Thinking Aloud On a Tuesday

Undiscovered bodies

I’m ‘Home Alone’ with Ollie this week, and woke up with a start this morning. Something was in my head, and even though it is not Sunday, I thought it was worth a ‘thinking aloud’, despite being a rather unpleasant subject.

Working in emergency ambulances, you get used to dealing with all sorts of things. But there are some things that nobody can ever get used to, and that will always stay in the minds of those who dealt with them. It is a sad fact that many people die alone, and unnoticed. I don’t mean people who die when there are none of their loved ones around at the time, or those who pass quietly during the night, in their own beds, or in hospitals. I am talking about the thousands who literally have nobody. No friends, family, work colleagues, or concerned neighbours. Often, their bodies will remain undiscovered for days, months, even years.They might be sitting on an armchair, slumped over a dining table, or perched precariously on a toilet seat. Sometimes, they are tucked up in bed, or perhaps lying on the floor in a hallway, or living room.

Modern life brought with it a lot of social changes. Doorstep delivery of milk went into decline, and less people took daily newspapers too. Neighbours became less involved in the lives of those nearby, and many single people, or widows and widowers, withdrew into a solitary lifestyle, having little contact with the world outside of their home. Companies stopped collecting rents and other payments door-to-door, and save for some enthusiastic Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or charity collectors, you could easily spend many years with not so much as a ring on your bell, or a knock on the door.

Eventually, signs appear that something is not right. Post piling up, and sticking out of the letter box. Perhaps a bad smell, annoying the neighbours. Overgrown grass in a front garden, or unpaid bills resulting in the attendance of a debt collector. Sooner or later, someone suspects something is amiss, and rings 999. They send an ambulance, in case the person is ill, and the police too, to gain lawful entry by force. Once you have attended such calls a few times, the clues shout at at you. In the summer, the insides of the windows will be covered by fat bluebottles. Hundreds of them. When it is colder, just lifting the letter-box will reveal an unmistakable smell. A smell you will remember all your life, even though you don’t want to. If there is a frosted glass panel in the door, common in social housing in London, you will see a veritable mountain of junk mail and unopened post piled behind it.

Once entry has been gained, at least one of us has to go in, to accompany the police officer, and confirm ‘life extinct’. The police officer’s job is worse, as he will later have to examine the corpse for signs of obvious foul play, before handing over to the funeral company nominated by the Coroner. In we go, dreading the scene we know will await us. Sometimes, it is bearable, once you have covered your nose and mouth with a mask, or your arm at least. A body slumped on a floor, or still in bed. I didn’t have to even touch most of them, as death was blindingly obvious. On occasion, I was presented with the grim spectacle of a maggot-filled body, one that appeared to still be moving as a result of their activity. Occasionally, what I found was barely still resembling a human being, more like a misshapen, liquid-filled sack. And they were almost always men. It seems, at least from my experience, that single females and widows are more sociable, so easily missed. Men on their own in old age easily slip into reclusive ways, and seem content to rarely venture out.

At the time, I thought that strange. But now I am officially a man in his old age, I understand that completely.

In some of those properties, we also found the remains of a dead cat or dog. Unable to get out once their owner died, they were doomed to starve to death, or die of thirst. I always wondered why nobody ever reported hearing them bark, whine, or meow. People in London are used to noise though, and used to tolerating it. I always felt so sorry for any pets I saw like that. At least the person must have died quickly, or they would have undoubtedly summoned help, had they felt in pain, or been ill. But the poor animal had to linger, wondering why nobody came to feed it, or refill its water.

Those jobs rarely if ever involved younger people, such as drug users, or alcoholics. Their choice of lifestyle dictates that they have a group of acquaintances, albeit others looking to share their drugs or drink. People in that underclass of society tend to be discovered earlier, if only as a result of an anonymous phone call.

After handing over to the police officer, we are free to leave, and go on to the next call awaiting us. Unless the dead person was the victim of a crime that contributed to their death, we are unlikely to ever find out any more about them, or how they died. Because they are not in what is designated as a ‘Public place’, we are spared the very unpleasant job of taking the body to the local mortuary. That will be done by the on-call undertaker, using a metal box or basic transit coffin.

The reason all this came flooding back today is that I woke up wondering what would have happened had I died alone in the house during the night. Julie is not back until Friday, and our neighbours are unlikely to pry. They are used to seeing a car on the driveway, and seeing me out and about with Ollie in the afternoon. But if that car was missing, and I wasn’t out with Ollie, they might reasonably assume that I had gone off somewhere with him, perhaps to visit a relative. So it would have been Friday at the earliest, and I would have been undiscovered for four days. I like to think Ollie’s eventual barking might alert someone, but a lot of dogs bark all the time around here, and we don’t check to see if their owners have died.

