Coming back from a lovely 33rd anniversary dinner this past Friday evening, my husband and I were ready to turn into our neighborhood, when we saw a firetruck, and another city fire vehicle, and several firemen clustered around a man standing on the sidewalk. As we passed the group, we recognized the man they were clustered around. We pulled over and ran to see if we could help. The next 17 hours ended up being as we once turned the phrase, a real trip.
A friend in our social circle, a man we have known for 30 years, an upstanding citizen, was standing on a side walk, delusional, and unable to tell the first responders anything coherent. He recognized us and gave my husband a hug, and used our names after we jogged his memory.
We think he had been wandering around for at least a day, confused, without water or hat, in Tucson’s raging heat, well over 100°. Normally, we might have allowed the first responders to transport him for assessment and care, which is what he needed, but our 68 year old friend is black. We all know black men can be misjudged and improperly placed when in “the system.” We offered and he accepted our offer to come to our house. The first responders had not been able to determine if he was a danger to himself or others, so they allowed us to leave with our friend. Let’s just call our friend Bob from here on out.
At our house we gave him water and fruit juices and a made up a charcuterie board of sorts to let him nibble at what appealed to him. He told us a disjointed, rambling story unconnected to any timeline that could have played out in this world. He spoke of horrible abuse he suffered by kidnappers, a day spend wandering from an ice cream parlor where new employees were being trained in our downtown, to getting on a bus at a cemetery a few miles north of city center, to getting a coffee at a Walmart five miles east of the cemetery (the later confirmed by a receipt he had in his pocket from 7 hours earlier in the day.) He didn’t have his glasses, wallet, or phone.
He was dehydrated, confused, did not have his wallet or keys. He couldn’t remember the numbers associated with his apartment. He couldn’t remember the phone number of a friend who had helped him refill his prescriptions, but knew he had a new bottle of medication in his apartment. He admitted he was tired and needed to sleep, we made up a bed for him on the couch.
I slept with one ear open as we didn’t want him wandering off in the night. He was far more coherent in the morning and we and the son of a neighbor and friend, who stopped by in the a.m., were eventually able to find get the phone number of his old girlfriend who had been the one helping him get to doctor’s appointments and such. Eventually we convinced the one time girlfriend to help us help our disoriented friend. While the girlfriend and our neighbor’s son went to Bob’s apartment; she had a key. We had contacted the police because we were not sure a crime had not been committed against Bob. His car was missing, and his apartment door was standing open.
It took several more hours to find his wallet, keys, and a medical file in his apartment, have the police interview Bob, interview us, and determine the best and safest course of action for assessment and care of Bob I have to say that the officers of the Tucson Police Department were outstanding in the handling of the situation: they were thorough, and caring, and very patient. They eventually transported Bob to Tucson’s Mental Health Crisis Clinic with our friend’s complete cooperation and gratitude.
My husband was the intermediary between people, our son’s friend was the driver to get the info we needed, and I stayed with Bob, and worked on orienting him by talking to him about real events and good times in the past that he remembered, and how because he had become dehydrated and disoriented he had just become confused about recent events. He knew he had some problems. I kept reinforcing that he was safe, that we were trying to find the best way to get him to a doctor, so he could get back on his meds, and building and enlisting his trust of us into buying into that course of action.
He was still a bit confused and I suspect was having delusions impinge on his reality, but I am just so thankful we found him and could help transition from his being removed from the street by people he was afraid of and resistant to working with, to being calm and oriented enough to be glad he was being transported to a facility to check himself in with medical records, identification, and insurance cards in hand.
My Thoughts on Mental Illness, Friendship, and Our Need for Civil Infrastructure
I am wont to make mountains out of molehills. In this case, I think it is a good thing to connect everything into an inter-related narrative.
Might-have-happened speculation is just that – speculation.
I can definitely see how another scenario might have developed if we had not have happened onto the initial scene with first responders. A fearful and delusional Bob might have become agitated and paranoid. At that point, the 68 year old skinny black man might have resisted the first responder’s directions. If a scuffle began, well, Bob has a black belt, and who knows what would have happened then?
