Wednesday, December 08, 2010

a thousand years

Thelma is lying on her side on the carpeted floor, her legs in the dining room, her top half in the hall.
‘I’m all right,’ she says, the rich orange threads of the carpet muffling her words. ‘I’m all right.’
‘I couldn’t get her up on my own,’ says Harold, her husband, hobbling on behind us after he let us in. ‘It’s my back, you see. I just don’t have the strength.’
Harold is as decrepit as his wife; their skin has the colour and texture of parchment, their hair as finely silvered as fibre optic strands.
‘Usually Carol from the cafe across the road comes over to help, but she’s in Tenerife.’
‘Lucky Carol.’
‘I just need a hand,’ says Thelma, more loudly. ‘That’s all.’
I give her the once over and everything seems fine.
‘Why do you think you fell, Thelma? Did you trip, or did you have a funny turn?’
‘It depends what you mean by funny.’
‘Did you go dizzy, or pass out?’
‘No. I remember everything with absolute clarity. Rather too well, actually.’
‘Okay. Let’s get you up, then. Shout if anything hurts.’
We help her sit, then after a moment, up into a chair.
‘I need to go up,’ she says. ‘I’m tired and I need to go to bed.’
‘We can help you with that,’ I say. ‘We just have to make sure everything’s okay with your blood pressure and this and that.’
‘I know.’
We settle into the routine. Whilst Frank does the obs, I start the paperwork.
‘So just talk me through what happened again, Thelma.’
‘I was on the phone. To my daughter. I finished the call, turned round and caught my heel. I went down quite slowly and I didn’t hurt myself in any way. But I just couldn’t get up on my own.’
She seems tearful.
‘It must be upsetting.’
‘Yes. Well. Yes. When your only daughter says she wishes you were dead, it is upsetting.’
‘What an awful thing to say.’
Harold totters over and drapes an arm around Thelma’s shoulder.
‘Don’t take it to heart,’ he says.
‘Well how can I not? What other way is there? “I wish you were dead”. She makes herself pretty clear.’
Harold looks at me and Frank, expecting some kind of judgement.
‘Families, eh?’ says Frank, curling up the steth and carefully storing it away in the bag.
‘Has this been going on a while?’ I say to Harold.
‘About a thousand years,’ he sighs, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and handing it to Thelma. ‘Ever since she married that Steven and had a child.’
Thelma looks up, suddenly animated.
‘What do you expect? When you marry a mental deficient, you’re quite likely to give birth to a mental deficient.’
The force of her enmity almost lifts her off the chair cushion, but the power of it passes as rapidly as it came, and she shrinks away to almost nothing.
‘I’m so tired,’ she says. ‘If you could just help me onto the stair lift.’
Leaning on my arm she hobbles across the hallway to the foot of the stairs. I drop the plastic seat and handrail into position, and Thelma shuffles on.
‘If you could walk behind. Just in case,’ she says.
She presses a button and the seat begins its slow ascent. After a few minutes she reaches the dark landing at the top.
‘I’ll be fine now,’ she says, without looking back. ‘Thank you.’
I turn to go back down.
Harold is at the bottom, tightly gripping the banister, looking up.


BB said...

What percentage of your calls are mentally challenged? It's got to be a fair amount I would think? Wow.

Older School said...

Such a sad story. Unfortunately, it's more common than people think.
Life is too short for such petty nonsense.
I hope things get better for them...

Unknown said...

There's just no way to medically treat family disfunction.

Angry words lead to regret and when one party's time is nearing it's end that regret can turn to inconsolable remorse.

Stacy said...

This one makes me shiver more than Mr. Plunger and his knife--Thelma just seems to be harboring so much...resentment, I suppose, at situations that are beyond her control.

You paint mood and ambiance so well--you make room for all the things you leave unsaid to unfold on their own. Really gorgeous.

tpals said...

So sad, but some families would be better off not communicating.

OKinUK said...

Another brilliant recollection. Thank you!

Mariodacat said...

