Chapter — What Next?
At the hospital the day nurse seemed a little surprised to see me. I wasn’t sure why. When I said that I had come to take Mr. Vester home she asked for all my identification. I handed it over, including the Healthcare Power of Attorney, though I pointed out that the night nurse had done the same paperwork. She went off to confirm this with someone else, saying the doctor wasn’t in yet anyway.
I went down the hall to see if my great uncle was awake. Not yet. I had brought my knitting and finished the neck warmer for Duncan as I sat there. It didn’t take very long; just at the end I looked up to see he had awakened and was watching me.
“Good morning, how are you feeling?”
“Like I want to get out of here––and hungry!”
I looked for a call button for the nurse just as a burly man in scrubs swept into the room.
“Mr. Vester, what are you still doing here? I thought your niece was taking you home yesterday!”
I started to say that I had gotten there as quickly as I could but Duncan overrode me. “Well, you caused all the trouble saying I couldn’t go home by myself! I spent all my time here sleeping. I could do that at home. But here she is. So check us out.” Duncan’s acerbic comment surprised me but he seemed to regain his equilibrium quickly.
The doctor gave me a quick once over, shook my hand, and said, “Take him home now. I’ve signed everything and the nurse will be in to help. If you need anything call my office. There’s a number in the paperwork. I hope you brought clothes, Miss Niece. I hear his old ones aren’t quite suitable.” Duncan chuckled. “Come see me at the end of the week for a quick check. I’ll tell my office to make an appointment. Goodbye.” He was gone.
The nurse came in with paperwork and started asking what experience I had. She seemed a little hostile or possibly was just quite formal. As I started explaining myself, Duncan said he didn’t need help anyway. Would we go away and let him dress in peace? A tech who had come in with breakfast volunteered to help Duncan dress while the nurse took me out to the station and ran through the paperwork.
“As far as we can tell Mr. Vester does not have a concussion but he was quite elderly to have sustained such a bruising experience. You are to keep him calm if possible and help him rest. He should take ibuprofen for his aches and be sure to keep the appointment at the end of the week.”
I assured her that I had done home health for other elderly people and she let me go.
The nurse I had spoken with earlier still looked confused every time she met my eye. She said, “Should we tell his other relatives he’s gone home?”
I was a little bewildered, “I don’t think there are any other relatives, at least near by. You can tell his friends, though the only friend I know of is aware of the situation.”
“No, you can’t,” said the checkout nurse, looking a bit upset. “Patient privacy you know. He fussed about that yesterday. Here, Miss Archer. Sign, and you can go.”
The nurses took Duncan, freshly dressed, down to the lobby in a wheelchair and waited while I pulled the truck around. They said goodbye to Mr. Vester and we left. At the stop sign in the parking lot I handed my great uncle the neck warmer I had knitted and recommended that he use it. The morning was still quite chilly and the clothes I had brought him were adequate but no more. He took it with a pleased grunt and pulled it on.
Duncan made no comment on my driving for a few minutes which was a good thing. Traffic had picked up a little and I had to concentrate. But when I reached for my directions he said, “Turn left.” I glanced at him but he was smiling. “You’re doing great — for someone who never drove a truck before.”
“It’s just a little long. But seriously how are you feeling? You didn’t get much breakfast.”
“I’d rather eat at home. Did they tell you not to feed me this or that? I’m not going to listen.” His voice was light but determined underneath.
“No, actually they didn’t mention diet — only rest.”
“Hmm. Turn right, then left again at the light. Then about a mile and another left.”
We were out in the country by then. It shocked me how quickly we passed from coffee shops and drugstores to farmland, or what looked to me like rural wilderness, by which I think I simply meant — “not farmland”. Or possibly, “lots of trees”. A sign indicated that the striving agricultural college of weirdness known as Tridelphia was one mile ahead just as we made the last left turn, this time onto gravel. There was a faint dusty haze on the road ahead but no other vehicles that I could see. My mental picture said this should eventually be the border of Duncan’s property on the west. A stream ran under the road followed by a slight rise; his driveway would be just beyond. But as we came over the crest of the hill I had to brake. There were sheep in the road.
