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The Red Dress and the Wing Commander
I love some of my old English patients. Take Mr Thompson. A 94 year old man, housebound, trailing his domiciliary oxygen tubes behind him when he opens the door for me. A life- long smoking effect. His lungs are knackered. He always has to huff and puff for three long minutes before he can reply to my: “Hello.” I wait. I sit down, looking at the photographs on the wall of his sitting room.

The black and white photos of his beautiful wife with carefully coiffed curls, the wife who waited for him patiently only to die of cancer ten years after the war. His daughter and grandchildren. A photo of him in the RAF uniform, a dashing face, as if he was a Hollywood actor playing Mr Thompson’s role. I often wondered how beautiful Hollywood actresses feel when they see their films 30 years later and compare now and then, looking at their wrinkled faces in the mirror. I wonder if Mr Thompson is comparing his wizened body, bald head, shaking hands full of age spots and pale eyes to this photograph of a handsome young officer. I doubt he thinks about it.

My relationship with Mr Thompson started badly. He disagreed with everything I said, did not want me to change his inhalers, didn’t want me to give him his pneumonia jab, and when I suggested he gets some carers to help him in his house, he got offended. He thought I was just yet another woman making too much fuss. He still occasionally asked for a home visit, usually when he had one of his frequent chest infections or his joints seized up. I came and gave him an antibiotic, or injected his arthritic shoulder or knee with a steroid injection. He was unbelievably grumpy. I told him that smoking around oxygen cylinders is dangerous – he could blow his house up. “I have dealt with explosives before you were in your mother’s womb,” he said.
More from Novák tomorrow!

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