Yesterday, a vaguely familiar neighbor lady came to my front door, asking if I knew where the Johnsons lived. Of course I know the Johnsons – their family and ours have been living within 4 or 5 houses of each other for over twenty years. “Yes,” I said, “they live in the red brick house four doors down.” I knew that this lady does a lot of walking with a friend, at at that moment, I noticed that her friend was leading an elderly gentleman into the home of my neighbor, Janet, across the street. Janet is an older widow who has also lived there for over twenty years, and I know her well. I know that she is absolutely useless in a crisis. And this little episode was turning into a crisis rather quickly
It turns out that as the two ladies were on their daily walk, they came upon this elderly gentleman who had been riding his bike, but he got cold (it was only 25 degrees here yesterday) and he was in some distress. He was on his way home and decided he needed to stop somewhere and warm up. But his friends, the Johnsons, were not home, and he’d ridden a long way from his own house – about 5 or 6 miles. The two walkers weren’t sure what to do about him, other than taking him to a house where they figured he could warm up and then… Well, they didn’t know what.
My husband came home just then, and I sent him over to Janet’s house to see if he could help. After about 15 minutes, my hubby called me and said I was needed.
When I got there, I found the man sitting in a chair, breathing heavily. And he said his chest felt tight. He also told me he was 88 years old, and rides his bike everywhere. He had been to the bank (3 miles farther up the road) and his lawyer (another 2 miles) before heading back in our direction. Now, I haven’t practiced nursing for a number of years, but nobody needed advanced medical skills to see that he was not looking good. I asked if he had any family – any relatives at all – and he said no. He didn’t want us to call 911, and was resistant to the idea of any medical intervention. He just wanted to go home. And yet, he said quite clearly, “I don’t want to die.”
He was not confused at all, and seemed completely normal, except for being overly fearful of medicine. When I asked if he had any nitroglycerine with him, he frowned and said, “Oh heavens no. I wouldn’t take anything like that…” And yet this man is very well-educated (a mechanical engineer) and well-read. He has 60 patents to his name. But he just wanted to keep us talking there in Janet’s living room, in complete denial that anything untoward could possibly be happening to him while he was well-aware that the tightness in his chest was a very bad sign.
The two walking ladies and Janet pulled him into diversionary conversations about where he lived, and why he didn’t want medicines, and whether or not Medicare would pay, and blah blah blah, while I had visions of an impending cardiac arrest on Janet’s living room floor. I pulled a nurse trick and cut to the chase. “Bill,” I said, “do you want to be taken to Hospital X or Hospital Z. He replied “Oh, Hospital Z, of course!” And I said, “Great. Mike” (my hubby) “will take you. Let’s go.” With that, I took him by the arm and led him out to Mike’s car. I knew he would be in good hands.
While I put Bill’s bike in our garage, Mike took him to Hospital Z and stayed with him all through the Emergency Room process – the EKG and bloodwork and IV insertion. Mike gave his phone number to the nurse to be called if Bill needed a ride home, and told him he would be back to check on him later.
My husband is not a religious man. But he is kind and considerate in a way that most people are not – and it’s not based on any belief system other than the idea that people ought to take care of each other. He returned to visit Bill last night, and went back again at lunchtime today to take him some of his scientific journals. He talked with Bill about the stent procedure the cardiologist wants to perform, and the Wholistic Medical Clinic the hospital referred him to. When he left, he told Bill he would be back later – he’ll go after dinner, I guess.
What would you have done? Would you have taken an old guy in a filthy jacket to the hospital, or called the local cops or 911 to handle it?
Bill is a rational 88 year old man. If he wants to go home and take his chances, who am I to say he shouldn’t do that? On the other hand, maybe he just doesn’t understand the gravity of his situation, and the medical options available to him. #2 was the rationale for my actions. I figure he can sign out of Hospital Z if he doesn’t like their plans for him.