Living Alone

The call is for a man on the ground, not injured just needs help getting up. Been there all night. The front door should be open. The stink hits us when we go in. There he is lying on the floor in a nearly empty house, shit on the rug, shit crusted on his underwear. The stink isn’t just from the recent shit. It’s from the filth of the house – a house that hasn’t seen a cleaning in some time. The man’s name is Joe and he is Veteran of World War II. We’re glad he says his knees hurt because it gives us a good excuse to take him to the hospital. He says his son checks on him every now and then. His legs are red and painful to the touch. There is a yellow green fungus growing on his arms. My preceptee gets a bucket of soap and water, and we cut off his underwear and scrub him off some before rolling him on a board and then lifting him up onto our clean sheets. We roll him off the board, and put a Johnny on him, and lay a fresh bath blanket over him. My preceptee tries to secure the straps while we are still in the house, but I say, “Outside.” I have smelt worse, but it is early in the morning, and my cough is on the verge of becoming a puke.

He is a nice guy and we chat on the way in. On good days he can walk he says, others he uses a wheelchair. He hasn’t been out of the house for awhile. He doesn’t know his son’s number. He thinks it might be on the record at the hospital.

Later in the day we get called for another assist. An eighty-eight year old woman living alone fell and needs help getting up. She’s not hurt. The key is in the shed in the back. When I go into the shed, it is like walking into the 1930’s. There is a old wooden Flexible Flyer sled with rusted runners and a scythe leaning against the wall, and some kind of old combustion engine. Not much else. I can’t find the key, but when I come out I see another smaller shed attached to the house and I try that one. There’s the key.

The house is well kept, but it is like it is frozen in the 1950’s. There is one of those old enormous radios, a TV in a cabinet, and instead of a computer on a desk, there is an old Royal typewriter. Wood floors, old farmhouse type furniture, a metal rabbit holding a door open, an old, weathered edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in the bookcase.

We find her upstairs, sitting on the floor. She has been there since last night and hasn’t eaten. She didn’t want to bother anyone, but she was getting hungry and she just couldn’t get up. On the wall is a photo of a man in a World War II pilot’s garb, and a picture of him in dress uniform and his bride arm and arm, smiling. I see the resemblance to the woman. His buddies would have envied him marrying a girl who looked like her.

We help her up, and she is a little wobbly, but can stay on her feet. We help her downstairs and fix her some macaroni and cheese and a glass of orange juice. She raised five children in the house she says, and had a sister living there too. Her husband died over forty years ago. Someone from the family calls her everyday, but when we ask if we can call her daughter, she says, heavens no; she doesn’t want to be a bother. In the midst of all the old photos I see one that looks new. It is one of those Photoshop jobs – A generic cover of Rolling Stone with a young teenager on the cover holding a guitar. It says “Artist of the Year.” She says her grandchildren come and see her all the time. Talking with her she has a little bit of dementia – she is after all eighty-eight.

Afterwards we talk about her, and how comfortable or not we were leaving her alone. I say at least her house was clean, there was food in the kitchen, and it seems her family looks after her. Better to be alone in your own house than sitting in some nursing home hallway next to people in wheelchairs with their heads bent, mouths open, drooling.