Duncan’s exclamation and my struggle to downshift came together, and as the truck slowed, his hand came over mine and shifted with mine into neutral. The truck rolled to a stop. Duncan reached into the back of the truck found a pair of very muddy boots and pulled them on. Then he was out the door and across the road. The sheep were near an open gate and they were quite willing to follow him as he talked to them and walked them back to where they belonged. I stayed by the truck afraid to spook them, not knowing if I even could.
“Jess, dear. Close the gate behind me. Don’t come into the field in those shoes.” Duncan’s voice was calm as though it were still the sheep he was addressing.
I crossed the road and pushed the barred metal gate closed. The ground was uneven but I could see the ruts, first in the overgrown and shallow ditch and next in the field where some heavy vehicle had driven in the rain. Duncan, having gotten the sheep back where they belonged turned to me.
“That ambulance made a terrible mess of the field. You’d think they would know better.”
“That’s not from the ambulance. Killian carried you out of the field. He told me. That’s probably from the truck that hit you.”
“What?!” Duncan stared at me. I could see shock and involuntarily moved toward him — coming up hard on the gate I had just closed. “I had a stroke!”
“You were hit by a vehicle. Why would you be having a stroke up here in the rain.”
The two of us stared at each other in mutual confusion but over Duncan’s shoulder I had seen something. Several sheep had greeted the strays, or possibly our presence, by getting up or moving around. One sheep was still down. “Wait.” I looked into the confused eyes of an old man but I needed to know quickly. “Wait, Duncan. We can talk about that at the house but just tell me that sheep is okay. Killian was explaining cast sheep to me this morning and I’m freaked.” I pointed.
He turned, gave me a quick look back over his shoulder, shepherd not old man, and said, “Stay there.” He walked through the field toward the sheep and it did not get up. He knelt by it in the mud and pushed on it. I watched as the sheep scrambled to its feet and then swayed. Duncan still on his knees in the mud steadied the animal and rubbed its legs gently. “Well, so much for keeping him rested,” said a corner of my mind.
When the sheep was steady on its feet it moved away and Duncan came back to the gate. “Jess, drive back to the house. Find a pair of boots in the garage that fit you and come on up here.” He looked at me doubtfully. “I don’t suppose you can drive a tractor?” I shook my head. “Well, get the truck out of the road and come on up. I think we have to move the sheep out of this pasture. There’s already possible damage. Oh, and close the gates as you come up!”
I wanted to argue that he was old and tired. And that I was totally incompetent to help. But just looking at him I could tell that I would lose the discussion and waste time. I took the truck down to the house without too much worry over gears, hunted in the garage for a pair of boots that would fit and headed back up to Duncan. He was moving sheep and as even I could see, baby lambs, into the lower pasture next to the house. Most of them followed him as he walked along calling. The lambs tended to break ranks and wander off. I stood on the fence line out of the way and watched. He walked into the lower pasture and all the sheep I saw followed him. When they had passed I closed the gate behind them and walked down to where Duncan was standing.
He said, “So far, so good. Now we need to do something about that torn up ground.”
I interrupted. “Now I do think you need to go to the house and eat and rest. The sheep will be here this afternoon. Come on.” I took his arm and tugged gently. He came. He was very, very tired.
Back at the house we left the boots just inside the door. Duncan staggered a little and went and sat down in the chair that seemed to be his in the sitting room. I brought him some water and a plate of rolls. They made him light up for a moment but his face was grey with exhaustion. He ate a roll, drank water and fell asleep suddenly. I took the plate from his hands and covered him with a blanket. He woke for a moment and said, “Everything here is yours. Use it however you wish,” and fell asleep again. I really wished he were in his bed. Too bad.