Friday, July 15, 2011

getting through

‘Wait a minute. I’ll just give Barbara a call.’
Dorothy is holding a scrap of paper with something like runes written on it in shaky black marker pen.
‘The number’s upside down,’ says Frank, reaching across and turning it the right way up for her. ‘Would you like me to dial?’
‘No. Thank you. I can manage.’
She picks up the receiver, puts it to her ear suspiciously to check the tone, scrutinises the scrap of paper a nose and a half distant, then extends a withered finger. ‘Eight.... four....zero....’
It’s been a while since I’ve seen an old phone with a circular dial. I love the way Dorothy jabs a finger in each number hole, drags it round with that congested whirring noise inside, then pulls it out and lets the dial wind backwards with a clatter. It all seems so mechanical, agricultural. Amazing that anyone should be on the other end. And of course, they’re not.
‘Out,’ she says, replacing the receiver. ‘Still at work, I ‘spect.’
‘You can always ring them from the hospital.’
‘Can I?’
‘Yes.’
She looks pained.
‘What’s the matter, Dorothy?’ says her friend Sylvie from the opposite chair. ‘What are you worrying about?’
‘Where’s my purse?’
‘In the kitchen under the monkey. Shall I get it for you?’
‘Could you, pet? And whilst you’re there, could you fetch me in my glasses? And a dress – the white cotton one, not the one with pleats. And my best slippers. And I’ll need a coat. And shut the window ‘cos I’ve left it wide open.’

Dorothy is ninety three but only looks seventy. She’s had hip pain all week, but today it’s much worse and she hasn’t been able to go outside. She could see Sylvie waiting for her on the bench down in the square, and shouted out the window for her to come up.
‘I’ve never seen her like this,’ says Sylvie, her head waggling from side to side with the excitement of it all. ‘Never. She’s normally such a fighter.’
‘Yes. Well. I am a fighter.’
‘I know.’
‘But sometimes you just run out of fight.’
To illustrate the point, she sighs, and rests her head back on the cushions Sylvie has plumped up behind her. After a second or two when everything goes quiet and nothing seems to happen, she opens her eyes and lifts her head again.
‘Oh – and while you’re in there, can you bring me my green cardy hanging off the back of the door? And a bottle of water out of the fridge?’
Sylvie smiles and crowbars herself out of her chair with her walking stick. She seems even more decrepit than Dorothy, even though she’s twenty years younger – a fact that Dorothy has emphasised at least four times since we got here.
‘It’s bad,’ says Dorothy, ‘Very bad. I’ve never known pain like it.’
‘If you had to give the pain a score out of ten, with ten being unbearable pain and nought being nothing, what would you give it, Dorothy?’
‘Well I wouldn’t say it was unbearable.’
‘So – marks out of ten?
‘It’s not too bad when I sit still like this.’
‘No – but when you move, what score might you give it?’
‘Score? I don’t know. What do you think?’
‘It’s not what I think. It’s what the pain feels like to you.’
‘Excruciating hot. Right deep in here.’
‘Does it go anywhere else?’
‘Right in deep.’
‘And what mark would you give it out of ten? You know. For the pain. Marks out of ten.’
‘Shocking.’
‘Okay.’
Sylvie comes back in with an armful of stuff.
‘Where do you want it?’ she says, breathing heavily.
‘Oh I don’t know,’ says Dorothy, holding the scrap of paper up to the light again and almost pressing it to the tip of her nose. ‘I just wish I could get through to Barbara.’

13 comments:

VM Sehy Photography said...

That's the rough part of getting old. Everything starts to wear out. Sometimes you don't have any more fight in you. I suspect if some people could do a brain transplant into a brand new body, they'd go for it in an instant and live forever. Wouldn't that be something. Clone a body and transplant the brain. Hum.

I grew up with one of those dial phones. I often wonder if we'd have the patience required to work them anymore.

jacksofbuxton said...

Come on Dorothy,don't give up yet!!!

