Saving Lives

I just read Jason’s Incredible Day story and was vividly reminded of something that happened to me when I was fifteen.

I was in high school in rural northern Michigan, and for three years or so my brother and I had been doing a huge paper route, delivering newspapers to about 70% of the town we lived in. I covered most of the northern half of the town and Damien covered most of the southern half. Everyone knew who we were and we pretty much knew everyone else. One of the things we had to do every couple of weeks was to collect the subscription money, and these visits to the insides of many of our customers’ home sometimes took a very long time.

You see, many of our customers were older people living by themselves, and our weekly or monthly visits to collect newspaper money was some of the only human contact some of these people ever had. I remember this one old guy I used to stop and chat with. I dreaded going into his house because it smelled very bad. He smelled very bad. There was little or no sunlight coming into his run-down house, and I got the impression that he spent his days going between his chair where he watched TV and the bathroom.

One day in December, I knocked on his door to collect his monthly payment, and there was no response. A few days later I noticed the papers were piling up at his doorstep. I assumed he was with relatives, but something inside of me (call it a hunch) made me climb the snowbanks and peer inside one of his side windows. It was very dark and gloomy, but I saw a little bit of movement at the doorway between his kitchen and the living room. I think it was the tip of a cane. I went around front again and knocked again. Still no response. I tried the door, but it was locked. This bothered me a bit, so I went across the street to a neighbor and asked if she had seen the old guy across the street recently. I explained to her what I knew and she, being a Regisered Nurse, picked up on all the clues, put it together and called 911. This all happened after I had left to finish my route.

About an hour or two after I got home that evening, my mom came and told me there was a cop at the door who wanted to speak to me. I was fifteen, and naturally thought I had done something wrong to warrant a visit from the police. It turns out that the cop wanted to thank me for being so observant and told me that I had probably saved that old man’s life. He had been lying on his floor with a broken back for four or five days. I shrugged it off and never really thought about it much after that.

A few years later I learned that the old man had died a year after that incident and that his house was being demolished to make room for a new strip mall.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at April 13, 2001 11:59 PM

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