Some years ago as part of a program inaugurated by our local library, I volunteered to read to an elderly lady who was losing her sight. After some initial reservations due to my English accent, we settled into a comfortable relationship.
The first book we read was Wings by Danielle Steel, a story based I suspect on the life of Amelia Earhart. It’s a good story and we both enjoyed it. When it was finished, May told me that her husband had had a small plane and she had flown with him to Canada and other places for holidays. Somehow, I had made a good choice for the start.
Sadly, May’s husband had died not long after they had moved into a residential care home and before I met her. Now, with her vision failing fast she was lonely and didn’t like the long wait between my weekly visits for the next installment of her story. With help of the library, we arranged for her to receive a player and regular supply of tapes from the local society which supplied books for the blind. May loved anything by Danielle Steel or Westerns – she particularly liked stories by Louis L’Amour.
Although my weekly visits were superfluous to requirements now she had her audio books, I continued to visit her and we both enjoyed the chats about the differences between England and America. Sadly, once her sight finally closed down altogether and because she was also completely deaf, May had to move to a nursing home.
May has a wonderful daughter who visits her almost every day but she asked me to continue to visit her. Now the circumstances are much different. I had always introduced myself to her when I entered her room because she confided in me that often she didn’t know who was in the room with her or what they were doing. Now, in this new place where she was disorientated and unhappy, this small courtesy seemed more important than ever.
We had a joke between us that I always had cold hands and she would place her own over mine until I was warm; I began to introduce myself as Cold Hand Luke as a nod to her love of Westerns and she knew immediately who it was.
The small joke continues although May is confined to bed now and cannot manage the headphones amongst the oxygen tubes; she is often in pain and sometimes her hearing aids are not working properly. But I still touch her hands and, on a good day, am rewarded with a small smile as I whisper in her ear: ‘Hi May, Cold Hand Luke is here’.