Upstairs

5999ae818e388528[1]The asphalt is white with salt. What grass pokes out from the crusted snow is a dull yellow. The houses in this lower middle class neighborhood are all grey. Walking up to house, I am struck by the only color I have seen for days. On a concrete slab of a driveway there is a red Camaro – the color seems artificial like a reissued old black and white movie where they have colorized only this one car.

The call is for a sudden death — woman can’t wake up her fifty-year old son, who is cold. The cops slowed us to code one once they arrived. The downstairs of the house is clean and spare. In the front living room there is only a couch, a table, a small TV on a stand, and a coat rack at the base of the stairs. The officer, who is talking to an elderly woman, points up those same stairs.

hoarder

Newspapers and boxes are piled on the narrow steep steps that lead up to darkness. There is no bulb in the light fixture. The carpet is thick with dirt. An officer stands outside the bedroom. He shines a light in. Dust swirls in the light beam. The room has a slanted ceiling. There is just a narrow passageway through the high debris to the low mattress. The yellow beam rests on an unmoving head visible above a blanket. While my preceptee carrys the monitor in, I stand by the door and look about. On the floor there are piles and piles of VHS tapes nearly three feet high — there must be a thousand tapes, all caked in dust. On top of the tapes (like an archeological dig site) are DVDs, hundreds. I see only a few covers to get their gist – they are all porno. The room hasn’t been cleaned in decades.

The man has rigor with lividity. My preceptee says he vomited bile before he died. I turn and go back in the hall. I cough heavily.

Back downstairs, I hear his mother tell the officer. “He wouldn’t ever let me go up there. I only went up because they called from work that he was late.”

I notice then on the hat rack by the door, two clean pressed tan janitorial uniforms, still in the dry cleaner’s wrap. I see the man’s name on the patch over the right pocket and the name of his employer on the left.

“He was a good boy,” his mother says. “He just bought that car outside, spent the whole week cleaning it up, polishing it. I guess I’ll need to find someone to help me go through all that junk. I can’t believe he lived like that, living like a rat.”

She answers the phone. “Yes,” she says. “I found him this morning. He’s gone.”

***

Three days later we drive past the house. Snow covers the Camaro. Everything is again black, white and grey.

2 Comments

  • As a CFR (an amateur volunteer in the UK) I don’t get sent to known sudden death (though it may be suspected). I get them as “cardiac arrest”.

    I charge to the location (no blue lights, not allowed to exceed the speed limit – yeah!)and then find someone hours dead.

    I had on this last Christmas, or a day or so afterwards. I went to the house and a late middle aged bloke met me. “Upstairs – but I think you’re too late”.

    He was right – I was about 14 hours too late. The patient, a 70+ yo male, had rigour and lividity. The caller came up. “Can’t you do anything?” “Sorry, it’s been much too long; I think he died some time ago” “Are you sure there’s nothing?” “Certain I’m afraid”. “Bl**dy hell! It’s Christmas”.

    It appears that the caller was the patient’s brother. I called Control and asked them to call the police, and to tell the ambulance on its way to turn off the lights as there was no rush. “What crew? We’re still trying to find one to send”. Well, it had been a bit busy recently.

    The patient and his brother had been out on the booze the previous day, from 11.00 to about 21.00 and then came back to the patient’s place for a few nightcaps. The patient went to bed about 23.00 and his brother was staying on a Z-bed in the living room. Brother had left the patient until nearly 13.00 the following day, assuming that the patient was sleeping off the previous day’s alcohol.

    I then found out that the patient had a heart condition, was on medication and had been told NO ALCOHOL! His brother had reminded him of this a couple of times whilst they were out drinking but was told that “I don’t usually have any, but what harm will one day do – it’s Christmas?”

    I think we know the answer.

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