As the owners of a biohazard remediation business, my wife and I face many challenging situations in the course of our work. We also encounter many heart-wrenching situations that leave us wondering how life can take such horrendous, dire terms for some people.
Not long ago, I received a telephone call from a caseworker at a not-for-profit human services agency that my wife and I have done some volunteer work for in the past. They had received a referral about a pair of men in their 80s who lived together and were in need of a myriad of different types of services.
One of the immediate needs was for a professional cleanup of the apartment they shared, including biohazard remediation. The story of the plight of these two men remains one of the most heart-wrenching I’ve encountered since I started my business after completing my military service.
An Accident Opens the Door to the Apartment
The two brothers, Paul and William, lived relatively reclusive lives in their small apartment. Paul was immobile due to a number of different health conditions. William was able to get around a limited manner. For example, he could make limited trips to the grocery store and drug store as needed.
William took full responsibility for caring for Paul as best he could. Technically, Paul was bedridden, although his “bed” was a sofa in what was intended to be the living room of the apartment.
William had been confined to the sofa for well over a year. He literally had not gotten off of the sofa during that time period.
During the morning, William left the house to retrieve a couple of essential items from the grocery store. He had not been away from the apartment very long when he slipped, fell, and broke his leg. In many ways, it was fortunate that William did not break his hip. In so many cases, a broken hip proves highly challenging for an octogenarian. Indeed, many people in their 80s ultimately do not survive a broken hip, eventually dying from complications. Thus, there was optimism that William would be able to recover from the fracture, although he would be kept in the hospital for a couple of days or so and then have to undergo physical rehab.
The Creation of a Crisis
Although the fall and injury sustained by William were serious, the incident created a real crisis. His brother, Paul, was home alone, confined to the sofa, with no one to care for him. The brothers were largely alone in the world, having no family member that was involved in their lives. They did have some contact with a human services agency that would help them with part of their rent payments from time to time.
When paramedics responded to his own emergency, he told them of the situation at the apartment. He explained the state of his brother’s health and immobility. With a few official gymnastics, and with the use of William’s key, the emergency personnel made arrangements for a welfare check to be performed at the apartment.
William dreaded initiating this process for a number of reasons, including the overall state of the apartment. Although William tried his best to maintain the home he shared with his brother, he knew that the place was beyond what could fairly be called “disarray.” He feared for what would happen to his brother now that William himself would be restricted to the hospital, at least for a few days.
When emergency personnel arrived at the apartment William and Paul shared, they were alarmed – indeed, horrified – by the scene in front of them. Immediately upon entering the apartment, the emergency personnel were hit with a foul stench, a combination of urine, feces, and rotting food.
They focused their attention on Paul, confined to the sofa. Although he was in no immediate medical danger, his overall condition and that of the apartment itself justified taking the elderly man to the hospital for an examination and evaluation.
At the hospital, and considering William’s situation following the accident, a decision was made to admit Paul, at least overnight, to allow some time to perform a more complete evaluation of his health status.
At this juncture, Carolyn from the nonprofit where my wife and I have volunteered entered the scene. She had been assigned William and Paul’s case in regard to occasional rental payments. William had the frame of mind to reach out to her and the agency at this time of crisis.
A Call to Us
The following day, Carolyn visited the temporarily vacant apartment that was home to William and Bill. Not only had she already determined that they needed additional assistance in managing their lives, upon reaching the apartment she fully understood the premises needed a comprehensive cleanup, complete with biohazard remediation. In simple terms, biohazard remediation is the removal of potentially harmful substances (like feces, urine, blood, rotting food, and the like) that can contain dangerous biological pathogens.
Because of our preexisting connection to the agency, Carolyn telephoned me. She explained the grim situation at the apartment. She explained that the goal was to get the men back home with an array of different types of support services. However, this could not be accomplished unless the apartment was restored to a livable condition. She hesitated in her conversation with me and then advised that there was no money to pay for a cleanup, remediation, and restoration of the apartment. Would I consider donating services?
My wife and I agreed to donate our services to bring William and Paul’s home to a livable condition. My wife and I, together with another one of our team members, went to the apartment and went to work.
Taking a Grim Situation and Making It a Livable Home
The entire apartment was in shambles and filthy. The two men likely were not hoarders. Nonetheless, because of their limitations, trash and waste of different types had accumulated throughout the premises.
In many ways, a description of the sofa on which Paul had been living around the clock for over a year exemplifies what we found in the apartment more generally. Although William attempted to aid Paul in the use of adult diapers, those efforts proved to be largely in vain. Over the course of time that Paul had been confined to the sofa, the piece of furniture had become thoroughly saturated with urine. In fact, it was so bad that urine had soaked through the sofa, made its way through the carpet, and was saturating the floorboards underneath.
We spent nearly two days at work on the apartment and were able to achieve the desired goal of restoring it to a livable condition. Simultaneously, Carolyn and others developed a comprehensive action plan of support services to aid William and Paul. These included everything from the provision of a hospital bed for Paul to a daily visit from a caretaker that would be paid via the men’s Medicare coverage. In short, there were services available to support William and Paul being able to stay in their home – now that the apartment was restored to a habitable status and at least for the time being.
Fortunately, this particular case had what can be considered a positive resolution. That definitely is not always the case. I have long been haunted by a case in which I had no involvement and only learned about through media reports.
In that case, two 80-something-year-old brothers lived together in a house. One of the brothers was confined to a chair. The other cared for him.
These men were also hoarders and had amassed huge stacks of newspapers around the house. They also boobytrapped the house for fear someone would try to break in. Some of these boobytraps were connected to extremely large stacks of newspapers.
One day when the mobile brother was tending to the man confined to a chair, he inadvertently set off a boobytrap, causing a pile of newspapers to collapse upon him, killing him. Because the men had no regular contact with the outside world, the brother in the chair ended up starving to death as his own brother’s remained decomposed under a stack of newspapers. The remains of these men were not discovered for many months.