Thursday, February 05, 2015

old neighbours

From where I stand on the other side of the street, the old terrace seems less like a row of houses than a long, defensible wall, striped in different coloured paint, chequered with windows, crenellated eaves running along the top like battlements and regular breaches in the wall at the bottom for the steps that lead up from the pavement to each double porch.
At least the gaps are numbered. I go up the steps to Mary’s house. It takes a little searching around with my flashlight to find Mary’s keysafe. In the end I pick out the hunched black shape of it, clinging to the wall behind the drainpipe like a species of giant mussel.
The door opens so easily I hardly need the key.
Hello? Ambulance.
A cry from upstairs.
I hit whatever switches I can find and head up.

Mary is sitting on the floor of the bedroom where she fell, her plastic over-knickers round her ankles, an upturned commode behind her. When I come into the room and turn on the light, she moves her whole face in my direction. On or off, it makes no difference. Mary’s lost her sight years ago.
 ‘Have you hurt yourself, Mary?’
‘No. No. Well, a bit, but I don’t want to go to hospital. Have I made a terrible mess? Has it gone everywhere?’
I pick the commode up and set it back on its legs. Incredibly, a great wad of tissue in the bowl has combined with the generous rim to keep the contents inside.
‘No – you’re fine,’ I tell her, putting the lid back on. ‘But it was a close run thing.’
‘I can’t believe that,’ she says. ‘It tipped right over.’
‘There’s nothing on the carpet.’
I ask her more questions about the fall. It seems she got a bit tangled when she went to stand up, and went down hard on her bottom. I give her a few exploratory prods and get her to move her legs. She says she’s not in any pain.
‘How do you feel about standing up?’
‘I just don’t know how I’m going to do that.’
‘I’ll help.’
She’s not at all heavy, so it’s not too bad. I crouch down, take a firm grip and we stand up together. Once we’re vertical Mary winces, staggers a little, grips tightly on to my arms.
‘Oh – oh!’
‘I won’t let you go,’ I tell her. ‘I promise. Let’s get you sat on the bed. It’s just a couple of feet to your left.’
She can only take tiny steps, dragging her right leg awkwardly.
‘That’s uncomfortable for you, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, a little, but – I’ll be fine.’
I help her onto the bed, drape some blankets around her, prop her up with a stack of cushions.
The pain appears to be deep in the crease of her groin.
‘You’ll need an X-Ray,’ I tell her.
‘Such a stupid thing to do,’ she says. ‘I’ve only been home a month. It was my breathing, last time.’
She tells me she lives in the house alone, with carers coming in four times a day.
‘What’s your mobility like normally?’
‘A bit iffy. Well, I am ninety, so I suppose it’s to be expected. I have a stick of course, but it takes me a good while.’
I radio for a truck. Luckily there’s one nearby, so it won’t be long. Meanwhile, I fill in some details and take a few obs.
‘Can you tell John next door I’m going in? And Wanda on the left? I know it’s early but they’ll both be up. They’ll worry otherwise. And could you let the care agency know I won’t need them? It’s a lot to ask and I’m so sorry to be a nuisance.’
‘When the crew gets here we’ll sort everything out.’
She looks at me with her filmy eyes, and moves her head very slightly from side to side.
‘Thank you so much for all you’ve done,’ she says.
And she holds out her hand. 


jacksofbuxton said...

Raging against the dying of the light.

Sabine said...

Indeed, thank YOU Spence.

I recently tried to convince my 86 year old father (who lives alone, 500 miles from here and considers himself fit and healthy and most of all independent) over the phone to call 911 (he mentioned a fall a few days ago with ongoing pain) but he refused because his case was not an accident. I don't think I qualify, he said. These guys have a hard enough job without me complaining about bruises.

He fractured a rib btw.

Spence Kennedy said...

Jack - Definitely! Such an example - to anyone, regardless of their age!

Sabine - Sorry to hear about your father. A fractured rib is really uncomfortable, so I hope he's getting good pain relief. He sounds amazingly resilient & self-reliant. The kind of person that makes you understand how the human race made it this far (and gives you hope for the future). :)

Anonymous said...

My 94yo grandad had a fall before Christmas. He was down overnight and needed to go to hospital. The ambulance crew were so good and also kind to my distressed dad. Unfortunately it's revealed the extent of grandad's frailty & confusion and he's still there. He was getting by with a carer he believed to be a cleaner (pride!) and twice daily visits by his children.

But perhaps fortunately he no longer thinks he's at hospital, instead he believes he's waiting at the airport for a long haul flight - a relic from his middle age. He says the food at this airport's terrible! But I think only part of him will fly out of there.

He's not an easy man to love and I'm 3 hours away with newborn twins. Combined with sleep deprivation, it feels like a story not my family's life.

Spence Kennedy said...

Wow - sounds like you've got an awful lot on your plate, Anon! (Congratulations on the twins, BTW). Sorry to hear about your grandad. It's a touching kind of confusion, thinking he's at the airport - but maybe no easier for all that.

It's always so much more difficult when you've got a long distance to go to see relatives when they're sick - and that's without newborn twins! How are the rest of the family bearing up?

I hope things resolve speedily for all of you, Anon, and you get all the help and support you need.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that's kind. I'm fine, it's just surreal. Reading about Mary just threw into relief the practicalities of extreme old age.

I've been saying for 2 years he needed proper support but understandably (if you knew him) his children didn't dare do anything about it. Hence the "cleaner". Ah, I didn't mean to burden you. This just stirred it all up.

The phrase is long-time reader, first time commenter, right? I really enjoy your writing. I even bought the ebook :) One day, I may even get chance to read books again! One day.
Ms Jones

Spence Kennedy said...

It is all about the practicalities. And hopefully they'll (the government) will start putting more money into providing them! It's a difficult balance to strike - right amount of care / right amount of independent living - whilst still being safe. Good luck with all the changes.

Thanks for reading all this time, Ms Jones. Very much appreciated! :)