It’s been three weeks since I last saw Maud. She’s the one hundred year old woman who spooked me a little by saying she was worried she couldn’t look after her parents who were asleep upstairs. I’m here this time with Stacy, a physiotherapist, to conduct a mobility assessment. The carers have reported a sudden and significant drop in Maud’s ability to stand. We need to figure out if this is a confidence issue or something more permanent.
Stacy is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have with you in a haunted house. She may be small, but she has big feet, a disproportionately loud voice, and a vigorous, open-faced, square-shouldered approach to things. I can imagine her standing in the middle of a dark room, the hectic shreds of wailing ghosts swirling round her, planting her bag on the floor and saying: Right! Firstly, no-one’s impressed. Secondly, what do you hope to achieve by this? Thirdly – just because you’ve been dead two hundred years, doesn’t mean you can fly around with the posture of a cashew nut. So straighten yourselves out, settle down, stop messing about and we’ll see what we can do to help. The ghosts would immediately clam up and hover in line. And Stacy would sort them out.
She could be a whole new kind of health visitor. A physioexortherapist.
Who ya gonna call?
Stacy listens carefully when I tell her about what happened last time, the whole ‘ghostly parents asleep upstairs waiting for their daughter’ deal, and also about what her next of kin, Alan, said about it, which was that in many religions it’d would be seen as quite normal to be ‘met’ as you neared the end of life.
‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Fine. But you do know that Maud spent many years looking after her parents? So I don’t think it’s all that surprising she’s a bit muddled with the timings. I hardly know what day of the week it is myself, and I’m supposed to be young and fit.’
‘No. I suppose when you put it like that.’
She re-shoulders her rucksack, reaches up, and knocks so firmly with the rapper on the door it makes me think of Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, knocking on the door of the giant’s castle. But instead of a giant housekeeper coming to the door, it’s Alan, still wearing the same Nordic sweater,shirt and tie, his goatee beard as perfectly groomed as a chin dipped in silver paint.
‘Good to see you!’ he whispers, shaking our hands. ‘Thanks so much for coming.’ And he shows us in.
Maud is in the hospital bed in the living room, as before. If anything she seems in better form, alert and smiling, with that copy of Anna Karenina on her lap.
‘Ah!’ she says. ‘Here comes the cavalry!’ putting the book aside.
The last week or so, Maud has stopped being able to stand with assistance and transfer to the commode. There doesn’t seem to be any infection or other organic reasons why she shouldn’t be able to do this. And she certainly has the strength. When we’ve lowered the bed and raised the backrest, she swings her legs over the edge ready for the off. It’s just – that’s as far as she gets. Stacy is great at clearly and firmly describing what Maud needs to do to stand up, even sitting next to her at one point and demonstrating – but Maud just can’t translate it into action. She keeps putting her feet too far out in front, and then waggling them up and down on the carpet, like a child splashing her feet in a puddle.
‘It’s no good!’ she says. ‘I’m falling!’
We persevere for as long as we can, but it’s a game of diminishing returns. The more we try, the more anxious Maud becomes, until her efforts to stand are such an approximate and off-kilter thing, leaning back against our hands, the zimmer frame lifting off the carpet, that we have to accept defeat, and help her back to bed. It’s strange to see how well she lifts her legs back onto the mattress and snuggle down again. Strength is certainly not the issue.
‘It’s definitely a confidence thing,’ says Stacy, snapping off her gloves. ‘Which isn’t any less incapacitating, of course.’
‘No, of course,’ says Alan. ‘So what’s to be done?’
‘Seems a shame to be thinking about hoisting. But other than that I suppose it’s bed care and some gentle encouragement to overcome the block.’
‘You see that woman over there,’ says Maud, pulling the bedclothes up to her neck, and then pointing straight in front of her. For a second I wonder if it’s another ghost – until I realise she means the sideboard facing her, and an ornate, silver frame in the centre of it. ‘This one?’ I say, going over to take a closer look. It’s a sepia photograph of a young girl standing on a dark, southern English beach. She’s dressed in a billowing white dress and enormous circular brimmed hat, which she holds on her head with one hand as she squints off into the distance. ‘That’s my mother,’ says Maud. ‘Now she’d have known what to do.’