Today is Sunday, the day that I go by taxi to see my friend Phylis. Phylis, who lives on her own in the house where she was born, is disabled and completely dependant on other people. She has ‘carers’ who come in four times a day to wash and feed her. She has no family or relatives.
I first met Phylis through the RVS, when in desperation, she rang them to ask if they had any volunteers who did house visits. I was glad to reply, as I live on my own and know only too well what it is like to be lonely, even though I have family and friends nearby. In order to visit her, I had to have a police check to see that I was a suitable person. This would not have been necessary if my passport had not lapsed. Now back to finding some friends for Phylis.
I made my first visit to Phylis on a Sunday afternoon. I had found that this is the loneliest part of the weekend. On arrival, I saw a woman completely ‘chair bound’. She was spending all her days sitting in one of those extending armchairs. She could not move out of it, nor stand up or walk. To go to bed she had to be hoisted from the chair to her bed. Phylis had not been out of the room she lived in, let alone the house, for five years except for emergency trips to the hospital. In the four years that we have been friends I have never heard her grumble or complain about her situation. Unfortunately, she is terribly lonely and craves company. At first I thought that she was being unreasonable because she was seeing two ‘carers’ four times a day. I soon changed my mind when I saw that they spent very little time with her. Just enough time for ablutions, making a sandwich, or putting a microwave meal in the oven. No time to chat before they have to rush off to the next client. I timed one visit, it took ten minutes. It is not the fault of the ‘carers’, they have so many clients on their list that there is just not enough time. I am sure that they would love to be able to stay and chat if they could.
Phylis spends her time knitting squares for blankets, watching nature programmes and listening to music. She is an intelligent, well read woman. She played the piano, her parents having been musical: her mother played the ‘cello and her father conducted a choir. At one time, she worked at the Welsh Office until she had to take early retirement to look after an invalid mother. For the last four years, I have been trying to find ways of getting Phylis out of that one room where she spends all her time, waking or sleeping. It has taken a long time to get a working plan in place.
At the present time, with the help of her social worker, ‘carers’ and a friendly taxi firm, we can now send Phylis, in her wheelchair, to a luncheon club run by the church every Monday. This is a huge step forward. We cannot do it too often because it takes a lot of people to achieve this: two ‘carers’ to load her, sitting in the wheel chair, into a special taxi; another, to stay with her at the club, then two more ‘carers’ to unload her at home again. It is quite an undertaking but worth all the trouble. Phylis really enjoys the experience, and would like to do this on another day. Unfortunately, I do not think that there are sufficient resources – of either money or ‘women power’ – to do it. I am trying to think up other ways to improve her life.
I am writing this blog in the hope that some person, or organisation, in Cardiff with connections to ‘elderly care’, will read this plea and be able to suggest some way of helping to make Phylis’ life happier. Another day visitor would be great, even if they could only manage an hour a week. A friendly telephone call now and again would also work.
I sometimes think that Phylis would be happier in sheltered accommodation, where there would be other people to chat with. She is very resistant to this idea, as she would have to leave the place that has been her family home all her life. It is a difficult situation. At the moment, Phylis is trying to come to terms with using a ‘tablet,’ hoping to find friends on ‘Facebook’. We are open to any idea that would make Phylis less lonely. Unfortunately, last year, the Royal Voluntary Service lost their funding from the Council, due to government cut backs, so do not recruit volunteers anymore. This a great loss as there are so many lonely people in our society. Many of them do not look for help but turn up at the doctor’s surgery with minor complaints, when the real problem is that they are lonely. I think that we should all look around us and find these mostly elderly neighbours who would appreciate a smile and a little chat if nothing else. Good friendships have started from less. I know that everyone is so busy and that families now live far apart, which does not help the situation. Just pretend that the little old lady or gentleman walking down your road on their own, or standing alone at the checkout, is your Grandma, or Grandpa. Introduce yourself with a smile at first, later a chat about the weather or local news, and over time build on that. You might be the only person that they talk to all day, maybe all week. Elderly people like me can be a bit suspicious, so take it gently.
I am pleading for help not just for Phylis, but for all our elderly community. In this blog, I am trying to find a way to make their lives less lonely; more part of our modern society which seems to be rushing by, not noticing them struggling on their own.