Cynthia’s flat is above a laptop repair place on the high street.
‘Shame they don’t do people,’ she says. ‘I could do with some of that.’
It’s about as central as it’s possible to be, though, and handy for the shops, if only Cynthia didn’t have to negotiate a set of stairs so steep they may as well be a ladder.
‘I used to run up and down when I was younger,’ she says. ‘Not any more. Not with these knees. But what can you do? At least they match the rest of me.’
Cynthia has been referred to us for help following a bad chest infection, something she’s prone to after years of respiratory problems. By rights she should probably be in hospital, but she refuses to go.
‘I’m not going in just when Ted’s coming out,’ she says. ‘Who’d look after him?’
They’ve been married sixty years, the last three overshadowed by Ted’s dementia. He was admitted after a fall – ‘the bathroom, not the stairs,’ she says, crossing herself – and other complications. ‘He gets so distressed. That’s the hardest thing. Most of the time when he’s home he’s not too bad. He goes downstairs to have a smoke in the street. I have to keep watch out the window to make sure he doesn’t wander off, but he’s only done it a couple of times, and people know him round here. I get so exhausted the end of the day I hardly know what to do with myself. And I know what everyone thinks, the rest of the family, the doctor and everyone. They all think I should just put him in a home. But I couldn’t do it to him. He went into one a while back, to give me a break, and when I went to see him he was so upset I just said right, I’m fetching you back home with me and that was that. One day he had in there, and that was one day too many.’
I tell her we can have a look at how much help she’s getting at home. There are always things to be done.
‘That’s kind of you but don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I’m coping alright at the minute. I mean – he gets up at six! The carers don’t show till nine or half past – and by that time I’ve washed and dressed him myself. So they end up looking around for something to do, and I feel guilty I’m wasting their time.’
I tell her it’s something to bear in mind, though.
‘I went to see him yesterday at the hospital,’ she says. ‘You should’ve seen him. He was sitting on the side of the bed with all his bags packed around him. The nurses said he’d been like that for hours. He keeps telling us he’s got to get home because he’s supposed to be looking after his wife.’
She laughs and shakes her head.
‘Honestly! He’s got no idea. But you know what? I think when he completely loses the plot and doesn’t know me or what’s going on, then I might think about putting him in a home. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, though. I suppose you just have to stay strong and take it a day at a time, don’t you? One day at a time. l mean – nothing lasts forever, does it? Hey?’
I’m guessing Cynthia is sitting in the same seat she uses to keep an eye on Ted when he’s down on the pavement, smoking. She stares out of the window now. It’s a bright, busy weekday lunchtime, and the street is pretty crowded – shoppers, school kids, office workers striding so purposefully their lanyards swing from side to side as they head for the fast food places.
‘Busy,’ I say.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘But it quietens down at night.’