How to cope with illness when all alone?

I hope this is the proper forum. I will boil this down and make it brief. I ran into a former neighbor in the medical center where I was visiting, and she was sitting in the lobby crying. She is 63, lives in the suburbs where I used to live, and she is going to have tests for cancer. She said she has no one. Her family is dead or moved away “down south”, she has a daughter who calls or visits once a month, she is married to a walking heart attack who drinks like a fish. Her neighbors have moved away “down south”, replaced by young families. She has friends, mostly lunch buddies, or they are all poor and working 2-3 jobs.

She says she feels all alone, she is seriously afraid she could fall on the floor unconscious for a day, or be ghastly ill in bed, and her drunken husband wouldn’t even notice. Or know who to call or what to do (he has some mental problems and is extremely self-centered). She doesn’t know if she could drive herself to cancer treatments and back alone. Her daughter is a typical 20-something, who gets all weepy but wouldn’t step up to help her mother.

I told her she shouldn’t be so negative, that her husband and daughter may surprise her by helping her through this, and if I lived closer to her than 100 miles I would take her to appointments. She doesn’t even know if she DOES have cancer, she’s projecting into a ‘maybe’ future.

I told her to contact the hospital social services department to see what they had to offer, wished her luck, and assured her I would be in touch with her frequently, to let me know what was happening.

I feel so bad for her. Any advice, what I should tell her other than calling the cancer society and social services, should worse come to worst? I should say she and husband have some money, house paid off, debt free. She can always hire help, but she doesn’t know how or when or if…she’s afraid she’s going to be sitting on her couch with no hair, throwing up 50 times a day, unable to eat, and too weak and foggy to call around looking for assistance, with her drunken husband hiding in his room upstairs! Yeah, I’ve met him, he’s that bad. All ‘what about me what about my needs’.

that sounds kind of bad actually…

Not sure that GQ is the right forum for the type of answers you are seeking.

But the story you tell is one of thousands that happens everyday across this country, and millions around the world.

I think you are right about the husband / daughter stepping up. And you’ll be surprised how resilient people become when faced with such adversity.

You sound like a good friend.

One might wonder: Which is better, having potential health problems like that and a drunken useless husband living with you and nobody else to call on . . .

. . . or having potential health problems like that and living by yourself and nobody else to call on?

Didn’t we have a thread just yesterday (maybe still going today) on the question: If you died right now, how long might it take for somebody to find you?


You read stories like that from time to time. Old lady falls, breaks hip, can’t get to phone, wallows in own pee and shit for a week (or more) before anybody notices . . . or maybe just dies there after a week or two and nobody notices until the tax collector and sheriff come to board up the doors and windows.

And good fucking luck getting a ride to your weekly chemo or whatever if you have nobody. You might be able to call a taxi. I had to put of a scheduled colonoscopy for over a year until I could get someone to drive me (ended up calling by brother who lives a 3-hour drive away). They wouldn’t let be take a taxi (have to have your driver sit in the waiting room the whole time). Wouldn’t let me take a bus. Wouldn’t let me call for Dial-A-Ride or one of those medical transport companies with the mini-vans. (What the fuck are they for if not cases like this?) Wouldn’t do anything to help set me up with a ride.

Hey, when wild animals in the jungle get too old to hunt or otherwise take care of themselves, they eventually just fall down and starve, or get eaten alive by predators, or freeze. Did you think our “civilized society” is an improvement on that? Not so much.

I was surprised and really upset when I was pregnant and reading all those pregnancy boards at how many of these women were going to be going to the hospital and giving birth totally alone. No partner (or their partners were working out of state or deployed), no family, no close friends, nobody. My friends all told me I was naive to be surprised by it, that lots of people are like that. It made me cry to think about it.

And that was before I had an emergency c-section and found out exactly how amazingly shitty it would be if I were going home alone in a cab or something with my baby, not even allowed to lift anything heavier than him, to some empty rooms. God. But it happens all the time.

Since the OP is looking for advice, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

My uncle is going through something similar right now. He has kidney cancer. I think he has managed to line up somebody to take him to and from the surgery, but his plan for getting through recovery is “order lots of takeout”.

He lives thousands of miles from any of us, and is unmarried and childless. His partner died last year. He refused to move closer to family afterward. shrug Dunno what to do.

She may be able to get some kind of home care through her insurance. I was in the hospital for a cancer surgery last year and my insurance offered something to me, but I have a Mr. Helena and a mom to look after me (I thanks whatever deities for them every day) so I didn’t pursue it. Medicare may have something as well.

What a horrifyingly frightening position to be in. I can’t imagine how I would’ve done it last year. :frowning:

If she goes to a church , most churches normally have people who help and visit sick people in hospitals and at home. Sometimes the priest/minister/rabbi will visit the hospital as well. That’s one option , the hospital or doctor may be able to contact a church for the person.

After I had that colonoscopy a few years ago (where I had to call my brother from 3 hours away), I looked into this a bit. I found a Senior Services agency in town – I forget who it was run by. (My first inquiry at a “Senior” place turned out to be Senior social and recreational activities run by the Parks And Recreation District. Someone there pointed me to the second place I found.)

They had various kinds of references available. One that seemed noteworthy was a charitable activity run by a local Catholic Church that provided rides for seniors (and maybe other?) who couldn’t arrange their own transportation to/from medical services.

But on reading the fine print a bit more closely, it didn’t look right. You have to line up you own driver. All the charity did was reimburse your driver a few bucks after driving you.

