As he got older my father became fascinated by ‘boring’ picture post cards. Gradually he became part of a circle of collectors and cards would arrive from around the world. Their very incongruity amused him and his face would light up when a new one dropped through the letter box. He judged them on content, colour and caption, and his favourites, such as the classics ‘The M6 motorway’ and ‘Mulberry Close,North Thoresby’, would sit for weeks on his mantelpiece. But his love of the incongruous was not limited to pictures, he also collected utterances that slipped mid sentence and so lost cohesion – essentially where there was a discord between the sentence’s beginning and end. Whenever he heard one it would be noted down. He particularly liked mixed metaphors, so something like: ‘a stitch in time saves a ha’peth of tar’. But any form of slippage would do. So when I heard Mrs Jackson’s reassurance I thought of him.
I ‘met’ Mrs Jackson as we sat in the corridor outside the anticoagulation clinic. Her husband and I were waiting to have our blood tests. I had had a thrombosis in my calf six months earlier and that day I was to be discharged. It transpired that Mr Jackson had a cardiac condition and was likely to be on anticoagulants life-long.
Blood taken, we moved from the corridor to the clinic proper. By chance we sat opposite one another so, as befits an incorrigible busybody, I had one ear on what went on. Mr Jackson was around 75years old and sat silent, staring ahead with a vacant expression. His face was sallow and glum. It was a warm day, and while others were in their shirt sleeves he wore a heavy grey suit, a tie, and a dark green cardigan. Mrs Jackson, who was very attentive, busied around him. ‘Do you want a cup of tea? ‘Can you see the TV screen?’ Do want a paper? ‘Are you too hot?’ But her enquiries were met only by slow, tortoise-like, head movements, and the occasional mouthed word. Mr Jackson was not a communicative man.
A nurse at the desk called for a ‘Mr George Arthur Jackson’. George did not stir, so Mrs Jackson upped and went to the counter on his behalf. She could be seen listening intently and then returned with a raft of papers. It was report-back time.
An unusual feature of anticoagulant tablets is that they come colour-coded for strength. In the arrangement those containing 0.5mg of warfarin are white; 1mg, brown; 3mg, blue; and 5mg, pink. This colour coding is so much part of the system that when doctors or nurses instruct patients on how to take their anticoagulants, it is all done in terms of tablet colour rather than tablet dose.
Carefully Mrs Jackson relayed the news. The tests had shown that George’s clotting had gone awry and in the next week or so there would have to be a series of tablet changes to bring the tests back to optimum. Apparently (or so I understood) he would have to stop taking his pink ones straight away. Then after two days he would start a complicated sequence that involved taking whites, blues and browns, sometimes singly and sometimes in combination. After a week, it would be back to the clinic for a retest.
All this was explained in some detail, and as the instructions painstakingly unfurled George began to look more and more bemused. Next there was an air of exasperation tinged with anger. Resistance seemed to be welling up. Something had to be done and as quick as lightening, and no doubt to calm things down, his wife said ‘Don’t worry dear, with all those colours it will be very interesting – you know how you have always liked colours’. It was difficult not to smile at this masterful stroke of the incongruous, but somehow it worked. George relaxed. And had my father been there his ears would have pricked up, his eyes would have twinkled, and another entry would have made it into his notebook.
The Jackson sthen stood up, gathered their belongings and left, only to be back in a week for another blood check.