Saturday, July 05, 2014

any which way

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.
‘Not you again!’ she says, swiping the air. ‘I might’ve known you’d be back.’
Elsie’s 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.
‘Ring Sandra, 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.’
She quivers 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 scandalous opportunities.
‘I think you escaped this time,’ I say, putting my things away.
‘Why would I want to escape? A lovely young man like you.’
‘Behave, Elsie! 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 hospital.’
‘Hospital? I don’t want to go to hospital. It’s full of sick people.’
‘I’m quite 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.’
‘Oh, don’t 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.

Sandra’s 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 hospital.’
‘You don’t 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.’
A silence 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 voice.
‘No. Probably not.’
‘Please don’t say this out loud or tell her what I said, but we’re going to get her put in a home.’
‘I see.’
‘We can’t cope any more. I’m seventy-odd myself, and Len’s not well. We can’t keep on like this.’
She sounds exhausted, close to tears.
‘No. Right. Sorry to hear it.’
‘But thanks for what you’ve done. I’m sorry you keep getting called out.’
‘It’s no problem. Shall I pass you over to Elsie?’
‘No. Let her enjoy her tea. Tell her I'll be round later.’
Elsie is looking across at me and smiling. I say goodbye to Sandra and hang up.
‘Lovely cuppa,’ says Elsie, taking another unsteady slurp. ‘Any-hoo. What did my darling daughter have to say?’
‘She said she’d see you soon.’
‘That’s good,’ 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 let go.’
I pick up my bag to go.
‘Is there anything I else I can do for you?’
‘Oh – plenty!’ she says, and grins lasciviously.


Sabine said...

Lovely Elsie, but what to do?

Last year we put one of our very eldery aunties in a home after she had recovered from her third fracture. She did choose the home herself, had been for a trial period earlier and it really was a nice place - as these places go.

Three week later she was back in her old place, she never told anybody, organised it all alone. Too many old people in wheelchairs, she said (aged 94 herself).

It's difficult, some of the family think she is just selfish, making our life harder, and some of the family think, we are selfish for wanting her to be easier to manage.

TomVee said...

Oh boy, did Elsie say something there... Or did she prepare for the inevitable? She certainly seemed to be 'all there' in her head, with no uncertainty about her situation. And that does't seem to be only but of her that was still alive...

Spence Kennedy said...

Sabine - I felt sympathy for both Elsie and Sandra. The only thing about Sandra was that she seemed to be trying to get Elsie to move without consulting her. But then again, I can understand that Elsie wouldn't be the easiest person in the world to convince! It's a heartbreaking situation, that's for sure. It's especially difficult when the elderly person is mentally intact but failing physically. And of course, when people live into their nineties, the children are elderly, too. Extremely hard on everyone, and I think often what happens is that you exist on a day to day basis. Very exhausting & draining, complicated with feelings of guilt, and not eased much by the knowledge that it's played out daily across the country.

TV - She was definitely quite a handful! The good news is that she had all the help she could possibly have, supplemented by the ambulance. I think Sandra is right, though - an untenable (and unsafe) situation in the long run, but of course, if someone has the capacity to make their own decisions, she's perfectly entitled to stay where she is, despite any amount of argument to the contrary.


Cheers for the comments! :)

Cassandra said...

I LIKE Elsie! She sounds a lot like me, actually. I'm a shameless flirt, and I hope to be so well into my golden years.

That's such a hard thing… even with all of the help that Elsie's got going on, she obviously needs further assistance. I wonder if maybe a live-in carer could be a compromise? I don't know anything about how one could pay for that, of course, or if insurance would cover it… but it's pretty clear that things can't go the same way they are now. It's such a hard, hard thing when you reach that breaking point, when you know that things can't keep going as they are… I've been there myself a few times this past month.

I really hope things work out for Elsie and Sandra. She's got a great attitude to face whatever's ahead, that's for sure. Who knows-- maybe she'll end up with a boyfriend in her new home? ;)

Spence Kennedy said...

A live-in carer would be the next (and last) stage. Very expensive, of course (although prob not as expensive as a full-time n/home). And I don't know how much contributions - if any - the state would make. A live-in boyfriend would be the cheaper option! A toy-boy in his eighties maybe... :)

Anonymous said...

Often think set ups like the Christadelphens have are needed everywhere.

One complex-
Care Home
Care flats (with staff and intercoms to the care home.)
Wardened Flats

Any problems are first dealt with by staff. So in this case they would deal with Elsie.

Makes money by selling the flats at a standard price and requiring you to sell them back at the same price. So next sale = profit. Also by charging fees at cost (Non-Profit making)

Hope thats clear.

My Gran lived there for 20 years and moved though the system.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Anon. That sounds like a thoroughly good and workable solution.

I must admit I'd never heard of the Christadelphians. Very interesting.

The great thing about religious communities is that they often come up with creative, community solutions to these secular problems.

I think your gran was a lucky woman!

jacksofbuxton said...

Elsie seems like a lady that's happy to provide a double entendre.

I'm sure if you asked her Spence,she'd give you one as well.

Spence Kennedy said...

And of course that's the thing about innuendo. Once you start you can't stop. See what I mean?

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Lovely tale, Spence. We had a 96 y/o aunt who was still mowing her yard when she stroked. Even w no heroic efforts she lasted two weeks in hospital. Incredible that she lived on her own, outliving her sons and husband.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Lynda.

Fantastic to hear about your aunt. What a character! Some people just seem to have the doughty gene! Sorry to hear that she had a stroke - but then again, at 96, fully independent up to the end and only suffering a short illness, I suppose there's a lot to celebrate in that.

Cheers for the comment, Lynda :)