Our societal structure is tainted with biases and systemic racism and discrimination. Anyone who says this isn’t so has not looked at the numbers and stats as to how different people in different pigeon holes experience vastly different systems of justice and access to resources and healthcare.
Did We Help?
We diffused an initial potentially bad scene.
I want to make it very clear that the First Responders acted responsibly. The only problem I had was that repeated telling Bob that he was talking to rocks, while accurate, might not have de-escalated his delusions, fear, and paranoia.
All he really remembered of that sidewalk scene was being surrounded by a group of tall, uniformed, white men, who were hassling him.
Within a few minutes he conceptualized us as saving him from them.
All we wanted to do was find out what was going on with a friend who had shared countless dinners, barbecues, and holiday meals with a shared group of friends.
A black man without context is a vulnerable man.
We were not only able to provide a safe place in our home for a few hours, but were able to reassure him that, yes is was an amazing coincidence that we were driving by and recognized him. We had taken a slightly different than usual route home. Divine intervention? Who knows?
I just know that my husband and I acted from our sets of moral beliefs. We saw a friend, even though he was not a super-close friend whom we had not seen in a couple years, since the friend who provided our the center of our social hub died in March of 2020.
We were able to practice what we both were raised to believe, we have a responsibility to help our friends, families, and neighbors that is summed up by the Golden Rule. If you need a reference, I looked this one up: First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up.”
While we “owed” nothing to Bob. Our Tucson community owes much to him. He headed up Pima County Parks and Recreation’s swimming and pool program for ages. He worked with Americorps in teaching conflict resolution. He taught Capoeira. There are adults all over Tucson who he helped through providing services to all in our community that built strength and character in young people. One of the police officers, Trevor, remembers Bob from when the officer was trained as a teenager as a life-guard through the program Bob ran. Our friend’s son spoke of how supportive Bob has always been throughout his nearly 40 something years on Earth.
By slowly bringing the local structures, public servants, and Bob together slowly, gently, and with the knowledge and context of Bob’s decades-long dedication and service to the community, we hope he will be given the respect and protection that community, city, and county programs are intended to provide.
How Responsible Do We Need to Be?
In trying to get help for Bob, we encountered two very reluctant people who had apparently already burned out from helping Bob. I understand how people can be so uncomfortable with mental health that they cut themselves off from situations that create that discomfort. I understand. Having been a caretaker for my mother in her home for several months before her passing, I understand the burnout and reluctance to get involved. Two brothers and a dear neighbor died within a few years of my mom’s death and I got into a headspace where I protected myself from interacting in with very needy people. I’ve felt bad about it, but at the time I just could not give anymore of myself. So I understand how people can say, “enough.”
I hope we we able to provide a healthier and better re-introduction to the care system here in Pima County so that Bob gets the care he is due. The system previously, apparently, diagnosed him to have undetermined delusional disorder. I cannot believe that there is no check in required a person who has been hospitalized for mental health issues when he lives alone, has no close friends, and no one to check in on him. Any retired person could sink into confusion and despair if they are all alone without purpose.
It is our hope that a slightly different entry into the system will help Bob walk a new path in the mental health care system.
The other thing that seems to be floating in the front of my consciousness is that – what happened to Bob could happen to me or my husband. The Hubster is 68, the same age as Bob, and Alzheimer’s wiped out an entire generation in his maternal line, his grandmother, great-aunts and uncles all succumbed to early onset Alzheimers. Two of my brothers developed dementia before they passed. “There but for the grace of God go I” is the saying, I think.
Our society, our huge American society, to run properly, depends on:
- people to act responsibly,
- for the government to create and enforce laws that equally protect regular people from corporations, and individuals, whom may act with no regard as to the impact their actions may have on others. The will of the people, and, the good of the people, are phrases that come to mind.
- civil servants to provide linkages to civil and governmental services as needed.
Receiving proper care should not be difficult and should not depend on individuals whims. Care should not vary because of the religious beliefs of the people who live in the part of the country where you happened to find work and settle down.
This whole experience of this past weekend – our anniversary, Father’s Day, and Juneteenth – seemed crafted to affirm our progressive beliefs about what individuals working together can do to make even bad situations a bit better.
I only hope that I am not delusional in my belief that individual action can change things.
What do you think?