I'm intrigued by the line about her purse being under the monkey in the kitchen,how bizarre is that?We always keep our monkey in the front room.

Oh ubey do,I wanna be like you-hoo-hoo

Spence said...

Hi VMSP. I've always quite fancied having my brain transplanted into the computer of a deep space probe - with a console of game environments / virtual family surrounds &c for the journey. That might be fun. Well at least you'd be out and about.

And talking of technology - incredible to think how crude phones used to be. But I suppose that's why we've got such strong index fingers. Now, it's just over-developed thumbs.

JoB - I was v disappointed to find one of those PG Tips knitted monkeys in there. I wanted a Macaque at the very least - sitting on her purse instead of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Ben said...

argh pain scores and the elderly! (and non English speakers) it must be a generation gap, I tend to interpret their answers into a figure after a few goes. less frustrating :)

Spence said...

Maybe there should be a geriatric equivalent of the paediatric Wong Baker pain assess. chart. Underneath each face there could be captions ranging from the lowest: Don't normally make a fuss, through: Dreadful, indescribable to the very highest score: Couldn't even begin to say, dear.

Anonymous said...

From the way you describe her conversation the pain surely couldn't have been particularly severe? I must say I am very envious that she has got to 93 and "never known pain like it".

I've only ever been on the patient end of things, but to me pain scores have always seemed pointless. Someone who has previously experienced a horrific injury won't describe severe pain as their worst pain ever; someone who has always been in good health might describe a twisted ankle as excruciating.

Spence said...

Hi Anon
You're right - pain is very subjective, and what's ten out of ten for someone might be only five for someone else. I've got friends who run Iron Man triathalon, and I'm certain they handle pain better than me. Then you can add to that the 'diplomatic' aspect of pain. So if someone's called 999 and doesn't want to be thought a fraud, quite naturally they'll talk up their symptoms.

I think the idea behind the pain score is to mark any changes. So if I start off by saying the pain is eight out of ten, if twenty minutes later I say nine out of ten, it's a sign that problem might have got worse. That's it, really.

She was pretty good for 93, I have to say. Independent, good friends, monkey in the kitchen...

Stonehead said...

I've had quite a few injuries over the years and at the time I suffered them I would never have described any as being worse than 2-4 on the pain scale. Broken teeth, lip hanging off? 3. Knee cap hanging out? Maybe 4. Fractures—arms, fingers, collar bones? 3. Impaled foot? 4.

Yes, they were a bit painful but the pain in itself didn't impair me in any way and wasn't a huge bother so I just put up with it. I even turned down pain relief on several occasions, only taking it when paramedics or doctors insisted based on their professional judgement.

However, in hindsight, after I'd been given pain relief and it had had time to kick in, I'd rate most of those experiences as 7-8 on the pain scale. In my case, it's only the removal of pain that allows me to accurately judge how bad the pain was.

Spence said...

Hi Stonehead

Just goes to show that pain really is a subjective, individual experience. There's a huge amount of psychology involved in coping with pain - I've heard people describe how it's better to 'attend' to the pain rather than fight it; to own and accept it rather than turn away and try to escape from it. But all this is easier said than done. I know I've been very thankful for a handful of painkillers sometimes! Hope you're well now and everything good. Cheers for the comment.

Anonymous said...

ah the pain thing
gosh - did the baby thing, yes ouch, but flaming ear/tooth ache can be much worse.
hey ho, great post as always.
thankyou
x

Spence said...

Ouch! I'm so glad I don't have to go through giving birth. Toothache's bad enough (which reminds me - must make an appt :/ ) x

Grace said...

I think I have a fairly high pain tolerance but I recently suffered a strangulated hernia and I was asked to rate the pain regularly while in the ER awaiting the surgeon. The pain was excruciating and I rated it as a 10but as soon as the morphine kicked in, it became much, much lower!

Spence said...

I've never had morphine, but I'm certainly glad it's around! Hope you're completely mended now, Grace.