I tried to call in on a friend on Saturday afternoon. She was not home. Her sister, who lives next door, was not home. As I knew my friend was not well enough to be "out" I assumed she was in hospital.
I tried again yesterday. She was not answering the phone - by her bedside - and her sister was not answering the phone either. I pedalled over and caught her sister in.
Yes, my friend is in hospital. She has been there all week. Her sister was supposed to let me know and forgot. I will put that down to her own medical condition - she has diabetes which is not as well controlled as it might be - and stress.
My friend, who is somewhat older than me, and I have known one another for almost forty years. When I scarcely knew her she called me one Sunday morning to say that her mother, then half a world away, had died and could she come over from her hall of residence to mine. Her mother also had severe arthritis. She was 73 when she died. History is repeating itself.
My friend is 72. She looks older than the Senior Cat does at 91. Pain is a constant in her life and it ages you fast. She can breathe in but it is difficult to breathe out. Every movement hurts. She has been living alone with someone coming in once a week to clean and help her do essential shopping. Someone else comes to help her shower.
She has Meals on Wheels three days a week - they do her for six days because her appetite is so small. She takes pain relief medication in terrifying doses and medication for anxiety as well - and who can blame her for being anxious when she cannot breathe properly and lives alone?
I know and she knows that she should be in a facility where there is more help available but I look at aged care facilities and know that they do not provide the other thing she needs - intellectual stimulation. And yes, my friend needs this. She has a doctorate. Until her physical condition worsened she was back at university learning a language she has always wanted to learn. Now even using the computer is difficult for her.
This is the person who once belonged to a bush walking group, who has taught in three overseas locations and once patiently waited for me to negotiate the ins and outs of three Oxford colleges in one day looking for something she could only half remember.
Now she could not take a day trip anywhere.
There is arthritis and then there is severe arthritis. The former is something that most people will endure in a lesser or greater form as they age. Severe arthritis is something else. Endurance is not the word to use. I don't know what the word is but I find it extraordinary that, forty years later, we can still do so little about it.
I can't even hug my friend or hold her hand - it hurts too much.