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A Helping hand

Today I had a little wake up call into having a better understanding about old age and how truly vulnerable they are.  I was sitting down talking to my Daughter who had surprised me with a rare visit, when I heard a sharp rapping at the sliding glass door.  We both were surprised as usually people would knock at the front door.  On opening the blinds I could see a little old lady bent over a walking frame in distress.  ‘Help me please, he fell down in the dark.  I couldn’t lift him.  I went walking to find help and now I am lost’.  I helped the lady inside where it was warm from the heater.  It was a very cold dark night.

‘Please sit down and let me try to help you,  What is your name?’

The old lady had a strong European accent possibly German.  She kept repeating ‘He is Harry, Harry Zwartjes.  He is down somewhere.’

I tried to ask her where she lived, she kept rambling.  ‘ I came on holiday.  Yes I live here.’ Then she started getting more mixed up.  It was obvious she was suffering some Dementia.  She couldn’t hear me well either.  So I said ‘It’s okay, what is your name?’  Finally she said, Jose.  ‘Okay Jose please rest here. I will make you some tea to warm you up.’  ‘It’s so nice and warm, yes tea would be nice.’ Jose replied with a scared look

‘I will get some help’ I reassured her with a smile.

I sent my daughter to walk up and down the road to see if she could find the man.   She came back unable to find him.  This lady didn’t have any ID on here, no purse no phone, totally lost. Next  I called the Police, they said they would send a car around.  But rather than wait half an hour, I told my daughter to wait with the lady and went off outside to search.  I got into my car and drove a few metres then thought about it.  This old lady had a walking frame ,it’s quite hilly and she could hardly walk, it must be a house nearby.  There was one house I knew an old man lived in, but I had never seen his wife.  The house was blacked out no lights. I thought this was unusual. At this time of night that house always had its lights on.  I had been living there for 16 years, you just notice things like that.  I parked the car, got my iPhone flashlight app on and walked up the long dark driveway.

It was a very old house, the kind that has a garage right at the back, separate from the house.   So dark but I could just see the outline of the garage.  As I got closer and the car, I could smell burnt rubber in the air.  I could see the garage door not pulled down and realized it there was a car parked and the rubber smell was the warm tyres.  My heart was thumping,  I went to look around the car and inside it.  I couldn’t see anything so I turned around and was about to walk back up the driveway,  I thought I had better go around the back of the house and back garden.  Slowly I made my way through the dark yard to the back of the house.  My foot made a dull thud sound as I felt my toe hit something soft.  I aimed the flashlight down and there I found Harry.  He was lying so quiet.  I bent down ‘ Hello thank god I found you are you okay? ‘  Harry murmured he was okay.  ‘Don’t worry I have found your wife and she is okay at my house.  Can you move?’

‘No I can’t’ he replied with a raspy voice.  ‘Okay don’t worry, help is on the way I will also call the ambulance.  What is your name?’

‘Harry’  ‘Okay Harry is there any pain?’  ‘No I just can’t lift my weight’  He also had a foreign sounding accent.   ‘

‘I live down the road your wife came looking for help.  Don’t worry I am here now all will be okay.’  I phoned the ambulance and the police and told them the address and how to find us at the back. I held the dear old man’s hand and reassured him.  He was very clammy but seemed okay.   I talked for a few minutes to calm him.  I asked him if he had children and he told me he had 3 children and 10 grandchildren.  I asked if he had a phone on him.  He did.   I got it out of his trouser pocket but of course the mobile was turned off.   I’m not sure why, but it appears quite common for seniors to turn off their phones in fear of a flat battery, or the belief that if it is turned on it is costing them money.  It defeats the purpose of being a tool for contact in emergency.

I turned the phone on scrolled through and found one of his children’s names and called them.  They were so relieved as you can imagine.  Then in around 15 minutes the paramedics and police turned up.  He was in their care and seemed fine.  By now his son had appeared with his children so I took them over to my house to see the dear old lady.  Apparently Jose is 95 years old!  Harry is 82 and they have never married.  Harry lives there and Jose visits a few nights a week.  Harry had been living there for 50 years!

