp cloth.
‘All done Sister Jenks’ she announced a few minutes later, inviting inspection with a drift of her eyes towards the unit. Maude raised her chin and looked down under her glasses, a formidable matron-in-waiting whose middle name must surely be ‘Dettol’. She swept down the centre of the ward, scrutinising curtain rails and drip stands as nurses held their breath and patients lay to attention until she had passed.
‘I hope you turned those mattresses today and swabbed the backs of the wheel arches, Nurse’. Her tone trumpeted reproach and Nurse Simmons hoped to god she didn’t look. She made a stab at empathic consideration. ‘Time you went home Sister, it’s well past 10 o clock.’
Maude allowed herself to be chivvied off the ward and out into the night but not before pausing one last time to inspect the door handles for signs of finger prints. The handles gleamed and Nurse Simmons said a silent prayer for the diligence of the orderly who had nipped in quickly with the brass polish.
At Number 47 Stepps Road, Maude turned her key and pushed open the heavy wooden front door, leaning on it a little to counter the resistance from the large black plastic bag full of charity shop items. Whether these were coming or going, Maude could not recall but her son had been unable to persuade her to get rid of them so there they stayed. She climbed past them and squeezed through the gap between several more bags and a pile of cardboard boxes on the way to her chair in the living room, the tiny carpet and tile pathway creeping through the house like a river in a grand canyon of neglected debris and squalor.
Maude pulled her coat round herself and sat, her left arm resting on a teetering pile of newspapers at one side, her right in her lap to avoid the conical tower of cigarette ends, layered and barely able to stink they had become so consolidated, that rose from a long-obscured ashtray somewhere on the floor. She glanced around, hopelessness flattening her affect and disabling her capacity to engage so she slept, still in her coat and uniform, until it was time to return to the ward and oversee the shift-long, above-all-else, scrubbing, dusting and polishing rituals of another germ-free day.
©suzanne conboy-hill 2010
2 thoughts on “No Place Like Home”
An interesting story. I’m wondering whether, in your time as a Clinical Psychologist, you actually came across this person in real life? I’m wondering because my own experience of OCD/Compulsive cleaning occurred after my son’s sudden death. I have since recovered, and have worked out that my compulsion to clean at that time came out of a desire to control my environment and make things “safe” when I had a feeling that my life had spiralled out of control.I guess the same might be said of your character- no control at home, but a compulsion to control things at work. I enjoy reading your work- you’ve obviously encountered many fascinating characters in your life and you use them very effectively in your writing.
Kind of. I often made home visits to people with learning disabilities in the community. One such was to the home of a young woman whose day service reported that she was always unkempt, often smelled stale and in need of a hair wash, and had long dirty nails. Attempts to get the family to respond hadn’t borne fruit so we called round instead. She lived with her older sister, a senior nurse at a local hospital, which added to the puzzle of the hygiene issues, but when we tried to enter the house, the reasons became clear.
I agree with your appraisal; that kind of collecting and hoarding is so often about control and depression. We weren’t able to see the sister, clinically as she was outside our remit (she didn’t have a learning disability, obviously) and it wasn’t possible to refer her either as she wouldn’t speak to us. It’s possible her younger sister’s day service went on to do that but it’s more likely that their client moved into supported independent living at her own request.
Life is a rich seam of human behaviour for sure, and I’ve been privileged to be allowed into some of people’s most difficult and dark corners.