Maybe we should?

88 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud On a Tuesday

  1. “Unless the dead person was the victim of a crime that contributed to their death,” I would submit that their demise was indeed due to a criminal neglect by modern society. We really ought to teach our young people that ignoring older people is neglect.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A very thought provoking and quite saddening read. I often think about that, too.. people alone with no friends or family, and I also wonder about them on days like Christmas Day. They must wonder themselves too, in those final moments, how long will it be until they’re discovered? A truly horrible thought.

    Very interesting point about people being more solitary nowadays than during the times of friendly milkmen, postmen and such.

    And Pete, I’m sure someone on the blogosphere would raise an alarm bell if we didn’t see a post from you in over 48 hours, not to worry! ;D

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I will never complain about my job again, Pete. Accounts and spreadsheets can be wrong but they never wriggle with maggots. I was wondering this same thing the other day. How often do elderly people die and not get discovered for a while due to living alone. It is a very sad thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh gosh, Pete. I cannot imagine having to do that as part of my job! Mr O and I are very fortunate that none of our parents are alone. It is my mum who would be the most likely to become voluntarily isolated but fortunately she works for and lives with my cousins and aunt (well all on the same property anyway). The one surviving grandparent is Mr O’s Nanny who Mr O Senior stops in with regularly and calls daily but I imagine that one could so easily just disappear in later life.

    I assume that you and Julie keep in touch when she’s away and if you stopped responding she’d raise the alarm!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Abbi. Julie rings every day. If I didn’t answer at some stage, I’m sure that she would call the neighbours next door. But sadly, so many have absolutely nobody to worry about them, and that’s generally the sort of people I had to ‘meet’ on calls like these.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  5. My neighborhood is full of transients these days…..the old guy next door and I check on each other and keep an eye on houses when we are away…. I worry that if something happens to me will my dogs be okay….it is important to me that my daughter check on me once a week if she is busy or 2 times if she has the time. chuq

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sometimes a worst case scenario threatens to override one’s state of though Pete, but keep reminding yourself that everything will be okay. My advice would be doing the things you love like watching movies or blogging etc. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your thinking aloud is interesting and poignant. As we grow older, we think about these things, aka death and how we die, and you have seen it. Society has changed, and people don’t have the connection with other people. Blame social media and the internet. They take away the need for people, backyard neighbors and friends. Thank you, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A very important issue, Pete!
    You have had enough experience here during your work. For me, these thoughts really only come back to mind when I read from such cases.
    Bad as you write especially for the pets, who after the loss of a loved one have to suffer until their own death. ;-( We really should give more attention to this. Thank you for remebering. Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I read this rather ‘sobering’ post earlier (then thought about it in the shower!!) I’m single and live on my own and I have to say your tales freak me out a little, I mean what if I collapsed I probably wouldn’t be missed until my grass got tooo long.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s one of the things that I honestly fear myself as well. I am 42 now, and still alone. Apart from my parents I don’t really have anyone (except of course for some very close and good friends). But…I can understand your fears..definitely. But…you know: I just hope you will live on for quite a long time more, because I would hate to not see these great posts from you each day anymore. Take care Pete! 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Well for starters you would have a couple of hundred people wondering where part 24 was 🙂 Keep on blogging, put the spare dog food in easy reach at dog level and sign up as a JW, that should cover all bases 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, Pete. I cannot imagine how that must have been like. You and all your colleagues, former and current, are to be commended in what you do. Goodness knows if anyone would check on us. I suppose eventually the postman might get suspicious if mail wasn’t taken indoors. A very solemn post.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a sad sight for you and the police. A woman from our former church actually killed herself and wasn’t discovered for a week. It was horrifying to realize that she had pulled back,so far and no one had realized it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. That must have been one of the worst aspects of your job, Pete. It probably occurs even more often these days as people become increasingly isolated. Round us, people do keep an eye on their neighbours. I did hesitate over knocking on the door of the people behind us. Her washing had been hanging outside for several days. I mentioned it to my son who soon reassured me. He’d just checked the woman’s Facebook status and she had posted only a few minutes earlier – quite cheerfully. Now I just accept she hates bringing in the washing!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. You asked one question in your post that I think the following could help you to realize what your beloved pets might do in the event of your demise. (God forbid.) —-https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/06/pets-dogs-cats-eat-dead-owners-forensics-science/

