Elsie is on the
floor again. It’s the second time in a week I’ve been out to her. A stack of
ambulance sheets on the sideboard is testament to the growing trend.
again!’ she says, swiping the air. ‘I might’ve known you’d be back.’
ninety-five. She’s been widowed half a lifetime, longer than she was married. She
moved into this house with her husband Jim, and they raised one child, Sandra.
They wanted more but something went wrong and that was that. When Sandra was old
enough, Elsie went to work in a local factory – ‘Who cares what they made, so
long as we got paid of a Friday’. She didn’t like it particularly, but she was
there thirty years. When Elsie and Jim retired, she knitted things for the grandkids
and great grandkids and the WI; Jim went fishing. There’s a photo of him up on
the wall, a broad-faced man offering a giant flounder up to the camera. It’s
funny, the way he’s holding it, solemnly and steadily, like the fish is saying something
important and he wants us all to hear.
‘He liked to fish,’ she says. ‘A lovely man. And then he was gone, just
like that. Now then – are you going to make me that tea you promised or not? It
won’t make itself.’
Elsie is living
in that precarious, twilight world between managing at home and having to go
into residential care. She’s got all the mobility aids you can think of – a trolley
with her bits and pieces on a tray, a surround for the loo, a walk-in shower,
grab rails strategically fixed here and there, laminate flooring, everything labeled
and safely tidied away – but despite all this, despite the four carers a day
and the meals on wheels and the pharmacy deliveries and the regular visits by the
District Nurses and doctors from the local practice, still she manages to end
up on the floor. There’s nothing to her, though. She’s so frail you could
probably pick her up with these sugar tongs.
could you?’ Elsie says, settling into the cushions again. ‘She’ll be worried.’
‘Let me just
give you the once over and see you’re all right first.’
‘You what? You
want to give me the once over? Well – it’s been a long while since I had a
young man do that.’
Elsie likes to
flirt. In fact, once she’s latched on she won’t let go, and everything starts
to sound risqué.
When I go to
make her that cup of tea, I ask her: ‘How do you take it?’
‘I don’t know. Any
which way I can.’
When I kneel on
the floor to take her blood pressure, she says: ‘A young man on his knees. That
takes me back.’
Or when I ask
her if she hurt herself falling out of the chair, she says: ‘Just my bottom, dear.
But I ‘spect it’ll be all right if you give it a little rub.’
with a scattering kind of attention, which, along with her white and wiry hair and
loose teeth make her seem more like a malfunctioning robot. She’s a little hard
of hearing and her eyes flicker between my eyes and my lips, on the lookout for
‘I think you
escaped this time,’ I say, putting my things away.
‘Why would I
want to escape? A lovely young man like you.’
You’re making me blush!’
‘Am I? I think
it’d take more than that to make you blush.’
‘Look – I don’t
think you did yourself any damage, Elsie. And you certainly don’t need to go to
don’t want to go to hospital. It’s full of sick people.’
happy here on my own, thank you very much. ‘Course, I’d be even happier if you
stayed with me.’
‘I can’t do
that, Elsie. I’ve got work to do.’
worry about that. They’ll understand.’
‘Anyway - shall
I call Sandra and let her know what happened?’
She deflates a
little, and relaxes back into her normal operating mode.
‘If you wouldn’t
mind,’ she says, and looks around for her tea.
obviously been waiting by the phone. She answers immediately.
‘I’ve put Elsie
back in her chair,’ I tell her. ‘She’s not hurt, so I won’t be taking her to
think she should go in, then? To find out why she keeps falling?’
‘To be honest,
Sandra, she’s been in plenty of times already, and it’s always the same. She’s
not complaining of anything new this morning, and she’s well set-up here, so I
think the best thing is if we leave a note for her GP to review things later
on. The carer’s due any minute.’
follows that I let ride for as long as I can, but eventually I’m driven to ask:
‘Is that okay?’
‘Do you think
Mum can hear what I’m saying?’ she says, a harder and more direct tone to her
say this out loud or tell her what I said, but we’re going to get her put in a
‘We can’t cope
any more. I’m seventy-odd myself, and Len’s not well. We can’t keep on like
She sounds exhausted, close to tears.
Sorry to hear it.’
‘But thanks for
what you’ve done. I’m sorry you keep getting called out.’
problem. Shall I pass you over to Elsie?’
‘No. Let her
enjoy her tea. Tell her I'll be round later.’
looking across at me and smiling. I say goodbye to Sandra and hang up.
says Elsie, taking another unsteady slurp. ‘Any-hoo. What did my darling
daughter have to say?’
‘She said she’d
see you soon.’
says Elsie, then sighs and puts the cup aside. ‘She’s a lovely girl, you know. She
just takes on too much, like her father. One of nature’s worriers. I probably
don’t help, what with one thing and another, but really, she’s got to learn to
I pick up my
bag to go.
‘Is there anything I else I can
do for you?’
‘Oh – plenty!’ she says, and grins lasciviously.