I don't do pets. Never had a pet. Don't understand why you would. Never had to feed a cat, clean out a litter tray, walk a dog, or even open a tin of dog food. Nothing. It's just not me. Don't mind other people having them, but won't ever have one myself. And wouldn't know what to do if I did.
Five days. They didn't know that at the time, but the newspapers on the doorstep gave it away. As did the calendar with the changeable dates that was still showing the date from the weekend before. Gladys had been on the floor for five days. Unable to summon help, she remained trapped between the bed and the chest of drawers where we eventually found her.
"Oh, you found me then", she said. I felt like I'd just closed my eyes, counted to twenty, and started to seek whilst Gladys hid. She was in surprisingly good spirits for someone who'd been stuck on the floor for so long. In a warped sort of way, she'd been lucky. She fell as she was holding a bottle of water, so she had that to keep her going. But still. Five days is a long time on half a litre of fluid.
She was another one of the stubborn generation, but this time, a lonely one. She refused any offers of help, had no carers, no emergency lifeline to call. Most distressingly, she had no family either. Her neighbours did what they could, but she would hardly let them in, either literally or figuratively. It was, eventually, one of these neighbours who noticed the post box was overflowing, and decided to call for help.
These sorts of calls fill me with no small amount of concern. All too often we enter to find that there is nothing left to do. Nobody to help. Only coroners' arrangements to make. This time, there was a yell from upstairs, closely followed by a whimper. Gladys was sat on the floor, where she'd been for the whole five days, unable to lie or stand. Only sit. So she had slept, read, drunk and chatted where she fell. The yell obviously belonged to Gladys.
The whimper belonged to her conversation partner. There he was, laying next to Gladys, guarding over her. "Only ever left me to get some water, he did. Probably drank from the toilet. He's kept my mind busy. Knows a lot about the ancient philosophers he does. He turned on the telly and found out the weather report for me every day too, just to keep me up to speed. Amazing how much you learn from a well-read dog! The conversation's tailed off a bit though. He's probably hungry, he hasn't eaten for five days and can't be bothered any more. Anyway, he probably thinks I'm barking mad."
I can't help but laugh. She fusses his head and then looks back up at us, eyes smiling and full of mischief. "How long have you been down there then?" I finally ask when I'm able to get a word in, both of us aware that I probably know the answer.
"Oh, seen more than a couple of sunrises, missed a couple of loo appointments, must be five days at least. I tried yelling, but no-one hears you round here. Too much traffic. Wasn't like that when I first moved here. No cars then. Only bicycles and the odd milk float. You try being nice to everyone but eventually you just don't know who anyone is any more, so you stop. They're all nice round her, they offer to help. I'm just too head-strong. You know how long I've lived here? 60 years! Can you imagine! That's probably three times your age... Can you understand that? I bet you can't!" I thank her for making me much younger than I really am.
She talks like someone who hasn't spoken to a soul for five days. In the meantime I check her basic observations, which all seem to be healthier than mine. One of the neighbours helps me get her off the floor and we change her out of the clothes she's in, clean her up a little, and get her ready for a dignified journey to the hospital. If for no other reason, it'll give the system time to catch up and find her the necessary help, should she finally choose to accept it.
The ambulance arrives and Gladys is carried down the stairs and gives out orders like a queen sitting on her throne. "Will you make sure the doors are locked?" she asks one neighbour. Another is ordered to turn out the lights, and a third is instructed to tidy the post and the newspapers. "So I can get back in here later", she adds.
"Oh!" she suddenly yells and points at me as we're loading her into the ambulance. "It looks like he likes you. Can you make sure he gets fed some dog food?"
You couldn't pick on someone else? A pet lover maybe?
Oh well. First time for everything I guess. After all, it has been five days.