November 12, 2022

Unexpected Excitement in Retirement Heights.

My mom arrived on Thursday for a 6 week stay - yay!  Having family around is great, but having family around that can watch children is the greatest.  We are excited for 6 weeks of having slightly more breathing space in our schedules.

On Friday she texted me "what is the number for 911 here"?  This is a highly disconcerting text.  I texted back "999" and then walked over to see what was happening (she stays in a flat around the corner from me).

My mom was standing outside a woman's house, clearly on the phone to 999, while an elderly woman with a walker yelled "help, help, help" from her window. "Call the ambulance I need help" she yelled.  She was in her mid 90s, I didn't know her at all except she has waved cheerfully from her window at me many times.

I told my mom there wasn't any reason to call 999 - where we live there are almost no ambulances or health service left, and certainly not for people who aren't dying.  

Unfortunately, this left the question, what did the woman need?  We kept telling her that it's OK, that we would help, and holding her hand through the window.  She kept yelling for help.  People kept walking by.  

One man slowed down a bit, to the point where it would have been socially unacceptable for him to keep walking, and asked if we were OK.  "Not really" I said "I don't know this lady and she's screaming for help and I'm not sure what to do".  He knocked on the neighbors door (good idea!) then told us that the neighbor had called the woman's son but that he really had to go.

The woman was upset when she saw him leaving.  "Please don't leave me, please don't leave" she kept saying.

I noticed her walker was jammed under her sofa, against the window she was half out out.  I helped maneuver it/her back, and then realized that she had gotten stuck against the window, yelling for help.  With her walker freed she opened the door of her house.

So we went inside, and told her to sit down.  My mom helped her go to the bathroom.  She must have been stuck against the window for some time.  I found the number for a dementia service that visited.  I found her phone but the mobile had no charge, and I couldn't figure out whether to just try and redial the last landline number she called, assuming it was probably family?

The dementia care number led me to someone who called the women's son again.  shortly after that the daughter in law arrived.  We went home. 

On reflection, this is why I want to know my neighbors better.  I know it's against the grain, but I think community is meant to be built locally.  No amount of digital connection could help that woman, when she needed help.  We all have such wide social circles we are cultivating on the internet, but how will those circles help us when we are 95 years old with our walkers stuck against our sofas?  


  1. Such a thought provoking post and I very much agree (though I think having both forms of connection is beneficial).
    I'm so glad you were able to help - what a scary situation and I'm sure many (most!?) people in your situation wouldn't have stopped because of the unknowns and inconvenience.
    Also - I'm so glad your Mom will be handy for a while and you can get some breathing room!

  2. My 98 year old Great Aunt lived alone for a few years, after my Grandma died and before she moved to assisted living. None of us live in her town, so we couldn't keep an eye on her very well. We were very grateful for the neighbors that looked out for her, and could call us if need be. When she fell and called 911, the neighbors had a key and were able to let the paramedics in, so they didn't have to break the door down. And my other grandma, when she fell on Thanksgiving day and did not have the mental capacity to push her life alert button, it was a neighbor coming over to bring her some pie that found her and called 911, and then my father. It is truly a blessing to have good neighbors (like you clearly are!).

  3. Oh, this made me sad and also feel really warmly toward you and your mom. You didn't know her, but you did everything you could to help her. That's exactly what it means to be a neighbor. Your closing thought about community is very poignant to me. A good reminder to build relationships with those physically around us.

  4. First of all, so happy your Mom will be around for 6 whole weeks! How glorious (esp. since she's not staying with you, but she's close by! I could have my mom stay with us for 6 weeks but not my MIL - haha.)

    Second, I love that you helped when help was needed. How many people would have just walked by!?

    I just read a message on our next door neighbor app, where someone complained that he was asking for help (transporting a piece of furniture that he picked up from the curb 0.5 mile down the street to his house) and nobody helped him. In fact, people told him that his request was unreasonable and he could have "stolen" the furniture and he should understand that people were afraid what kind of business he was up to and probably had more important things to do. WOW.

    Not quite the same situation, obviously, but I was appalled that people were more upset that he asked strangers for help than that strangers wouldn't help someone out.

    1. It took me ages to reply to this, but I think it's really interesting what you said about the nextdoor app. I saw a similar post from someone asking to borrow a drill and then also if someone could use their drill to help him mount some shelves. People jumped on the guy for basically asking for free handyman help. I think this is another problem with the digital version of the neighborhood - I feel like there is a huge difference between and getting to know your actual neighbors.

      My next door neighbor has brought us flowers before and I helped them take in their bins. We have lovely conversations and I like them a lot. We both make an effort to connect. If they asked me to help hang a shelf I would definitely do it. However, if a neighbor I don't know posts on an app asking for help I'm far less inclined to do so, and I wonder whether replacing "getting to know neighbors" with "Getting to know neighbors on an app" has somehow muddled the water between helpful neighbors and service sector replacements?

  5. Neighborhood is so important. I wouldn't feel good not knowing at least a few neighbors. Here in Berlin that is actually a bit more difficult. But. we try to at least know the neighbors in our apartment building. When we moved in we made a little note and put that together with some chocolates into the mail boxes.
    As so much in life though it is a balance thing. Some neighbors are so nosy.
    How wonderful that your mom is staying with you for six weeks. And how good she happened to be around when that lady needed help. You would hope that when you need help someone was there to take you seriously. It wouldn't hurt we we are bit more mindful with our surroundings.

  6. How kind of you to help your neighbor - and so glad that help (eventually) arrived. I do think we have benefits from local and non-local (i.e. online/digital) friends. Sometimes, local connections are weaker/looser - unless they are family or you are lucky enough that they are close friends. And, not everyone (ahem, me, the introvertiest introvert) is great at even just saying 'hi' to neighbors. (Case in point: There are 2 women in my apartment building who a) seem really nice, and b) are also long-termers... but I have never had the courage to speak up and introduce myself to them. Sigh....)