By Rebecca Damrill
Globe guest columnist
Remember the last week of July?
The temperatures had blazed all week, everyone was miserable, even under the air conditioner and the electric companies were issuing peak alerts. That Wednesday evening, a situation occurred that made me both proud and troubled.
I am an employee at The Greenbriar, a long-term care facility in Joplin. At 10 that evening, my shift ended and I was preparing to leave the building. Staring at me through the glass in the front door was an elderly woman.
I was startled and called out to the director of nursing in a nearby office who herself was preparing to go home. The woman was led inside and sat in a chair. She was very flushed and disoriented from the heat.
After sitting and drinking water, she began to talk to the director and staff. Her story was no different than a lot of the elderly in our community. She lived nearby and had no air conditioning. The past several days of our heat wave, she had spent going from business to business to stay cool.
The house was too hot to keep the doors or windows shut, leaving her exposed to other potential dangers. Some nights she had spent sleeping in her car because it was cooler than her home.
She was at our establishment because the heat was overwhelming — even that late in the evening — and we were close. Concerned that she was perhaps in need of medical attention, 911 was called.
Four young officers responded along with an ambulance. After taking her vital signs, they determined that she was fine. The woman returned to her home accompanied by our director, two of our staff members, four officers and the two medics. The officers, when asked, did not know what agencies to contact to get this woman help, such as an air conditioner or a fan.
Evidently, they were unaware of the grave danger that dehydration poses to the elderly. Neither the officers nor the medics felt that it was their obligation to help this woman by contacting the Division of Aging.
While the officers stood on the lawn making conversation, our director was inside in the miserable heat climbing on boxes in a storage area to pull down a few box fans the woman owned but could not reach.
Hot and sweaty in her professional clothes and high heels, our director helped her plug in the fans so that she could sleep a bit more comfortably. Had this been my grandmother, I would have been so grateful to the woman who extended her work day.
Our director left the house worried and disturbed, but with plans to help the woman. Her kindness, compassion and concern were remarkable. I wonder if this little woman has yet to even cross the officers’ minds who were called to give aid.
I am in hopes that because they were young, that as their careers advance, they will realize that they are to protect and serve. Their job is not just the car chase, the burglary or the homicide. Sometimes their job is the little old lady with no air conditioning.
Her life as a resident could have revolved around their decision of whether or not to find her fans and an outlet to plug them in. The officers’ failure to react was troubling; however, I was proud to know the woman who went the extra mile.
I am also proud to be an employee of the director of nursing who treated this woman as if she were residing within the walls of her facility instead of next door. Sometimes the lines are blurred when it comes to our “job description” — where it ends and where it begins.
Rebecca Damrill lives in Joplin.
By Rebecca Damrill