Meals on Wheels Keeps Bill Safe
August 16, 2023Jim Oswald

It’s not the first time Bill, who suffered a physically debilitating stroke, fell out of his wheelchair in his home. On one occasion, the Daly City resident was able to contact paramedics by yelling out to Siri on his cell phone to autodial 911. Bill says within minutes the paramedics were there to assist him.  

On another particular morning just a few months ago, Bill had fallen out of his wheelchair, landing on the carpeted floor in his bedroom. He didn’t panic, and he didn’t call out for Siri because today was his Meals on Wheels meal delivery day and he knew that his driver would be there soon and would come in if he did not answer the knock on the door.

“I receive Meals on Wheels on Monday and Friday mornings,” Bill, who turned 75 in July, explained.  “On those days, I leave the door unlocked in the mornings so in case I can’t get to it in time, the driver can come in to make the delivery.”

This advanced planning paid off. That morning, the driver knocked, and when there was no answer, he entered Bill’s home and discovered him on the floor. Paramedics were called, and the driver stayed with Bill, keeping him comfortable and calm until help arrived.

Many older adults with disabilities like Bill, who live alone, have the extra challenge of learning how to navigate their home and figuring out other ways to do the simplest tasks, like bending to put on a sock and shoe or to pick up something off the floor.  An even harder task for many is cooking safely in the kitchen.

One day, Bill had a friend over. He was making a pizza in the gas-fueled oven for the two of them.

“Can you smell gas?” his friend asked Bill, to which he replied, “No I cannot.”

Gas tends to float upward and because Bill is in a wheelchair, he said he could not smell the odor above his head. Fortunately, his friend did smell it, opened the doors and windows, turned on a fan, and called the fire department.  It turned out the stove’s igniter was worn out causing it to malfunction.

Bill says the thought of not having Meals on Wheels “is just not an option.”

“It’s a lot more than the food, it’s the consequences of what happens if I had to cook for myself,” Bill explains. “This occurred to me after I dropped a hot frying pan onto the kitchen floor; I drop things all the time. “

Recently, Bill suffered a stroke. He was working at his real estate office in San Francisco when it happened in front of his officemates. The stroke incapacitated him. He was paralyzed on his left side from his shoulder down to his leg.  He spent a year at an assisted living center undergoing rehabilitation.

Bill’s officemates raised $40,000 to help pay for his medical expenses. They also helped move him to his current home in Daly City after he had been evicted from his apartment in SF a month prior to the stroke as part of an owner move-in situation. His co-workers and friends packed and moved boxes and boxes of books, albums, videos, and all of his belongings into his new place.

He was extremely grateful for the help from his friends. And, for a time, they would call him regularly, checking in to make sure he was okay. Soon, though, those calls became fewer and fewer.

“Things shift. The people that were calling me every week to see if I was alive, suddenly I was no longer hearing from them,” Bill explained. “Weeks would go by before the phone rang or there was a knock on the door.”

In 2022, 200 older people in San Mateo County received more than 15,000 home-delivered meals from Meals on Wheels of San Francisco.

As of August 2023, more than 320 seniors in the region rely on Meals on Wheels for their nourishment and wellness checks.

When Meals on Wheels San Francisco began servicing San Mateo County in late 2022, Bill switched right over and began receiving home-delivered meals and services from us in January of this year.

Bill says Meals on Wheels is so helpful to him because he doesn’t have to risk cooking all of the time, and he knows someone is going to check in on him.

“Even the Meals on Wheels guy smiling in the morning [and asking me] Hi; how are you doing? I feel better for hours after that,” Bill says with a smile. “Your food is much better [than the assisted living food]. You guys include an omelet once a week which is great – it’s [the meal] what I look forward to the most. And I’m introduced to other foods I wouldn’t normally have eaten, that I now like.”

Bill says he’s “lucky to be alive still” after his stroke. He’s currently taking diabetes medication to keep it in check (his doctor diagnosed him as pre-diabetic) and other medications for health issues. He attributes Meals on Wheels to being one part of the “treatment” that keeps him healthy.

“You got to support the medication with a sensible diet,” he says. “You can defeat everything I’m taking here (he points to the kitchen counter full of pill bottles) if you’re eating just cheeseburgers and French fries all the time. In a way, Meals on Wheels is supporting my treatment.”

Bill shows me some of his prized art hanging in his living room including a framed piece of wrapping paper with imagery by Andy Warhol of Marilyn Monroe’s lips. “It was a friend’s art history project., he tells me.

Another impressive piece is about three feet high and has been carefully placed on the wall opposite and in front of the main door.

“This is a William Butler Yeats tombstone rubbing I made from his gravestone,” Bill shows me. He captured it during a visit to Ireland in the 90s.

                Cast a cold Eye
                On Life on Death
                Horseman pass by


Bill explains the quote to me. “This is him saying what he’d say to a horseman trotting past his grave. He was predicting this in the future – cold eye meaning don’t get emotionally crazy.”

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