That’s dumb. Any friend or neighbor or relative within the same city as you (for a medium-sized city anyway) who is able to give you a ride is likely to NOT ask for any reimbursement. How tacky would it be to take your neighbor to the ER and then ask for gas money? Unless it was 100 miles or something. Or maybe if it was a regular event (like weekly chemo or something?) maybe it would make some sense to reimburse a neighbor for driving. But you had to find your own driver yourself.

I can relate. I’m 66, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. I live alone, and I’m not married, have no boyfriend, kids, or siblings. My mother is 90 and lives 1,000 miles away–not that she would do anything if she were here. It is very difficult going through everything alone. Very difficult.

Ah, poor woman has no church. She really is pretty much alone. A sprinkling of nieces and nephews she hasn’t seen in years. She often wonders how she got to such a place in life. People keep dying, and moving away! Old friends have their own stuff to deal with (sick spouses, health problems). It’s possible to be all alone in the world, you know. Utterly poor people get help, even if they are put in crummy nursing homes. Rich people hire aides. This friend of mine is looking into the near future to do what she can before she deteriorates with no one to even notice. … My mom got a phone call, wrong number, one day, and she chatted with him. A man of 70 was calling someone, he had just gotten out of the hospital and was living in a one room apartment. No relatives, no friends who could help, he was trying to call a friend who would make a grocery run for him. It was so sad. My mom was crying. There are people out there in the world with no one. No one at all.

There’s this too. So suppose you’ve got your ride to the ER and a ride back home. Now you’re laid up in bed, too sick to do much more than roll over and blow your nose, or maybe crawl to the bathroom to take a pee if you can manage even that.

Now how do you take care of yourself?

I was laid up more-or-less in bed for about a month once. No doctor ever figured out what was wrong, but I was so fatigued I just couldn’t hardly tie my shoes. I managed to get a supply of Ensure Plus and V-8 Juice to drink for a few days, since I didn’t even have the energy to prepare any meals beyond opening a can. I wore every pair of clothes several days until they stank, and when I ran out of clean clothes I just started re-cycling the stinky clothes again (and the bed sheets stank too by then).

I tried going shopping one day. I got as far as into my car and half-way down the driveway before I concluded “This ain’t gonna work”.

One day, my boss was kind enough to do some shopping, and he brought me a “care package” with a few days worth of groceries. A friend from work brought me a whopping-huge burrito from a local Mexican food stand. The receptionist recruited a retired couple from her church, who were known to be “into” doing good deeds – the four of them (receptionist, her husband, and other couple from church) came to my house and took all the stinky laundry. Next day they brought it back, all washed and folded. Then over the next few weeks they came and ferried me to a couple of doctors appointments.

If it weren’t for that, I might have just laid in bed until sheets, mattress, clothes, and me were all dead and consumed by maggots.

One gets to such a place in life by not dying first.

I’m not certain that getting put into a crummy nursing home is better than rotting in the gutter.

I lived in a board-and-care home for 8 months, about ten years ago. It was probably a bit better than average, but not at all swanky. There was a nursing home attached. Most residents were indigent. Many of them had absolutely nobody – nobody to come visit them, nobody to take them out for a day, nobody to check on how well they were being cared for. The home itself was the conservator for many of them :smack:

Most of the people in the board-and-care had been shuffled from one home to another, and had been in and out of all the mental hospitals in the area. They all seemed to agree that this home was one of the better ones. They all had horror stories about all the others.

When you need to go into a nursing home (assuming someone actually finds you on the floor of your kitchen while you’re still alive), and there’s nobody to manage things for you . . .

. . . You get assigned to some over-worked, under-paid social worker who has 100 other cases like you on her desk. She is not your friend or relative, and she has no grounds to give you any preferential treatment over her other 99 cases. She’s not going to shuffle you from home to home until you find one you like. All she’s going to do is riffle through her Rolo-Dex, calling one home after another, until the first one that has an open bed, and that’s where you end up.

At the home I was in, which everybody seemed to agree was better than most, most of the people there had gotten into this home purely by the luck of the draw (often after being shuffled through various other homes) – and they all knew it.

Maybe start with Meals on Wheels. It not only may become hard to prepare meals but This way someone will be coming in regularly to see if she is safe.

Road to Recovery does rides for cancer patients.

No idea how well (or not) it works just that it exists.

The OP’s friend should look for a “medical companion” service. I use one to get to appointments where I need a “responsible adult” with me, since my family lives far away, and my friends are all at work during the daytime.

The flu plus asthma laid me up for a couple of weeks last year. I literally couldn’t stay awake long enough to get to the grocery store or the pharmacy or anything.

A friend picked up prescriptions (I know her well, and gave her my credit card).

I used a grocery delivery service, and also luckily had a lot of soup in the freezer that I’d made before the holidays.

I had a few extra sets of clean sheets.

And when I cleaned the litter box…well, I’m not going to lie. I put the baggies of used cat sand in a trash can on the balcony. It was winter, so they froze, basically. Same with the trash – they became garbagecicles. When I was able to breathe again, I took them to the dumpster.

BUT…it was unpleasant. I would’ve REALLY liked someone to make soup for me, and to go out and buy me tissues and ice cream and a few magazines and different kinds of hot tea.

If it turns out that she’s going to be going through chemo, she might want to prepare and freeze a bunch of meals. Then when she’s sick, at least she won’t have to cook.

Also, hospitals often can provide transportation for appointments. She should call.

I had clients that lived alone and had no family around , they got a Lifeline button to wear and had a health aide come help them with personal care shopping and light housekeeping . You could see if there is a Council on Aging
office near your friend , they will help people go shopping and get to appointments .
I think it’s so kind of you to be looking out for your neighbor. I did this for one mine , she was 90 yo and her husband dies .