It was early the other morning and I was starting my day the way I always do — flipping through the newspaper while floating in the bathtub.
But the tranquility of my morning ritual was shattered when, suddenly and without warning, the telephone began loudly chirping on the magazine rack beside the tub.
Dripping wet, I answered the phone and a voice at the other end declared: "Hello, this is Lifeline calling. Your sister-in-law’s medical alert bracelet was activated this morning and we haven’t been able to reach her."
"Oh," is what I recall saying, because as a professional newspaper columnist I am trained how to react in stressful situations.
I’m pretty sure I promised to do whatever I could, and the calm folks at the Lifeline response centre hung up so they could continue calling other helpful people on my sister-in-law Donamae’s contact list.
I knew that Donamae, 69, had recently obtained a medical alert bracelet — which resembles a watch and is activated when you press a button on the face — because she’d had a few nasty falls and it seemed like a good idea.
Before climbing out of the tub, I tried calling my sister-in-law’s home and cell numbers, but no one answered. Then, as I do in every emergency situation, I bravely called my wife, who was at the office and had just turned her cellphone on.
I explained the situation and my wife promptly dialled her sister, but again there was no answer. Fearing the worst, my wife jumped in her car and began driving halfway across the city to her sister’s house.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Lifeline had already called Donamae’s neighbour, whose phone was also off because she hadn’t climbed out of bed yet. They also alerted local emergency crews, because, well, that’s what you do in an emergency.
The other thing none of us knew at the time was that my sister-in-law was perfectly fine and was, in fact, at a nearby hospital undergoing some previously scheduled routine medical tests. She’d turned her cellphone off, because that’s a thing people do when in close proximity to high-tech medical devices.
When those tests were done, she went out for breakfast and completely forgot to turn her phone back on.
It turned out that morning she had removed her medical alert bracelet and placed it on a counter in the bathroom before showering. Then she went to the hospital without putting the bracelet back on.
When she got back home and turned her cellphone on, Donamae discovered she had something like 30 or 40 frantic phone messages and texts from my wife, me, other relatives and her neighbours, all wondering whether, in fact, she was still alive.
What’s more, a team of paramedics in an ambulance and a fire crew in a shiny truck had also shown up at her house and knocked on the door, which was eventually opened by the exchange student who lives in her basement and had slept through all of the frantic phone calls.
"Oh," the yawning exchange student explained to the firefighters and paramedics standing on the doorstep. "Donamae is fine. She’s just at the hospital."
So what happened? Who, or what, activated the medical alert bracelet, thereby triggering a chain reaction of deep concern for my sister-in-law’s well-being.
"It was the dog," is what Donamae eventually confessed when she called to assure everyone she had not met with an untimely accident.
And by dog, she was referring to "Mark-Cuss," her beloved six-year-old poodle/Shar-Pei/Labrador mix that also happens to be a trained St. John Ambulance therapy dog.
Mark-Cuss and Donamae have been a little ray of sunshine for patients in hospitals and seniors’ homes since the summer of 2018. During those therapy visits, this highly trained hound is the picture of well-behaved decorum. At home, however, he has developed the unfortunate habit of stealing items that don’t belong to him.
Which is what he did with my sister-in-law’s medical alert bracelet, pulling it down from the bathroom counter and promptly chewing on it, thereby activating the button and alerting the response centre that something was potentially awry.
He had left a few toothmarks on this life-saving device before, but this time he literally absconded with it. In the days since all this happened, Donamae has searched high and low but has been unable to track down her dog’s secret hiding spot for purloined treasures.
She suspects the bracelet is either hidden in some obscure spot in the house, or Mark-Cuss used the recently installed doggie door to venture outside and bury it in the garden.
"I had to get a brand-new one, because I can’t find where Mark-Cuss hid the old one," she confided Wednesday night in our backyard where we celebrated National Hotdog Day with a few grilled dogs. "It seems like whatever could go wrong, did."
I threatened to grill Mark-Cuss if he didn’t spill the beans, but either I was barking up the wrong tree or he just refused to be hounded.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.