Organizing for emergencies, for those who live alone

Here on Unclutterer, we’ve written about being organized so you’re ready to respond to medical emergencies. But I want to take it one more step, because of something that was prompted by my cats.

I live alone, and I’m pretty healthy. But emergency situations can happen to anyone, at any age — as I’m sadly reminded whenever I read about yet another tragic bike or car accident, or hear about someone who had a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm at an early age. And it dawned on me that if something happened to me, no one might know (who could do anything about it, at any rate) for days.

I wear a watch with medical alert information on the back, including my allergies and an emergency contact number. But what if something happened where I wasn’t found — if something happened while I was home, for example?

People I was supposed to meet with would notice something awry, and might call, email or text. But would they do anything more? Probably not. The mailman might notice my mail piling up in my mailbox, but he’d be unlikely to do anything because of that.

And when I thought about all of this, I thought about my cats. They don’t have food just sitting out, because one of them is a pig and would eat all the food for both, and eat it much too quickly. So I just put out a measured amount of food at feeding times.

If something happened to me, the cats wouldn’t get fed. Thinking of them going hungry fills me with dread; also, cats can develop medical problems pretty quickly if they go without food. And of course there are other things they’d need, too: fresh water and a clean litter box.

So now I call my neighbors every evening, just to say I’m fine. They know if they don’t get that call to come check on me — and take care of the cats.

In looking around the Web, I see there are numerous programs for daily check-in calls, generally targeted at the elderly who live alone. Some are provided for free by charities, local governments or police departments, and others are provided by businesses that charge a small fee. Some of these programs use automated calls, and others make live calls. All will call a defined list of people (friends and/or family members) or follow an agreed-upon emergency procedure — again, the specifics vary — if no one answers after something like 2-4 calls.

I feel very fortunate to have neighbors who know me (and my cats) and can serve as my check-in service. We trade all sorts of favors, so this is just one more way we’ve helped each other out over the years.

But if I didn’t have neighbors like this, I’d try to find a check-in program that worked for my situation. I hope I never hit the day when my neighbors need to do something, because I don’t call — but knowing that they are ready to do so brings me peace of mind and reduces any stressful thoughts that might be cluttering up my mind.

9 Comments for “Organizing for emergencies, for those who live alone”

  1. posted by daphne on

    You can also make such an arrangement with a friend, even one who lives far away, if she/he knows who to call if you do not call/answer the phone. You can even serve as your friend’s “insurance.” My godmother and one of her friends do that. They just call and say good morning every day.

  2. posted by Celeste on

    My sister and I both live alone, and we email each other at work every morning, and talk on the phone every night (just to say “good night”). If the other one doesn’t answer, we wait 30 minutes, call again, and if there’s no answer, drive to other’s home (15 minutes apart). We’ve never had to do that, but at least we have a plan.

    Another idea for those who live alone – when you shower or bathe, take your cell phone into the bathroom with you and put it *ON THE FLOOR*. If you have a fall, the phone is right where you can get it.

    Here’s the reason I suggest this:

    My aunt had a fall in her apartment and broke her hip. She managed to inch herself over to the breakfast bar, and grab the telephone cord (landline). She gave it a tug, and it came out of the phone outlet, on the wall above the breakfast bar. My poor auntie had to drag herself through the kitchen, down the hall and into her bedroom to call for help. Besides her broken hip, her elbows were both scrapped raw from trying to propel herself to the other phone. (She had surgery, and is OK now. Thanks for asking.)

  3. posted by Suzy on

    My mother and my aunt talk, via phone, every day at 5pm (after my aunt finishes watching Jeopardy). They exchange family news, happenings of the day, plans for the future, etc.

    They’ve done this for years and they do it for this exact reason, in case something happens to either of them. BUT it has become a good habit and a good emotional lifeline for them.

    Circumstances have changed for both of them since they started calling each other. My aunt moved into a senior apartment with some as-needed services and meals. I’ve moved in with my mother, but they still continue with the calls each evening.

    For a few years, my aunt would call an acquaintance in Florida twice a week who didn’t have family and was blind and housebound. It was a connection for them. I don’t remember how it started, but they never met. I think it was a mutual friend and interests and both enjoyed their talks. My aunts friend died a few months ago and she grieved at the loss.

    Connections are important, especially when you can’t move as well as you would like to do.

  4. posted by Karen on

    You can also do what a neighbor and I do: If my drapes are not open by mid-morning, she calls or comes over to check on me and vice versa. I suppose we could talk about adding a second check at sunset.

    In my locality, postal workers are trained to watch for possible problems and told how to follow up on them.

  5. posted by Leslie on

    Some other things to take into consideration are having a file with instructions on what to do with any pets in the event something does happen to you. If emergency services have to come to your home, having an instruction sheet that says to call So and So to take care of the cats will help with that (can keep it on your fridge). I keep a flashdrive in my purse that has all my emergency info on it, in case something happens while I’m out and I have a sticker on the back of my DL telling emergency personnel where to find it. I also have instructions in a file at home and have another set with a friend. And to add to it, I have my advanced directive filed with the State (some states offer this) because I know that in the event something serious happens to me, my family will NOT adhere to my wishes.

  6. posted by heather on

    Recently I came across a great blog post on this topic, written by a woman who witnessed another cyclist get hit, and it got her thinking:
    http://dogknobit.com/2013/08/1.....s-tonight/

  7. posted by Ella on

    My elderly parents had a very good arrangement with their younger neighbors on either side. My father always brought in the morning paper as soon as it was delivered. When the neighbors left for work (or errands or Sunday church), if they saw that the newspaper was still lying in my parents’ driveway, they would come over and check on them.

  8. posted by erin on

    …why is your orange cat named Puppy?

  9. posted by Marie on

    I don’t mean to be disgusting–merely realistic–but if you die alone at home, your cats will definitely have enough to eat until they are found. An average-sized human contains more than enough meat for a few domestic cats, and animals aren’t squeamish or sentimental.

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