The old guy had been sitting on a seat in the airport arrivals lounge for most of the day. Eventually late in the afternoon he came to the attention of the airport staff when one of the thousands of people who walked past noticed that he had wet himself. The airport staff had then approached him and found him to be confused and unable to tell them much at all. We got called and asked to come and check him out.
We were met by an airport manager who escorted us to where the man was still sitting. He was a little Caucasian man about 70 years old who could have been anybody’s grandpa. He was sitting there with his eyes closed clutching a small leather toiletries bag. My partner spoke to the manager while I assessed the old man. He opened his eyes and tried to answer my questions but was clearly confused and disoriented. Physically he checked out fine – blood pressure, heart rate, lung sounds all normal. I then checked his temperature and blood sugar levels and found them to be normal as well. He didn’t seem to be overly dehydrated and I could find nothing amiss – other than the fact he was very confused.
My partner told me they had figured out from his boarding pass that he had come in on a flight from Indonesia early that morning on a one way ticket. But why was he still at the airport? Wasn’t someone coming to pick him up? He was clearly unable to look after himself and had no idea how he got where he was or where he was going. He was simply just sitting. Waiting.
I asked him if I could look inside his bag and he nodded. Inside I found some basic toiletries, a toothbrush, a shaver and an old bottle of prescription tablets that I didn’t recognise. There was also an old wallet. Inside there was no money, only a few scraps of paper and a photo of him taken years before with his arm around the shoulders of a smiling Indonesian woman. One of the folded bits of paper contained a name, phone number and an address way out in the eastern suburbs, all written in shaky writing as if a child had written it. I handed it to my partner and we decide the best thing to do was to call the number. We had nothing else to go on.
We walked a short distance away to the service counter and the girl there passed me a phone. I dialled the number with my blue gloves on. The call went basically like this:
Hi my name is Rob… I’m an ambulance paramedic…..
I’m here at Tullamarine Airport and we have an elderly gentleman here by the name of Norman Smith….I’m just wondering, do you know him?
We found your number in his wallet and we were wondering if you can help us work out who he is?
He’s here ….in Melbourne?
Yeah, Are you a relative?
…He’s my… he’s… Look we don’t want nothing to do with him ok.
We’re just trying to find out where he is supposed to be staying so we can make sure he’s alright….
Look he left us a long time ago to be with her and none of the family wants anything to do with him... alright?
Is there someone that he lives with here in Melbourne we can contact?
Mate you don’t get it – he lives in Indonesia. We don’t want nothing to do with him.
The phone was left beeping in my ear. I was stunned. I looked over at the old guy sitting on the chair and told my partner what I had just heard. I could only assume that this guy for whatever reason had left his life in Australia and gone to Indonesia to live with a new partner. His family had apparently never forgiven him. Now he was old and confused, and someone had put him on a plane and sent him back to Australia.
We had no idea what to do with him, so we loaded him up and took him to hospital. I told the story to the triage nurse. They sat him on a chair in a cubicle and made some calls of their own while I wrote my case notes up. The nurse told me she had been given the same story when she called the number in his wallet. Nobody wanted anything to do with him. Whatever he had done, I looked at him sitting there alone in the chair and I felt genuinely sorry for him.