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Ambulance comes, but nobody's home

The flashing strobe light of an ambulance is a commonplace these days — unless you don’t know where your wife is and the ambulance is standing in front of your house.

She had left without leaving a note an hour earlier, and I was leisurely trolling my way home from a garden nursery with a couple of bags of planting soil.

As I came over a small hill and headed down my street, there it was. Goshen’s town ambulance, another car with flashing lights and a half-dozen or so men wondering what to do next.

I was wondering, too, what the hell they were doing there.

My first thought, of course, was disaster: My wife, partner and helpmate of more than 60 years, had fallen ill and was about to be hauled off to the hospital.

With my heart now pumping as furiously as it did when I ran the 100-yard dash in 1936 at Weaver High School in Hartford, I edged my trusty 2003 Ford Taurus around the group, parked and, barely able to catch my breath, opened the door and stepped out.

Old friend Jimmie O’Leary, onetime popular first selectman of our little village, took me by the hand.

“You all right?” he asked, peering into my eyes with all the intensity of my eye doctor.

“Yes, I think so,” I  lisped. “Why are you all here?”

“Your Life Alert alarm went off. They phoned you and there was no answer. So we rounded up the troops and here we are!”

Before I could answer, our daughter, Valerie, rushed up to me. “What’s happening, Dad? Your Life Alert alarm went off!”

Valerie lives in Litchfield with her extended family.

“How did you know?” I asked. “You’re not on the Goshen ambulance squad.”

Turns out a friend of one of her boys is a member of the Goshen rescue team and had called her.

I do have a Life Alert. The button that I use to push it in an emergency hangs around my neck.

With Jimmie O’Leary intently watching, I upbuttoned the top collar of my shirt and reached in. Alarm, alarm, the Life Alert button was NOT hanging from my neck. A prankster must have found it and pushed the button.

But wait. Jimmie spotted a string high up tight around my neck. I reached in, grabbed the string and pulled it. During my post-luncheon nap, the alarm button must have got caught and wound around my neck and was hanging from my back.

“And when you got into your car …” Jimmie started to say.

“And when I got into my car,” I interrupted, “and I leaned back against the car seat, my back pushed the button and the alarm went off in Florida where the Life Alert people are located.”

Following procedure, they alerted the local ambulance squad but put it on hold until they phoned the house.

If I fall down or have a paralyzing moment, but can still push the button, the alarm box can be activated from any room in the house and I then can answer Life Alert’s call: “Are you having an emergency, Mr. L?”But when there is no answer, they assume the worst and release the ambulance.

“You’re sure you’re OK?” Jimmie asked once more.

“I’m OK. But I’m still worried about Dolores.”

“Probably at TJ Maxx,” said Valerie, and as it turned out, she was right.

Jimmie rounded up the crew. I shook hands and thanked as many as I could reach, and the ambulance roared off.

I thought that was the end of it. But no, when I got in the house the Life Alert box burst into action and I confirmed all my vitals and thanked them for proving that, ye gods, when the magical button is pushed, the world moves off its axle by a fraction of a degree.

Now, every time I arise from slumberland, I reach for the button and make certain it’s hanging down over my abs.

Freelance writer Barnett Laschever of Goshen is the author of five children’s books, co-author of a book on Connecticut and is writing a play about Connecticut Revolutionary War hero Gen. Israel Putnam.

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