    Liked by 3 people

    1. But Surely My Snugglebug Wouldn’t Eat Me.
      Oh, yes, he would. Researchers have found no connection between an animal’s reported closeness to its owner and its likelihood of consuming his or her body. Instinct — or hunger — apparently trumps love, according to Rando. Whatever that really means to a pet.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The link doesn’t work here, John. But I do know of cases where dogs have eaten the flesh of their owners. Once people are dead, the dogs no longer recognise them as a person, just flesh to eat.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How to make such links work — Depress the left hand side of your mouse and hold it down while you slowly rake it across the link. As you srape across the link with the left part of your mouse depressed, the link should turn colors. (Where I am, it turns blue.) (Sometimes it turns yellow or some other color.) Once the link has turned colors, depress the right hand side of your mouse and hold it down while placing the mouse over the colored link and you should see words similar to the following: “Search Google for (Name of the link). Click on the words, “Search Google for (Name of Link) with the right hand side of your mouse and you will be taken to the information the link is referring to.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. You are highlighting one of the advantages of being a Christian Minister. Ministers tend to pay visits to their parishioners from time to time just for a jovial chat or to invite them to some event or the other or just to see how they are doing and to talk with them and to pray with them. Some good Christian folk even take the trouble to actually get to know who their neighbors are and to visit them occasionally or, if they are elderly and alone, to get their phone numbers and call them every few days to see how they are getting along. It is entirely possible even to get to know the homeless and to visit them once in a while at their abodes to check on them … Your tale is heart-wrenching for sure … but in a time when people need to be keeping a caring out for those who are handicapped in some manner or who are alone and friendless …we need to be doing more charitable things than we sometime do. Good post, good subject — good eye opener.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, John. I am sure that genuine Christians still care for the elderly, and the vulnerable, and I am aware that you have good friends who will look out for your welfare. That is good to know.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Yes! Absolutely people have become so singular in not paying attention to their neighbors as to be annoyed at “busybodies” like me who worry when I don’t see evidence of a neighbor. I live in a neighborhood with a few retirees older than even me. I have no family close by so I have often cautioned a few of my neighbors if they don’t see me for a few days I’m likely lying dead in the floor. One neighbor and her husband have remote access through my garage and know where to take my dogs, who to contact in case of such an emergency. Though I would hope never to be such a bother at least my dogs will live.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. They were not actually unhappy thoughts. I was just imagining what would happen to Ollie if I hadn’t woken up, then all that other stuff came rushing back to me. No idea why I was thinking that. Probably the vestige of a mad dream 🙂
      I know you did your time, and I am sure you have some memories that sometimes haunt you.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes but non that involve maggot infested dead people thank god! After training, where the odd death happened on a ward, I spent most of my life in op theatres & rarely saw dead’uns there, more traumatic dealing with God-complex orthopaedic surgeons!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sue. As I mentioned in my earlier post on PTSD, I seem to have avoided it. Seeing the effects on some of my colleagues, I am relieved. I can probably thank my Dad for that. Although he had left Mum by then, and didn’t know me during my time in the LAS, he had already instilled in me a great sense of duty and responsibility. However, it never leaves my mind, and moments flash into my thoughts unwanted, as clear as if they are reports on the news.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Duty and responsibility…yes, I had that instilled into me, as well as a stoical demeanour…got me through my own diagnosis and three bereavements in fairly quick succession – stood me in good stead!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was only a part of the job, David. But overall, it was a hard job, I admit that. Still, it did make me feel I was doing something worthwhile, instead of just making money for companies that already had enough. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to doing it now, but I am quite pleased that I stuck it out for so long.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. She will text or call, Felicity. And if she got no reply to anything, she would undoubtedly alert someone. She rang me this morning, but I had already been thinking about this, so went ahead with the post anyway. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Like

  18. Pete, this post resonates with me being a serving officer for the last 18 years. The smell, sight, etc there is nothing like it. One aspect I have recently thought of is PTSD in emergency service personnel and whether this is really looked at? We work for 30 years or so dealing with death, disaster, etc and that will definitely take its toll on people. Welfare and looking after yourself is huge when trying to process these events as they stay with you forever.
    Great read as always, Ian.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. This is a sad fact of life these days. In my grandparents’ time, extended families lived within a stone’s throw of each other and helped each other out, but loneliness and isolation seems to now be on the increase for elderly people as children and grandchildren move away or even emigrate. Pete, you must have a strong stomach!

    Liked by 2 people

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