Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Disaster...Slightly Averted

This is what happened over the past week...lessons learned included...

We got back to the Seattle area a week and a half ago.  I went to a couple of my regular haunts to say hi to everyone, everyone said hi to me, all was well.  Then a couple of days later a guy I knew called me up and asked if I could check on Gus (name changed, of course). 
I knew Gus vaguely as he was always hanging out at the same place with the same group of guys literally every single day, so for him to be gone without a word, even for a couple of days, was odd and his old buddies were getting worried about him. 
I got his name and the type of car he drove but no other information as they tend to hang out and BS but not socialize at each other's homes.  So I hop on Google with the guy's name and city and up comes his address, phone number, and age which pretty much identified him as the person I was looking for. 
First I try giving him a call but no one answered so I left a message.  Next, I go over to his apartment and take a look around.  I found his car and note the things that were in it (a half empty cup of coffee and some mail dated a couple of days ago), then I go and knock on his door but don't get an answer.  I talk to the apartment manager and ask about the possibility of them doing a welfare check, just to make sure the guy wasn't passed out in his apartment or something.  They declined saying it would be illegal for them to do this. 
Seeing that his car was parked, no one was answering the door or phone, and that he was not the type to head off walking, I head back to our temporary home and debate calling the police for a welfare check.  Due to his age, the fact that his habit of being at a certain place on a daily basis had suddenly changed, and that his car was home but he didn't seem to be, I called 911 and requested a welfare check.  I seriously hate to do this as privacy is important to me and I would hope it would be important to others as well but the "this doesn't seem right" feeling was kind of the clincher. 
So law enforcement got the key from the manager and checked on the guy then gave me a call and said the guy was home but asleep and said he was feeling a little under the weather but was otherwise fine.  I figured this was a good thing and relayed the message to his friend. 
However, four days later, Gus still hadn't shown up or contacted anyone, I go the call from his friend again, and I basically did the same thing--go to his place, knock on the door, call his number, check his car (it hadn't moved since before), and pondered all the way home about what I should do.  Again I call law enforcement.  Again they check on him and call me and say he was talking to the officer and said he was fine.  Again, circumstances just seemed off and I asked a bunch of other questions of the officer--could he get out of bed and walk you to the door? what did his breathing sound like?  was he alert and oriented or a bit off?  The officer basically said no, don't know and meh... so then I asked if he could get a medical evaluation since the whole situation just seemed weird. 
Turns out the guy was not fine and was rushed to the hospital after medics evaluated him.  His leg was amputated because of a massive infection and he is now being pumped full of antibiotics to try to get rid of the infection that would have killed him sooner rather than later. 
Now that he is coherent, he doesn't remember the second officer at all, vaguely recalls talking to the first officer, and noted that he knew his leg was infected but since he hadn't seen a doctor since 1968(!) he figured he would be fine since he had always been in pretty good health. 
p.s. He repeated thanked us for invading his privacy and eventually getting him to the doctor.
p.s.s. Needless to say all of his old buddies are pretty shaken up by this turn of events.

Here's some lessons learned:
  • The elderly and the ill (and especially the ill elderly) need to be looked in on regularly.
  • When someone alters their usual behaviour drastically, something is probably wrong.
  • You don't have to break down someone's door to check on them, the police regularly do welfare checks.
  • Just because the police do a welfare check, doesn't mean all is well.  Ideally, the person who is concerned should go with the police, as they are more aware of the person's usual mental status (I am guessing Gus' friend would have seen that he was talking but not as sharply aware as he usually was).
  • I talked to the police chief and suggested some changes to their welfare check policy. Namely, if the person you are checking on can't get out of bed to walk the officer to the door, there might be a problem.  Also, although law enforcement gets limited medical training, some things need to be reiterated (namely, that people in diabetic shock, the elderly with medical issues and a boatload of medications, and people in many other situations can talk but that doesn't mean they are well--similar to LE pulling over someone who appears to be driving drunk when they are really having a diabetic shock episode).
  • As people get older (and people rarely notice when they become "elderly") a doctor's appointment once every year or two is probably a good idea to make sure many of the chronic problems that can cause bigger problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc) are screened for and kept in check.
  • People, especially those who live alone, need to be proactive about taking care of their health, taking care that they have a safety net of sorts in case they get in trouble, and taking care that their information is easy to find (the ER doc asked me who his next of kin was, what his health history was, what medications he was taking, etc.  Of course since I barely knew the guy, I had no idea.  It took a couple of days to locate his next of kin).
Obviously this situation could have ended better (he could have been medically evaluated sooner) but it could have ended worse too (dead is worse).  Next time I will not hesitate to make sure the situation is taken care of instead of being leery of getting into someone else's business.


  1. As my grandfather was fond of telling me, and, as i get older, i find to be true :

    of all the 'friends' you associate with, there must be a couple you can trust to have your keys. if not, then take a firm look at both your friends, and your life.

    never give your keys to someone who doesn't give you theirs.