Thursday Woman lies curled on floor of geriatric ward. My mother ignores her. Patients mostly huddled in armchairs. One woman has eyes shut, mouth open in a long O. Another has skirt pulled up, is staring at skinny legs.

John and I report woman on floor to care assistant. 'That'll be Mary,' she says. Calls half- heartedly: 'Come on, Mary, get up.'

Mum sits rigid, her eyes staring fiercely into the distance. Sometimes they fill with tears. Occasionally she mutters, 'I'm dying', and 'nobody believes me'. She has been saying this for a fortnight.

Old lady wanders up, smiling. Curly grey hair, blue dress. A friend for Mum? Says her name is Florrie. Picks up one of Mum's cards: 'Cheery Wishes to You in Hospital.' Looks at Mum kindly. 'Has she been in hospital then?' Points to John's jacket. 'That's smart.' Strokes it. 'My husband's got one just like that.' Starts pushing Mum's chair. Mum ignores this, we protest. Nurse leads Florrie away.

Doctor questions us about my mother. We give answers yet again. Age 76, widowed five years, depressed. Now living with us. Problems began recently. Won't walk, won't eat, claims to be dying. Increasingly wild and agitated. GP found no physical cause. Admitted Mum to the psychiatric hospital the day before.

Mary still asleep on floor. Florrie whips off grey wig to reveal bald head, and shouts as we leave: 'He's got my husband's jacket.'

Friday Scene in ward little changed. Cheap furniture, plastic flowers. Old ladies staring vacantly at flickering television. Florrie absent, thank goodness. Mary on floor.

Mum now slumped in chair, chin on chest. Does not greet us. Collar foodstained. Staff concerned about her. Can I persuade her to drink? I try with mug of tea. She refuses. Push straw between Mum's dry lips. 'Come on, Mum, you must drink something.' No good. Head sinks even lower.

Feel frustrated and helpless. We leave again.

Saturday Couldn't visit. Had to work. Phone call early evening. Mother worse, vomiting, circulation poor. Transferred to General Hospital, Accident and Emergency Department. Drive there with my brother, Alan.

Mum in cubicle on high trolley. Oxygen mask. Drip. Face very thin, nose beaklike, collarbones standing out. Mouth shrunk without false teeth. Coughs feebly. Gives no sign of seeing us.

Young doctor calls us aside. Very poorly, chest infection, fluid on lung, dehydrated. Will do what they can - will ring in night if becomes worse.

In hospital car park. Brother's car stolen. Cannot believe all of this.

Sunday Phone call from police. Alan's car found abandoned. Windows broken, valuables stolen, wheels removed. Can he arrange removal?

Taxi to hospital. Mum out of danger, removed to ward. Very small in bed. No mask. Still drip and catheter. Eyes half shut, cloudy. Shows no signs of recognition. Nurse says: 'Much better now. Understands every word.' Privately, I doubt this. Sit some time by the bed. Talk quietly to her. No response.

Ward plain but bright. Cards, flowers, sunshine. Four other patients. One lady with tube up nose and down throat. Cheerful. Going home yesterday but ulcer burst again.

Second lady rambling, laughing, crying: 'I love my Mummy. All my parents are dead]'. Third patient younger, pale, wired up. No sign of life bar occasional splutter. Nurses watch closely.

Last lady, opposite Mum, about 90. Brown gaunt face, gypsy-like. Iron-grey hair in pigtails, two bright pink hairslides. Stitches on forehead and black eye. Nurse says looks like 10 rounds with Frank Bruno. Lady giggles. Tells me she keeps waving at Mum to cheer her up.

Sit on Mum's bed, avoiding tubes. Whisper again. Still no response. Young male nurse arrives. Boyish face, big grin. Kneels on bed, face only inches from Mum's. Beaming smile, bawls in her ear: 'HELLO, dear] HELLO]'

And Mum smiles. Absolutely no doubt, a real, toothless smile. 'Now you try,' he suggests. And she smiles for me, too, a lovely smile. Rush to tell lady with pigtails. She smiles, too.

Go back to Mum. 'Mum, I want you to know that we're sorry no one believed how ill you were.' She can't speak, but she understands.

Old lady opposite waves like a windmill, shaking her pigtails. Mum smiles.

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