Monday, May 21, 2012


Eleanor sits in the chair with her head resting back on the cushion, her hands lightly clasping the arm rests. The nurse stands beside her with an open folder, and gives us the low-down.
‘Good morning, gentlemen. This is Eleanor. Eleanor is ninety-five. Eleanor has been with us for rehab and physio since two weeks post mechanical fall one month query fractured pubic rami. Formerly of reasonable health other than an arthritic left shoulder replaced two thousand four, hysterectomy post CA bowel resolved ten years approximately, nothing much else. Independent living, good mobility up until the accident, can weight bear now using the gutter frame here. Unfortunately Eleanor has developed a lower respiratory tract infection seven days, increasing haemoptysis for three, not responding all that well to oral antibiotics. The GP came out and said he wanted her back in the hospital for further review.’
She closes the file, leans in and rests a hand on Eleanor’s shoulder. She opens her eyes.
‘Eleanor, love. These gentlemen have come to take you back to the hospital. Okay?’
The nurse smiles and straightens again.
‘Shall we fetch the trolley in? Plenty of room.’


Mid-morning and the clouds have finally cleared. The sunshine has freshened everything, drawing crowds out along the front, the outline and colour of everything suddenly distinct, from the sharp white seagulls turning overhead to the deepening blue of the sea.
‘It’s a shame we don’t have better windows,’ I say to Eleanor, opening the blinds as best I can as we ride along in the ambulance. ‘It’s a beautiful day.’
‘Yes. I thought it might be,’ she says. ‘One can taste it.’
She is in the same position on the trolley that she was in on the nursing home chair, her head resting back and her hands holding on to the rails. But every now and again she lifts her head and turns her face slightly left and right without opening her eyes, as if she was sensing some change in the air, like a hyper-sensitive creature responding to tiny movements or sounds.
‘Are we there yet?’
‘No. About another ten minutes or so, I should think. The sun’s brought the traffic out as well.’
‘Has it? Yes. I expect it has.’
She relaxes again.
‘Have you always lived here?’ I ask her.
‘Me? Goodness, no. I was born in London, but then I moved to South Africa with my husband. My second husband, I should say. Around nineteen forty-nine. That caused quite a shock.’
‘Why? What happened?’
‘Well, I had a cloistered kind of childhood, you know? Quite limiting, and so on. My parents were pretty strict about where I went and who I saw. So consequently I had a small circle of friends, and early on they had fixed ideas about who might be suitable for me to marry. An arranged marriage, really. I was young and didn’t know my own mind, you see. One simply finds oneself in these situations and there you are. So I married Peter. He was a charming man, very considerate, but the awful thing was although I liked him and respected him I didn’t love him. Do you see? Hopeless, really. But it wasn’t long after that Geoffrey came over from Rhodesia. He was a businessman, you know? A distant friend of a friend. And he came over to England to watch the West Indies play, for some reason. Anyway, we met at this party, and silly as it sounds – I just knew. One does. One simply does. You meet someone for the first time and there it is, this shock – of recognition, I would say. Here he is, the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Of course, we didn’t have long. Just a couple of weeks, in fact. The whole family were up in arms about it. My friends – everyone. Outrage. Calamity. The scandal to end all scandals. But when it happens one simply has to act. Anyway, I think it would’ve been harder not to do anything than to weather the storm and jolly well get on and be happy. So I ran away with him back to South Africa. A beautiful, beautiful country with a beautiful, beautiful man. We got married when the divorce finally came through, and when Geoffrey died a couple of years ago we’d been together almost seventy years. Seventy years!’
She raises her head and opens her eyes to look at me.
‘When did I get so old?’ she says.


tpals said...

Incredible that she was so brave given that background. I can imagine the hardest part must have been knowing her first husband would be hurt when he hadn't done anything wrong. Yet she obviously made the right choice.

Spence said...

I think it must have been an incredibly brave thing to do. And a measure of the strength of her feeling for Geoffrey. Fantastic that it all worked out so well for her. She told me that her first husband kept in touch for years - trying to win her back. She said he became a completely driven man, starting a company that made millions - but although she spoke of him with affection, even that didn't sway her at all! x

jacksofbuxton said...

When did we get old indeed.

They sound like happy memories for Eleanor.

Spence said...

Yep. But I think she had her share of tragedy, too, as you might expect at that age. She had one daughter with MH probs that ended badly - but I was struck by the beautifully resigned way she spoke about all these things - reviewing her life like that, quite equitably, the good and the bad, wrapped up with a kind of gentle sadness that she'd reached such an advanced old age and lost so many friends and family. Lovely woman. Made my day, actually. :)

Off for a haircut now. Are you busy? Quite happy just to sit and have a read of the paper, though...

Sabine said...

"One simply does."
So true.
Thanks, great story, as always.

Spence said...

Hey Sabine. How are you?
Definitely one of the perks of the job, meeting people like Eleanor. Inspirational.

Karen Martin Sampson said...

Really loved this post! What an incredible woman - wish I could know her personally.

Spence said...

Thanks, Karen
There are some patients you meet and you def think : I wish we had more time to chat!

Mike said...

Bit of a change from some of your usual clients. A real breath of fresh air.

Spence said...

Thx Mike. You're right - v refreshing! Hope my luck carries on like this... :)

Alexia said...

Lovely. Thank you Spence.

Spence said...

Cheers for the comment, Alexia! :)

Leasa Loseth said...

Working for a private ambulance service in the US I get to meet some amazing elderly people. I just wish that I could describe them with the same eloquence that you do. The respect that you show for for your patients is an inspiration.
Here in the US it is EMS Week, Happy EMS week to you and your co-workers.

Spence said...

Hi Leasa,

Happy EMS week to you, too. We don't have anything like that here - but I think we should!

You know, getting to meet amazing people is def one of the perks of the job. That and driving on the wrong side of the road. Nights you can keep! (but then, sometimes even then you get to see things you wouldn't otherwise...)

Cheers for the comment, LL.