SUNSET PARK — Meals on Wheels volunteers saved the life of an elderly Santa Monica resident whom they found in her home bleeding profusely from an open head wound.
When Meals on Wheels volunteers Bob Sandler and his partner came to serve her lunch at noon on Jan. 5, Ruth Barkley, 82, was perched on the corner of her floral-patterned couch, drenched in blood that was spilling out of a two-inch gash in the back of her head. They immediately called 911 and the ambulance rushed Barkley to Kaiser Permanente where she received seven stitches.
Barkley doesn’t remember much of what happened that day. She woke that morning to her usual routine. Her son-in-law, Tom Allison, visited her for breakfast before work. She took a brief walk around her front yard and then settled down with her dog Molly and cat Tortilla.
“I didn’t feel good in my stomach,” Barkley said in a light German accent.
The queasiness precipitated the fall. She cut her head on the corner of her coffee table, a short wood table with false mother-of-pearl inlay. Her prescription blood thinners worsened the situation, causing blood to run freely from the wound.
Because she was alone, no one involved has an accurate idea of how long Barkley sat there bleeding.
“Meals on Wheels saved my life,” she said.
Sandler is a stock trader who has been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for the past six months. He trained as an emergency medical technician at UCLA, skills which came in handy when he found Barkley.
“She didn’t come to the door, so we just opened it and went in. Her head was covered with blood,” Sandler said. “The training helped. I checked the ABCs — airway, breathing, circulation — to make sure she was OK and called 911.”
The ambulance arrived in five minutes and took Barkley to the hospital. Her condition looked critical to Sandler, who said she was bleeding profusely.
“If we weren’t there, she would have died,” Sandler said.
Barkley’s daughter, Mina Allison, is a kindergarten teacher who stays with her mother when she’s not at work or with her husband and kids. She was at school when she got the call from her husband concerning her mother’s condition.
“I was concerned but there was not a lot of time to think about it as much as to figure out where she was,” Allison said.
The Allisons have hired a caretaker to stay with Barkley during the day while they’re at work, a move which Barkley fought prior to her accident.
“Physically she’s a lot better,” Allison said. “She’s scared, and that’s why I have someone staying with her now all the time. We live five blocks away and we are over there five, six times a day, but you know, she fell when no one was with her.”
Barkley was in and out of the hospital until last Tuesday, plagued by fainting spells and heart troubles. She returned home with her daughter and son-in-law and has resumed her daily routine.
“I’m still here, and I still have my Ovaltine,” she said, referring to her favorite drink, which she prepares with milk brought by Meals on Wheels.
While such incidents don’t happen every day, Meals on Wheels volunteers are often required to do more than deliver food.
“When you’re dealing with a frail population, things tend to happen,” said Enid Borden, president and chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels Association of America. “These volunteers are lifesavers. Bless them all, they’re heroes.
“The beauty of the program is that it’s more than just a meal,” Borden added. “They become friends.”