The family was so thankful that it brought tears to my eyes.  I felt so happy that this dear old lady had found my house and that I had the intuition to check the back of that old house.  Otherwise, they would have taken her away not knowing where she lived or who she was.  Then that old man possibly would have died in the freezing cold.  He would have laid there for god knows how long until someone found him.

I felt a need to call my own mother to check if she was okay.  She is only 75 but lives on her own.  It only takes a dizzy spell or a trip and they can fall and not be found.  When my father lived on his own before his last wife,  I would call him every day as he had a lot of steps outside his house and a boat ramp.  It would scare me so much when he didn’t answer his phone.  I would rush around there to find him just pottering around on his boat!  He was another one that hated mobiles so he wouldn’t turn it on and often would not take it with him.  Seniors can be frustrating, they can be stubborn in their senior years hanging onto any independence they have left.  I’m sure I will be the same one day too.  It’s really not fair ageing and the loss of control in your life.

Maybe all seniors need to wear an emergency sensor on their wrists or some kind of alert device.  Then if they are in trouble and still able to they could press a button sending their location to an ambulance service.  I’m sure these must exist.  That reminds me I need to investigate if these devices exist and encourage or enforce my own senior parents to get one and to actually use it!

You just never know what can happen.  How horrible it would be to die slowly alone on the ground somewhere with no hope of being found.  We read about it in the news often.

Let us all try to be more mindful of our family and also try to meet the neighbours in our streets.  Especially if they are Seniors, check in on them sometimes.  It doesn’t take much time, just a bit of compassion and a friendly hello to remind them you are there if they need help.

Late addition to this story :- I had to add this short experience from a friend who had just read my story above on the bus last night and left me a message

Guess what Wendy, I was on the bus coming back from the city about an hour ago when I jumped off at Warringah Mall after having just read your post.  I was the last off the bus and as I was about to turn and walk away, I noticed an elderly gent at the bus stop all by himself with a walking aid struggling with every step.  He had moved no more than 10 metres so he could lean against a light post by the side of the road. I thought he must be exhausted so I watched and waited to see if he was okay. I waited to see if he would continue on his way as I did not want to intrude on his space unnecessarily. After about 5 minutes he hadn’t moved away from the light post and as there was nobody else around and he was alone, I just had to go and check if he was okay as I was worried he might get mugged at this time of the night. So I went over to see him and asked if he needed any help. The poor bloke was hoping to hail a taxi but could not lift his walking stick or raise his other arm off the light post to do so. He was so relieved to see someone and proceeded to tell me that he was hoping a taxi would stop for him and take him home to Dee Why Gardens. So I called a cab for him ( he did not have a mobile phone !!) and he could not thank me enough when I helped him into the cab and sent him on his way. So there you go. One good deed followed by another !! We will all get old and frail and need a helping hand one day. Kindness and caring goes a long way.

I had another dear friend Gitte message me with an experience she also had.  It was encouraging to hear and gave me hope for mankind.

Then two days later the dear old man left a bottle of wine and chocolates for me with my son. He said it was thanks for saving his life and his partners on Monday night.  After work, I went to visit them to see how they were. Turns out they are from Holland but he had lived here in Australia 50 years and Jose is his girlfriend, she actually lives at a nearby retirement Village half the time and the rest of the time she stays with him.

They were so cute together. He was handsome for his age of 82 and she was still a pretty woman for 95!! Her hair was white like snow, such a sweet soft face. They were making jokes about life and she would look lovingly at him and he at her.   I could see their sense of humour and love for each other was the secret to their life so long together.   How wonderful to still love someone and laugh like that after 50 years! (by the way he was suffering from low blood pressure this why he passed out and fell but couldn’t get up, the doctors had him on medication for high blood pressure!) I was so happy to see that they were both okay.

If we can try to reconnect with our fellow man at least those that live in our own street and community.  Way before Facebook and social media applications most neighbours knew each other and cared.  Now this world is so insular, everyone is either too scared, too selfish or just lost the interest in mankind as a whole.

A little bit of care for each other makes the world a nicer and safer place.

Thanks for reading.


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