I’m awakened by a continuous rumbling. As I sleepily struggle to forge a remembrance, foggy thoughts ruminate in my somnolent mind, and slowly cohere in recognition: it’s a huge motor idling.  Clarity penetrates my torpid mind:  I ask myself, why do I hear that sound outside my window?  I slowly lift my head and glance at the ceiling – pools of color pulse rhythmically as  the motor rumbles on.

Red flashes strobe the walls.  My mind clears: the deep, throaty sound is a fire truck growling. The flashing red lights burst from the front and sides of an ambulance. The EMTs are paying our ALF a middle-of-the-night visit.  Who fell? Who had a stroke? Who lost insulin? Which fellow resident disappeared?

Not all emergency ambulance visits enter our space by sneaking under the cover of darkness: some occur when the residents of the ALF are witness to the silent flashes of red – sirens are muted while not racing through the streets. We vaguely glimpse blurred blue-clad young and grizzled responders running down the hall, or hop-stepping the steps two-at-a-time, or squeezing into the tiny elevator.  Hallway-running or elevator-cramming, they push the yellow tri-legged gurney through the corridor or into the lift.

Stunned and worried residents – it could soon be one of us – gather in groups to whisper. Who was it? Did anyone see a face under the blanket of the gurney? Who isn’t at their seat in the dining room?

No use asking a staff member. All lips are sealed – else a HIPAA violation can be issued.

We can only surmise for whom the lights flashed?

Dick Weinman is an AARP Oregon volunteer and an Assisted Living (ALF) guru.

[Istock photo: Matth Gush]

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