You probably already know the joke I’m thinking of: ‘My dog’s blind, asthmatic and only has three legs.’ ‘What’s its name?’ ‘Lucky.’
Well, in many respects, that tale of canine misadventure reminds me of my friend Liz’s predicament. Over the past five years, she’s had breast cancer (twice), countless chemotherapy sessions, ongoing heart trouble and a badly arthritic right hip that has rendered her virtually immobile.
But there’s something else that Liz – now aged 61 and with only one sister living hundreds of miles away in Sheffield – has had. And that’s a core group of good friends and kind neighbours who think the world of her.
Particularly over the past two years, as her mobility has decreased sharply, she’s had regular visitors popping round, constant text messages, neighbours dropping off newspapers and supplies and even local shopkeepers going the extra mile to help her.
When I’ve seen Liz at her lowest (and there have been very low moments), it has generally been the love and support of those around her that has given her strength. It’s heart-breaking to think there must be lots of people stuck in their homes, feeling ill and miserable, without such support to call on.
But that’s where the Red Cross comes into its own. Our care in the home volunteers visit recovering patients and those who are unwell in their homes – helping with the shopping and small household tasks, and providing some cheery company. By giving up just a few hours a week, they bring huge benefits to the wellbeing of those they visit.
Last week, Liz finally had a new titanium hip fitted (I now call her the Bionic Woman). Predictably, while in hospital she had different groups of friends turning up at once and crowding round her bed. And when I called at her home yesterday, she was already tottering about on the crutches, a big smile on her face. Of course, things will be hard – she essentially needs to learn how to walk all over again – but she always knows that help is only a phone call away.
As a Red Cross member, it makes me glow with pride to think that – all across the country – our volunteers ensure that thousands of people in situations similar to Liz’s can enjoy the same peace of mind. Maybe that dog’s name wasn’t such a joke after all.