Why did I not see this coming? I guess I did see it, kind of. The other week I was talking to my dad and we were discussing the “Are you okay?” program that he participates in. In the program, the sheriff’s department calls him every day at the same time to see if he’s alive and healthy. If he doesn’t answer, they send a car over to check on him.
Even though the sheriff’s called me four times with false alarms, I am grateful for the program because my dad lives alone in a house on a half-acre of land, so the neighbors wouldn’t hear him call for help, and no one would even notice if he died.
I called him today to ask him about his personal injury lawsuit (which is a whole different story), and he told me he cancelled the “Are you okay?” program because of another false alarm.
He told me that he didn’t answer his phone when the sheriff called, so they sent a car to his house. The officer called his neighbor to get my dad’s house key so he could check on him. The neighbor told the sheriff to look in the garage for my dad’s car. If it wasn’t there, he said, my dad wasn’t home. According to my dad, that “wasn’t good enough” for the sheriff, so he “came in storming through the house.” My dad claimed that the officer didn’t have to look in every room and every closet. He didn’t seem to understand that he was conducting a thorough search, possibly to save my dad’s life. “He was looking to be curious because this place was a mess.” Yes, Dad. You know how people are. When they see a messy house they just can’t get enough!
He cancelled the program because “I find it an invasion of privacy.” I suggested he change the time of the calls to earlier in the morning so he’d always be home to answer them. “People can’t plan what’s gonna happen later, what’s gonna happen now – I don’t know,” he said. No, that doesn’t make any sense. But it’s a direct quote. He can’t have an early morning robot call, he said, because he sleeps late. He sleeps late because he stays up late. (He’s also narcoleptic, so he’s asleep most of the day anyway, but again, that’s another story.)
“So have them call when you usually get up,” I said.
“I can’t answer the phone at seven or eight in the morning. I’m not up yet.” Did I say seven or eight?? Then he told me that by the time he gets to the phone, the robot has hung up. Well, that’s a little bit different, isn’t it? If he kept the phone at his bedside, and answered around his wake up time, there would be no problem, right? Honestly.
So now I won’t know if my dad’s in trouble until it’s too late. I asked him, “What happens when your heart and lungs give out like the doctor said they would?”
“He said it won’t happen if I stand up straight,” he said. The man has two shattered vertebrae and the posture of an upside-down “L.” He physically can’t stand up straight. I don’t know why the doctor thinks he can.
“What if something else happens and you’re lying on the floor and you can’t reach the phone for help?”
“That’s not gonna happen,” he said. Did I mention that he’s 83 years old and extremely frail?
“What if you die? No one will know. You don’t see people every day. No one will notice.”
“Let’s not talk about that,” said the man who, every time I visit him, spends the whole visit showing me what to do when he dies.
I live 2,903 miles away. The bottom line is that I’ll never know if and when anything happens to him, and I’m certain that something will. Almost every time he calls, he reports another brush with death (see “Swing and a Miss!”). He can’t continue his streak forever. Someday The Reaper (or just poor health) is going to catch up with him. And he’s chosen to be all alone. We don’t just live with our choices. We die with them too.