This winter, my instincts saved my grandmother’s life.
I belong to a close-knit family, and my maternal grandmother is our matriarch. From the day I was born, she and my late grandfather played a crucial role in my upbringing. Being raised by a single mother, I was fortunate to have loving and involved grandparents. As I grew older, our relationship strengthened.
When my grandfather died more than 10 years ago, it was my grandmother who kept us together. We started to look at life differently, cherishing every moment.
Every day, my cousins and I call our Nana. We do what we can to share a meal with her or take her on short outings. Although we all don’t support her decision to live alone in a three-storey house with minimal assistance and limited mobility, her stubbornness wins when we plead for alternative living arrangements.
A couple of years ago, my grandmother agreed to let us install a personal alarm system in her house. This put our minds somewhat at ease, but on January 8, our instincts proved more reliable than the alarm system. My cousins and I are so in tune with our nana’s daily routine that any slight deviation puts us into panic mode. There were times when she wouldn’t answer her phone but hours later she would arrive home safe, and casually explain that she went to buy chocolates or get her nails done and was unaware that her cellphone was off. We were hoping this was the case on January 8.
While my mother and aunt were away on holiday, everything went smoothly with our daily check-ins until my cousin showed up for a surprise visit at McDonalds, where Nana has breakfast every day with her friends. My cousin said Nana just wasn’t herself.
When I called, Nana admitted she was tired but insisted she was fine. We made tentative dinner plans for the following night.
The next day, my cousin and I spoke throughout the day. Despite numerous attempts, neither of us could reach Nana. By the time my workday was over, I must have dialled her phone number close to two dozen times. I stopped by her house and rang the doorbell but there was no answer. I even called McDonalds to see if she showed up for breakfast. The employee I spoke to didn’t recall seeing her.
Something was wrong.
My cousin met me in Nana’s driveway with a key to her house. We entered together, and since her house alarm was off, we immediately knew she was home and in trouble. My cousin was steps in front of me and I heard her scream, “She is not okay, call 911.” Although she was conscious, she seemed barely alive. The eight minutes it took the ambulance to arrive felt like hours.
While waiting for help, we searched for her “life-alert” necklace. After several minutes of poking and prodding, we found the button tangled behind her neck, out of reach—she was lying on top of it. We pushed the button and minutes later, phones started to ring. First, the house phone rang and then my cousin’s cellphone rang asking if everything was okay. We requested that help be sent immediately, but by the time the conversation ended, the ambulance arrived.
We hate to think of the “what if’s,” but the doctors told us that had we not found her when we did, she would not be alive. They estimated she had been down for seven or eight hours and her organs were starting to shut down. Two more hours and she would not have made it, they said.
Now that our grandmother is recovering and we are recovering from that traumatic day, we feel the need to examine how the personal alarm system failed.
After contacting the system provider and reviewing the plan we had in place, we recognize that we made some bad decisions. My mother and aunt chose to be contacted should the button be pushed and they gave additional emergency contact numbers to call before sending for help. Instead, immediate help should be sent for and then emergency contacts should be called.
After finding the necklace twisted around my grandmother’s neck, out of reach, we realize that the location of the button is paramount.
We are now aware of the newest technology. The system is alerted when a person falls and doesn’t get up for a given amount of time. It seems likely that had this technology been offered to us or available when we chose a system, help would have been on its way much sooner.
Check on your loved ones regularly and be in tune with daily routines and schedules. Be aware of any changes and don’t accept “I am ok” or “Everything is fine” if your instincts tell you otherwise. Ensure that measures are in place in case of emergency. Ordering a service without careful consideration of its plan and procedures is not sufficient. Think of the “what if’s” for each possible scenario.
Editor’s note: Nana has been released from the hospital and is safe at home.