Elsa has slowly been sliding off the kitchen chair ever since the carer left at five. Without the strength in her legs to push herself up, eventually she pressed the red button on the cord round her neck. We let ourselves in with the key from the key safe.
‘Never mind that. Git me up! I’ll be on the floor in a minute if you don’t get a move on.’
‘Okay. Do you have any pain anywhere, Elsa?’
‘Jes’ git me up. Why are you standing there asking these stupid questions? I’ll fall on the floor and it’ll be your fault.’
‘We won’t let you fall, Elsa. Can we help you up by the arms? Do you have any problems there?’
She turns to look at Rae with her eyes closed.
‘What’s he saying? I can’t make out a damned thing.’
‘He wants to know if you’ve got any pain anywhere.’
‘I will do soon if you don’t get a move on.’
‘Where do you want to go once we’ve stood you up?’
‘Go? I’m not going nowhere. I’m not going up the hospital. I’ve had enough of them.’
‘Okay. Let’s stand you up and see how good you are on your pins. Use the zimmer, Elsa. Take a good grip – no, no, not on me. On the handles of the zimmer. The zimmer, Elsa. Like you’ve been shown.’
‘Help me! I’m going to fall!’
‘You won’t fall, Elsa. We won’t let you go. We just want to see how mobile you are.’
‘Ooh – fetch me that bowl quick, won’t you? I’m going to wet.’
‘Shall we walk you to the toilet?’
‘The bowl! I want the bowl!’
‘But how are you going to use it?’
‘If you just shut up for five minutes I’ll tell you. Put it on the floor and I’ll stand over it.’
‘You’re going to wee standing up?’
‘On the floor. Go on...’
Reluctantly I put the bowl on the floor. Elsa shuffles forwards, only just managing to open her legs sufficiently to straddle the bowl.
‘It’ll never work,’ I say. ‘It’ll just run down your legs.’
‘No it won’t. Watch. Stand back a little or you’ll get splashed.’
She lets go of the zimmer to hitch her ancient housecoat above her knees – and would instantly have toppled backwards if I hadn’t been there to grab her by the shoulder.
‘Don’t let me go!’ she yells. ‘I told you!’
‘This is very unsatisfactory, Elsa’
‘I don’t care what it is, I’ve got to go wee. Here it comes. Watch out.’
She stares ahead with bovine insouciance as a sudden rush of urine splatters down into the bowl.
‘At least it missed your legs,’ I say.
‘Have you been going more often?’
‘What’s he want now?’ says Elsa, as Rae passes her some kitchen towel to wipe herself dry.
‘Your toilet habits. Are you going for a wee a lot? Does it sting at all?’
‘No. Now get me back to my chair.’
‘I don’t think you’re safe to be left here tonight,’ I tell her.
‘I’m not going to the hospital. I only got out the other week.’
‘What were you in for?’
‘I banged my head. Falling off the chair.’
‘There’s a discharge summary here,’ says Rae, pulling it out of the back of the care folder. ‘Says she had a subdural.’
‘It’s just not a good chair to spend the night in, Elsa.’
‘It’s got no arms, for one thing.’
‘Oh I don’t care about that.’
‘But if you fall asleep, there’s nothing to stop you rolling out and cracking your head again. Or breaking your hip.’
‘I’m not going to hospital.’
‘Can’t we help you into bed, at least?’
‘No. Why would I want to go to bed?’
‘Because it’s safer and more comfortable.’
‘Just put me back in the chair and leave me alone.’
The chair is a perfect fit with the rest of the flat, which looks like it was furnished from a skip. I’m sure when the chair was in the furniture catalogue sometime in the sixties, the padded plastic seat and back rest would’ve looked charming and colourful. Fast-forward fifty years, though, and gobs of yellowing foam are spilling out of numerous tears, and the white, tubular legs are pitted with rust, splaying at the seams. I wouldn’t put a cup on it, let alone a woman in her eighties.
‘It’s not safe,’ I tell Elsa as I help her start the laborious business of turning her round.‘Well I’m not asking you to sit in it, am I?’ she says.