Driving past her house for the umpteenth time, I can't help but wonder how she's doing. It's been many months now since I've been called there, and recently I've started to fear the worst. Her house is on one of several routes I can take to and from work, so I could in theory avoid going past it, but sometimes I just can't help it. I need to see some sign of life. Something to tell me that she's still OK. Even if it's just to see an ambulance parked outside again.
We open the key-safe by the front door using the code given to us by control.
"I'm in here! On the floor again". Not even a hint of sadness or despair from the voice. In fact, much the opposite. Like she's pleased as punch to see us again. For me though, it was the first time of many that I'd meet Nina. In an overbalanced (read upside-down) wheelchair, slowly being crippled by Multiple Sclerosis, she somehow manages to remain upbeat and positive, despite her body, and sometimes her mind, betraying her day by day.
That first time, I was working with a paramedic who'd been in the job too long. He was jaded, couldn't give a damn, and refused to accept that the job he was doing was vastly different from the one he joined - changed, but for the better. The only thing I'd learn from him over the few shifts we worked together, was that his was a way I didn't want to learn. Well, that and the fact that I soon found out what it's like to be crewed with someone, yet work the whole shift on your own. I hoped then, still hope now, that I never become that uncaring, that selfish, however long I'm a paramedic for.
Nina, however, had much to teach me. I admitted to her that I was newly qualified, and that I didn't know a great deal about MS. She told me a little about it, how her body was destroying its own nerve fibres, and the more it was doing so, the more she was struggling to cope. It had already taken away most of her mobility.
"I'm sure you'll be back to help me up again soon", she said. "Each time you visit, I'll try to explain a little more." I was being hassled by my jaded friend that we should probably leave, now that Nina was upright and comfortable. I just wanted to stay and learn, but was too scared of being hauled over the coals for being insubordinate, so quickly finished the paperwork, and we left. I'd learn about that too.
I went home that day, and the first thing I did was turn on the computer and read up a little on MS, so that if and when I went back to Nina, I'd be a little more knowledgeable about her condition.
Fate dictated that I would visit Nina about once a month, sometimes once a fortnight, after that for a long time. Every time I went back I learnt a little more from her. And every time, she'd send me out with homework to do. Something else that I hadn't read about, didn't understand, and she'd promised to test me the next time I came back. She kept her promises too. Her memory was amazing. And it wasn't just MS that she'd test me on.
After our third meeting, Nina admitted that she was a senior nurse with 30 years of experience, and clearly had a wealth of knowledge. She'd stopped being able to share and impart her wisdom when the MS confined her to barracks, at least as far as work was concerned. I was to become her latest pupil. I used to look forward to those lessons, despite the fact that I'd often come out of them feeling even more stupid than when I went in. But it gave me the drive to read, to learn, to keep studying. It stopped me becoming complacent. It reminded me constantly that I didn't want to become that old, cynical, jaded paramedic who'd been with me when I first visited Nina.
Nina was always upbeat. Always pleased to see us, polite enough to always offer us a drink, but familiar enough to constantly ridicule me for not knowing something else, and know that she'd get away with it. Despite her physical difficulties, and the fact that whenever we were there it was because she was either stuck in the bathroom, or in an upside-down wheelchair, or some other potentially embarrassing situation, we were always welcomed with a giggle and a joke.
One time when I met Nina, she asked me about the life-expectancy of an MS sufferer. I, in turn, asked her if she was trying to tell me something. She laughed hysterically.
"I'll be driving you nuts for a long time yet. You can't get rid of me that easy!"
I knew the answer to the question too. There is little difference, certainly as far as life-expectancy is concerned, between those who suffer from MS from those who don't. As Nina was in her mid 50s, I knew that she was probably right. She probably would be driving us crazy for ages, and I'd go on being tested by her for some time yet.
I told her I looked forward to it, and joked that next time she's upside down in her wheelchair, I'm going to take her up on that offer of a drink and that I'd like to see how she'd go get it upside down! As always, I left Nina's house grinning, safe in the knowledge that I had another test yet to come. She was just working on the question.
It was the last time I saw her.
Since then, every time I meet something new, a condition I've not heard of, a drug I don't recognise, I write it in my diary, wait until I get five minutes of peace and quiet at home, and go to do some homework.
Just in case I bump into Nina again.