Story 4

I Look After Myself

Adam (age 84)

Adam has been plunged into shadows. The view from the window of his inner-city tower block is obscured by scaffolding. Plastic sheeting pulses against the windowpane. Drilling, drilling and more drilling. Showers of dust.

How far he has journeyed in life! Adam smiles fondly as he remembers his teachers in Barbados at the tiny village school. They are distant now, but sometimes he feels they are still with him. He hopes he inspired a love of maths in his own pupils, just like they did.

Adam feels content here; this is where he feels he belongs. He likes the gentle rhythm of his day. He is no longer able to offer free piano lessons to kids on the estate, but he plays a little each day when his fingers allow. He loves to read his bible and do his chores around his flat. Sometimes he likes to just sit quietly in his favourite armchair, relaxing with his slippers on. I look up at the clock and I am thankful. Time ticks by, but he manages well: I try to live my life. I look after myself. I look after myself.

Adam playing the piano in his home

Adam looks after his friends too. He cooks for people who are older and frailer than he: seafood stir fry, jerk chicken, sweet potatoes – always accompanied by his readiness to offer a listening ear. Everyone loves Adam. “You’re always smiling” they say! His neighbours upstairs and downstairs knock on his door every day and enjoy a little chat or a cup of tea. They like to know he is OK.

Adam takes lots of medicines for diabetes and other problems. He is hardly a man of rigid routines, but he does like to make sure he takes his tablets at the right time every day. He keeps a three months’ supply in a carrier bag by his armchair. Every Saturday he lines up his tablets for the following week. Thank goodness I am good at maths he thinks.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

Morning tablet. Evening tablet.

He wraps his tablets up in fourteen tiny plastic bags and puts them in his trouser pockets. Left pocket for morning tablets. Right pocket for evening tablets. Sorting this out every week takes a lot of time, but it is time well spent he thinks. He likes to be careful about his medicines.

Adam picks a packet from each pocket every morning and evening. He feels secure knowing they are always close by him wherever he goes. After all, he never really knows where he might be at tablet time, as he is often invited out and about with his friends.

Adam’s local pharmacist has offered several times to prepare him a dosette box – one of those plastic containers with little compartments for every day of the week. Adam has resisted that. He will continue with Do-It-Yourself for now. As long as I have my faculties and my brain is turning over well!

As for insulin, the doctors have recommended it many, many times. His medical notes read: Refuses Insulin. Adam has always stuck firmly to his ground on this one too!

Adam (age 85)

He couldn’t see them; he could only see their long shadows. They shouted loudly, but he couldn’t hear them. He was walking to an early evening church service just as it was getting dark. Adam was only a few hundred yards from his flat when they pounced, appearing from nowhere and approaching him from behind. All he could feel was their grip around his neck. He was stricken with fear, but he put up a struggle as best he could.

Adam grimaces and squirms in his armchair, his eyes sharp with terror as his mind flashes back. He gets a tight feeling around his neck as beads of sweat burst out and run down his back. He gets a familiar sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “They pulled a knife. I couldn’t believe it. They actually pulled a knife. Can you believe that? I couldn’t believe it. They could have killed me! God knows what might have happened!” Adam had read about the rise in violent knife crime in his area. It had troubled him, but he had never thought he might be at risk himself. Adam thanks God every day that he got away. He had hurried home and slumped into his favourite armchair, weeping. He just couldn’t hold back his tears, they kept rolling for hours until he became utterly exhausted, emptied to the point of fainting.

Adam has never gone out of his flat after dark since. Friends have offered to take him to church in the evening, but he doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

Adam (age 87)

Adam is becoming more aware of his increasing years and has just come out of hospital. Still, his friends remark on his youthful looks and energy. “Eighty-seven and no wrinkles!” they say. Adam chuckles quietly to himself. Only yesterday, while enjoying coffee after church, his friend Edna remarked “There is one thing I like about you Adam. You don’t let anything bother you!” It’s true. Well, it’s mostly true. Adam laughs out loud “If you worry, you’ll die. If you don’t worry, you’re still going to die! This is what I always say!” He has already lost a lot of his contemporaries. He has to be realistic; the clock is ticking.

But Adam has noticed that there are, in fact, a couple of things that have been bothering him since he left the hospital.

First, that assault on the street. He had somehow managed to bury it in the back of his mind and had got used to staying home after dark. Yes, it was a compromise, but two years on it was a compromise he was now reconciled to. I try to live my life. It was OK whilst he was taking the tablets for his diabetes. He had managed quite well. But when he was lying in his hospital bed, someone – he doesn’t know who – persuaded him to switch from some of his tablets to insulin. Ten years of resistance and everything changed in a moment. He may have stuck to a healthy diet and have very few wrinkles, but the doctors told him his blood sugar was creeping up and up. Adam suspects that this is what happens as you get older. He was feeling absolutely fine! How he longs to return to his metformin and gliclazide! If only he could ask his GP about this. It is so difficult to get an appointment these days.

He rolls his insulin pen between his fingers, studies its tip and lays it gently on the arm of his comfy chair while he prepares himself. The tip is guarded so that he cannot see it as it plunges sharply through his skin. Every time, like a strange reflex, he feels little beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck as he goes round this ritual for a few minutes before he does the deed. Once, he was given a standard needle, a needle whose tip he could see as it breached his skin. He sent it back to the chemist. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. It made him feel quite sick! He sighs loudly. “I didn’t want insulin. I don’t feel comfortable about sticking needles in. For years I told them I didn’t want insulin. It’s like I am stabbing myself”. He could never stab someone else or watch someone being stabbed. He narrowly escaped a stabbing on that terrible day two years ago. Why am I doing this to myself? he wonders. He doesn’t want to self-harm. He grimaces and squirms in his armchair at the very thought of it. The violence of it.

Adam looking a bit worried as he holds the needle which he will be using to inject insulin

There is another thing that bothers Adam. Since he came out of hospital, someone – he doesn’t know who – decided that he should have a dosette box. It is delivered every Wednesday through his letterbox. He cannot understand how this has happened. Nobody discussed it with him. Surely everyone knows by now that he does not want a dosette box any more than he wants insulin! Hadn’t he made that clear? Doctors really should listen to their patients. Maybe they think that now I am over 80 I can’t manage? Adam hates Wednesdays now. Wednesday is the day when he feels trapped, when all he wants is to feel free. Free to come and free to go as he pleases. He sits in his flat all day, feeling on edge, waiting for the box to drop through his door. He worries and finds himself unable to relax. If my dosette box doesn’t arrive, I will be totally out of pills! Sometimes it arrives long after his chemist has closed for the day. That is when he gets really, really worried. He cannot find peace until he hears the familiar sound of it falling on his doormat. “It is one thing not being able to go out after dark, but now I am stuck here all day long too! I want to look after myself. I want to look after myself. I want to live my life.” He grimaces and squirms in his armchair at the very thought.

Adam looking a bit anxious as a dosette box drops through his letterbox

The violence of it.

Illustrations Satoshi Hashimoto

For Discussion


How does this story make you feel?


Adam values having a full and active life, looking after himself and being independent. What is helping him maintain his independence? What is hindering him?


What would you advise Adam to support his desire to flourish in his life?


Why do you think Adam is upset about his dosette box? What do you think he could do next?