What a variety of calls you get. Never realized it was to these extremes. Bless you guys for doing such a good job.

Spence Kennedy said...

BB - I'd say a significant number had a MH component (although this one was the lower end of the scale, obviously).

OS - I agree. Life's too short. But it's awful how persistent some of these family schisms prove to be. Even when the original hurt has long been forgotten - or possibly never really been acknowledged or understood.

Nari - Def need to sort these things out before time runs out. The remorse would be even worse to live with, because there'd be no possibility of going back or making it right.

Stacy - I must admit I was surprised at the way the whole situation unfolded. it started out as a common kind of non-injury fall, and ended up as a sad illustration of a family at war.

Tpals - It's true that some families seem doomed to carry on arguing along the same old lines.

Mollie - Thanks!

MdC - Behind every door something different - good and bad!


Thanks very much for all your comments and support! :0)

Ashleigh said...

I have to agree with the latter half of Stacy's comment.. I know several emergency responders here in Canada that I can get stories from (although, not sure if they're as widely spread experiences as yours!) but the way you describe everything and literally paint a picture.. It's like there's a moving postcard in my head that I can just watch, and see what you see.. that's what keeps me coming back. You're a briliant writer and I'm learning so much about technique from you... but I do enjoy the stories too :)

Ali_Q said...

The stories that always affect me most that you tell, are those of older people on their own, or in this case, where their families habe abandoned them. It's my greatest fear and the way you tell them oozes the emotions that seem to flow from people in these situations. I wish I could describe my every day life as well as you, although I'm pretty sure noone would want to read it!

jacksofbuxton said...

A sad story Spence,but all too common in families I'm afraid.As Tolstoy wrote "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I do hope that you are able to compartmentalise these sorts of house calls and not let them get to you.

Keep up the good work,both in the real world and on here.

Unknown said...

Aw, that just breaks my heart. So wonderful that you get to bring kindness into people's lives. It's might be small, but it's the seed that's planted that grows into love.

Anonymous said...

Spence, I remember when I found your Blog "Ralf's Room". I booked marked it right away. Then once a week I would visit read the update. Now it seems like I return to a good book, many chapters posted each week and always intresting. Keep up the good work, your writing gives a insight in a world unkown.

Spence Kennedy said...

Ashleigh - I'm sure they get as much of this stuff as we do. You don't have to be out there long before much of it comes your way.

I very much like that 'moving postcard' image. Something I'd aspire to, anyway.

Alison - Even though the ideal would be for a placid / content old age, the truth is that life goes on, with all its problems and rewards. If anything it gets harder, because you have more physical limitations to contend with. As the patients are never tired of saying: 'Don't get old'. ('Ah - but wha'dya gonna do?')

JoB - It helps, going to these jobs in a professional capacity. Even being in a uniform keeps you objective most of the time. I think it's worse writing about these jobs than attending them, sometimes. I try not to let it get me down. (But I probably walk around like Eeyore:

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt."

SDM - It's one of the perks of the job, that you can make small interventions at difficult times that make a big difference. And get paid.

Anon - That's going back a bit! I think I owe you a long service medal or something. Very kind of you to support me all this time. I'll think of something....


Thanks to everyone for your comments. Very much appreciated. x

runawaybride said...

i just stubled on your blog... how do you live with so much misery that you see everyday.. must be really courageous..

Spence Kennedy said...

Runawaybride - It's true, we see a lot of problems. The nature of the job, I suppose. But the good thing is you see a great many people coping pretty well, either by themselves, or with help from family and friends and carers etc. So it's not all bad! I know I probably highlight the darker side in this blog; I just hope there's enough balance in it to counteract the negativity.

Thanks for reading, and for the comment! :)

Scribner said...

The writing was lovely. Good or bad, you have captured their humanity perfectly. Thank you for this.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much McBroome. That's very kind of you to say so. I do try to just put the characters over as they appear at the time, and not be too high-handed. I suppose it's how I'd want someone to write about me, with all my faults and annoying habits - to be humane! :/