My neighbour was found dead in his bed today. Peter was a grumpy old man who alienated most of the other residents of our small retirement village. Originally from England, he had one sister alive, with whom he’d had an argument three Christmases ago and they hadn’t spoken since. Apart from me, only two other people here would even speak him.
Peter had type 2 diabetes which he was proud to have well controlled by diet, exercise and metformin since he was diagnosed over 20 years ago. I was talking to him last Thursday when he told me he had been having difficulty with his breathing and had been to the doctor. Peter was upset that he’d had to give up his morning walks which he previously took rain, hail or shine. His doctor had prescribed an inhaler which he was going to get the next day.
I suggested he make sure to learn how to use it properly otherwise he wouldn’t get the benefit from it. That was our last conversation. This afternoon, Frank knocked on my door to ask when I’d last seen Peter. He had been upstairs to visit him but found everything locked and the blinds still down. He’d knocked and called but there had been no answer. Frank said he had last seen Peter on Saturday and I agreed. We talked about the possibility of him having gone into the city in a taxi which would explain why his car was in the garage and Frank went off to phone the hospital to see if he had gone to the chest clinic there.
Not long after, the maintenance man and the housing manager from our complex were at Peter’s door trying to dismantle the lock and gain entrance. They ended up having to break the window to get in and found Peter in his bed. So Peter died as he had lived – alone. If it hadn’t been for Frank, it could have been days before he was missed. And it made me think. How many of us, especially those of us who are getting older, becoming more vulnerable to mishap, have multiple chronic illnesses and live alone, have made sure that our loved ones know where the spare key is?
How often do we go without making contact with those closest to us – do we do so daily, every two or three days, or do we go days without contact with anyone? Unlike Peter, I’m one of the fortunate ones with family and friends who care about me and with whom I have regular contact. I do worry that I am being a nuisance if I make contact too often, but now I think it is probably a good idea to talk about it with my children and work out a regular time frame they would feel comfortable with – it only needs to be a text or fb message.
It’s also important that your medications are recorded somewhere. I have one of the excellent St John’s Ambulance record booklets which you can stick on your fridge – they’re available from most chemist shops and some doctors’ surgeries for a gold coin donation. That way if the ambulance has to take you to hospital they can easily locate your medication record which will assist your emergency care team. I feel sad for Peter – he was grumpy and difficult to get along with but he grew wonderful roses and enjoyed a chat out the back.