As we approached the scene we turned off the “Blues & Twos” and pulled up outside a council house on Big City estate. The estate had seen better times, it had been full of community spirit when first built in the early fifties and sixties. People used to take pride in their homes and look out for each other. Now people kept themselves to themselves and every other garden boasted the very latest in must have bespoke garden furniture such as a fridge lying on its side with its door wide open, various items of smashed wood and the odd shell of a car. Nice!
Outside the address a police officer waited for us standing next to the front door. The bottom panel had been kicked in to allow the officer to gain entry. The police had been called by a neighbour who said the elderly woman who lived at the address had not been seen for a long time, a matter of weeks if not months. By the look of the outside of the house everything looked normal…normal for this estate anyway.
Walking down the path towards the officer my crew-mate and I both noticed the curtains at the front window. What we thought of as patterns at first was in fact shredded material. The curtains were ragged and torn and a dark grey in colour. Nearing the front door we caught the first whiff of warm, acrid air as it made its escape from the house. One of the few times that I wish I had a cold!
The police officer quickly explained that inside the house he had found the woman…on the floor…if not dead…very unconscious. He told us to expect a sorry sight! With trepidation we filed into the hallway, bare floor boards were covered with newspaper and torn clothes along with empty tins of cat food…a lot of empty tins!
To the left was the living room door and we pushed it open and stepped into another dimension. Everything was black…the walls, the ceiling and the carpet. Not much furniture was evident and we located the woman in the middle on the floor. At first glance she appeared to not be moving then as we got closer there was an almost imperceptible rise of the chest. She lay there on her back, naked but for an orange nylon shirt. She appeared to be in her eighties…emaciated…her skin hanging from her bones…her grey hair was a mash of tangles and something else that we could not tell.
Again her chest rose ever so slightly. Her mouth was open, skin stretched tight over her jaw. Her eyes closed and almost lost in their sunken sockets. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness and then I realised what else was in her hair…faeces. She was covered from head to toe in her own mess. I felt for a pulse and found a weak, feeble output at her tiny, thin wrist. My crew-mate went for the carry chair and I cracked open the oxygen bottle and placed the O2 mask on her gaunt face.
The smell was overpowering and I swear that if I had got a knife I could have sliced out a section of the pungent aroma that hung in the air everywhere. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement…a solitary shape scurried past me hissing and spitting. Then another shape appeared on the other side of the room its eyes scanning me, weighing me up. A noise came from behind me, a rustle of paper and a high pitched whine. I turned around to ask the police officer if he had seen anything…he was not there. A sudden chill ran down my spine.
I tried to walk over to the doorway to look for my crew-mate…my legs were leaden, straining to move as if in some form of “Night Terrors”. Looking down at the carpet I realised why my boots were all of a sudden heavier…it was not a carpet I was standing on… it was cat faeces…about an inch thick if not more. It was everywhere. I then saw the condition of the furniture…it was totally shredded like the curtains. Looking around the semi-darkness of the room I counted fifteen pairs of eyes staring at me! Where was my crew-mate? Now was not the time to develop a phobia of cats!
Eventually we got the woman out of the house and into the back of the vehicle where we could assess her properly. Her pulse was weak and slowing, her resps short and infrequent, her blood pressure unrecordable. She was poorly, very poorly. We had her swathed in blankets after assisting her resps with our bag & mask and getting a line into a vein we started to push fluids in. Within five minutes she responded with a low groan, her pulse picking up to a respectable 70 beats a minute and her resps becoming more normal. Her blood pressure came upto 65/40. Our O2 sats probe could not go on her finger as her nails had grown a good three inches plus and had started to curl under themselves!
We put in an alert call for A/E to stand by and we left the house behind for the officer to secure, not that anyone would want to break in, and if they did the cats would probably have them for their next meal!
The woman eventually succumbed to her condition and died a week later. How this woman was able to get to such a state in the first place would be the subject of many reports for social services. She had been a fiercely proud and independent woman who shunned all offers of help over the years. Her only friends were her cats who must have been the only witnesses to her plight for the days, if not weeks of her suffering.