"Don't keep holding that door open. Come on, let's go! Hurry up will you. We haven't got all day!" This is the conversation I heard as I walked down the stairs in our apartment building. As I approached ground level where the lift is, I saw my elderly neighbours. She, in the lift giving orders- with a voice that accepts no arguing against. He, frail and polite holding the lift door open. " But there is someone coming. They may also want to take the lift," says he also determined. Always the gentleman - correct in manners, dress and language. Sort of posh but down to earth. The gentleman who holds doors open for women. Letting them and others go first. Whether entering a building, lift or home or just outside walking along the footpath. He wears a hat. A gentleman's hat. Not a cap, not a beret but proper gentleman's headwear. In one hand generally a walking stick. " To ward off the dogs you know. They tend to jump up and if I don't ward them off I'll fall over." The thing is, he is frail, and old and still a regular stroller around the park.
"Shut the door and hurry. I can't stand here all day. My legs hurt. We will send the lift back down." The lift door shuts. She, tall, 7 years his junior but also frail. Her spine has decided to slowly decline. She walks bent over and shuffles her feet over the flooring. No real shoes but those moccasins, rough leather slippers with a sort sheepskin inner. Even though she sounds stronger than she looks, her determination is as strong as ever. It pains her that she has recently had to succumb to the pressure. No more cooking. Her back and legs just can't stand the pressure anymore. Frozen meals are brought once a week for 4 evenings. Once a week it's soup brought by a neighbour, one night left overs and one night Chinese 'from that lovely lady next to the supermarket'. Pity. She LOVED to cook. I believe she was a real whizz in the kitchen all those years ago.
It is 6:15am. The doorbell goes. We both are wide awake within seconds. A doorbell at that time of day can't be good news. She, is a right state, " so sorry to wake you but he has fallen while leaving the toilet. Hurt his back. I can't lift him. Can you please help." How sad. At approx 4 am he went to the toilet, while leaving, the door gave way and he fell. Apparently he must have fallen backwards onto the rim of the toilet bowl. Crawling back to his room and bed- he tried lifting himself up. Didn't work. Too much pain. She, propping a pillow under his head, duvet over his shivering body- kept vigil. Too early to wake the neighbours.
The doctor was called- who in turn decided an ambulance was in order. Admission to hospital. Total confusion. She was in a right state. No children, never married- always friends. Have grown so dependent on each other to give form to their day. Both their own routines - 23 years to date. They niggle and nag each other. They mumble and mutter. They hold hands, they reminisce. They laugh and they share concerns. Now what- how will this end?
It has been 3 weeks of to-ing and fro-ing to hospital. She, no longer coping behind the wheel finally allowing the niece and nephew to dispose of the car. Having to ask, to depend on others for all their wishes and needs. Home help and other necessary organisations have been given the green light. They shrug their shoulders and look sip and sad. She, not now understanding her role in this whole affair - he, wondering how long his body will cope.
I know I'll be keeping a sharper ear and eye open. I know many in our building will do too. We all ask ourselves- how long, what next, will they cope.
He, 94 and counting - she 87 and losing track.