I normally only work mornings, but this month I have an extra time commitment which has required me to shuffle my schedule around a bit. As a result, this Friday was my first full day in a while, and all of it spent on the phones taking incoming calls.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon, I took a call from an elderly lady who was worried about receiving a letter for a grant she hadn't applied for, and wanted to let us know in case someone else was missing information that would help their application. We ended up talking for fifteen minutes while she told me about her life - hospital stays, being a widow, her seventeen grandchildren (one of whom has a similar name to me), medical bills, her reluctance to ask her children for help due to their own problems. She told me about her son's very lucky escape, then that of another acquaintance who, she said, had to be "put to sleep" for three days.
I've had calls like this before - one day, two people in a row spontaneously told me that they'd been in the CBD at the time of the earthquake, one of them following it up by admitting she'd never told anyone else before. She'd been bare metres away from the bus that was crushed.
Normally all I can do is listen. At least this time, with her address on the screen in front of me, I could also tell her that she would qualify for a Red Cross grant worth $500. (My increasing geographical knowledge of the city is one of those strange silver linings that I notice every so often - woven of fabric so thin you'd think it would rip if you touched it, but there nonetheless.) It won't even fully pay for her most recent hospital stay, but it will help - hopefully that, and having someone anonymous and safe to tell her worries to, will keep her going a little while longer.