Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Stanley opens the door so quickly he must have been standing right by it. Half past five in the morning but he looks as if he has been up an hour or more. There is an air of silence about him, hanging from his shoulders as thickly as the dark green cardigan he wears. He stands in the doorway with one hand clutching the frame and one hand fiddling with a top button I’m not sure is actually there.
‘Hello. It’s the ambulance. Shall we go inside and have a seat?’
He stares at me slackly.
‘Just for a moment, so we can find out what the problem is.’
He turns and drops back inside the house. We follow him into the sitting room, a gloomy parlour crammed with paintings of racehorses, a trophy cabinet, family portraits. It feels more like a memorial to a former jockey than a place anyone might live. Stanley plumps himself down in a high-backed chair and laces his fingers together.
‘What’s the problem?’
‘I’ve been getting rather a sore throat.’
He makes a tired little stroking movement with one hand up and down his neck.
‘And how long has this been going on?’
‘A few days. I don’t know.’
‘Any other pain?’
‘My knee, but that’s old and best forgotten about.’
‘Dizziness? Shortness of breath?’
I fish about for a while, making sure that Stanley is not in fact having the chest pain described in the message.
‘No. Just this sore throat.’
Stanley has recently been cleared of prostate cancer, still has problems urinating, but other than that seems in remarkably good shape for a man in his mid-eighties. It does look as if he needs to go to hospital, but I want to do an ECG to make sure it isn’t cardiac, so I ask if Stanley will come with us out to the ambulance.
‘I’m sorry to have troubled you,’ he says. ‘If you think it’s nothing then I’ll say no more about it.’
‘Let’s go on the ambulance and do a few more checks, just to be on the safe side.’
I help him up, and guide him out to the vehicle. On the way he coughs a few times, a dry, half-hearted affair, like someone clearing their throat in church.
‘How long have you had that cough?’ I ask him.
‘A few days. I don’t know.’
We settle him onto the trolley, and begin our round of observations. Whilst I’m sticking some dots on him I have to excuse myself and hurriedly turn to the side to sneeze.
‘Oh – look at me!’ I say, pressing my nose with the back of my blue-gloved hand. ‘I think we’ve both got a touch of the sniffles.’
Stanley gives a little jolt and straightens an inch.
‘If you think I’m wasting your time then please say so and I’ll go back inside. I didn’t know what to do. I have no one to ask. My wife’s in a home with Alzheimer’s, my daughter’s in Spain. It’s not easy you know, living alone like this. But I don’t want to be a nuisance. If you think all I have is a cold, then fine, help me up and I’ll get about my business. I will not be a burden and I will not waste anyone’s time.’
‘Stanley! Stanley!’ I say, as shocked by his outburst as if a teddy bear had suddenly reared up and bitten me. ‘That’s not what I meant at all! I don’t think you’re a burden!’
‘If you think all this is just a waste of time then tell me and that’ll be the end of it.’
‘Stanley! It was just that I sneezed – and you were coughing – and I thought we both might have a cold. But I don’t think you’re wasting our time. We’re more than happy to come round this morning and make sure you’re okay. More than happy.’

But Stanley avoids my eyes. Instead, he keeps his head up, uncomfortably looking around the ceiling and overhead lockers, like a tired old donkey sniffing the sky for signs of rain.


loveinvienna said...

Good post Spence! Poor old chap, seems as if he just wanted a bit of TLC and attention :( I like the fact you're experimenting with new styles, it varies things :)

Liv xxx
PS. I especially liked your Mother's Day post. Very moving.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Liv!
It was def a case of 'acopia'. Poor guy - it must be hard for him. It makes things so much worse when you think something's wrong but don't have anyone around to talk to about it.
Hope you're well. Vienna must be particularly beautiful this time of year...

.. said...

Poor old man! Reminds me of a frequent flyer of mine. Sweet old man who's real problem is loneliness.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Bernice
It is awful when you see the effects of isolation on people. In retrospect I think I should've highlighted his situation to the staff at the hospital. Maybe they could've pointed him in the direction of a day centre. I think I was just so tired it didn't occur to me.
I wonder if he'll become a regular...
Thanks for the comment.

uphilldowndale said...

I'd take a bet there are more lonely people out there than sick. Very sad.

Spence Kennedy said...

I think social isolation is as big a problem as alcohol - and that's saying something!

Anonymous said...

We see it quite often, the loneliness manifests itself as something physical and the appearance of people who will listen takes away the pain and brings on the guilt.

I hope the Old fella was ok and can maybe find some company now and again.

Gerry said...

Perhaps loneliness is an illness. People come into the market in the hour before closing to buy a bag of chips or some bananas - but mainly to have someone to talk to. They drift out again - "See you tomorrow." The ones with the saddest eyes buy a bottle. "Company coming up for the weekend," they tell me. "How nice," I used to say, when I was new and didn't know. When the market is closed, well, then they'll call you, won't they? Because you'll come. You'll sit quietly and listen for a bit. Check what you need to check. Write it up as "no transport" and go back home. The market will open soon.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Louise,
It's true, we do see it a lot. It's one of the most difficult aspects, I think, because it's not really something we can do much about (other than a short term 'how are you'). It is like an illness, in the way it physically manifests itself.

I'm sure there are lots of things a person can do to get 'reconnected' - but it has to start with a brave step towards them, and that's maybe the hardest thing to overcome.

Hi Gerry,

Nicely put.

I must admit sometimes when I'm queuing at the checkout I look at what the person in front of me is getting and try to guess what kind of home life they have. And then I wonder, if they did the same for me, whether they'd be right or not.

Thanks for your comments!

Michael Morse said...

Strange feeling, when you lose that vital connection to somebody and can't get it back. An innocent comment taken the wrong way and that's the end of the conversation.

Spence Kennedy said...

It is a strange feeling, and so frustrating! Neither of us were worried about being called out to Stanley. We could see what the problem really was - that he was lonely and had talked himself into a state - but he was a nice old guy and we were happy to help put his mind at rest. I just didn't realise how sensitive he was about it, though. It's just amazing the effect a flip comment can have, sometimes.