Friday morning, just before the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend: a beautiful day with crisp cool air and lots of sunshine. A perfect autumn ambience that was about to be shattered by my worst fear.
I had taken N to the doctor for a well visit. We had a bit of a wait but not too long, by normal standards. By N standards, it proved to have been too much. After a quick examination and some discussion about his weight and the effect of medications, I turned around and noticed N had gone out the examination room door. I went into the hall. No sign of N. I went out into the waiting area. No N. Somebody said they saw him go out the main door and left down the hall towards the elevator. I stuck my head out and he was not in the hall nor was he waiting for the elevator. A quick scan of the entire 5th floor confirmed he was not there. OMG! Where did he go?
I took the elevator down to the main floor. If he simply got into the elevator with somebody, he would have exited wherever that person did, most likely the lobby. He had to be there. I arrived in the lobby but there was no N in sight.
My heart began to race. He must have exited the building. There were 2 ways out – front and back. I guessed that if he went out of the building, he would have gone through the back door which was the way we came in. I ran to the rear entrance out into the parking lot. No sign of N.
I was parked one street behind the medical building and so I ran to the car to see if he was waiting there for me. No N.
Now I was in full steam panic mode. My heart raced dangerously, I felt sweat running down my back. This type of disappearing act was unprecedented. Normally if he strays outside of my vantage it is not far, because he really wants me to see him and follow. For him to disappear completely – that had never happened before. And the possibilities for where he might go are endless.
I ran around to the front of the building and looked up and down main street. It was busy but the calm on the sidewalks betrayed N’s absence: people blithely strolled about, enjoying the downtown shops in glorious fall sun and drift of leaves. The presence of N would present an unmistakable disturbance in the bucolic rhythm of the day. He was not there.
After panic, the next stage gripped me: cold fear. I went back up to the doctor’s office. I announced in the reception area that I had lost N and I asked if he had returned. He had not. There were looks of shock, alarm, incomprehension on the faces of the people who waited in reception. Feeling alone and carrying the responsibility like a heavy weight inside me, I returned to the lobby. Cold fear. I felt that because I knew with a sick sense that he could be anywhere and wherever he was – he was alone. He could point himself in any direction and just go, without a second thought. Nobody could relate to him wherever he went, not at the doctor’s office, nor in the lobby, or on the street. I called 911 and told them I had lost N, I told them his name, I told them all about him, what he looked like, what he was wearing, what he understood and did not understand. The police issued an APB and instantly all units were on the lookout.
As I waited there in the lobby for the police, obviously panicked, a man with a thick Scottish accent noticed me and asked me if I was looking for “the wee lad”. I said yes -have you seen him? (had to be N, even though he was not wee). He told me that just a few minutes ago, he saw N go into the pharmacy and then he came out. He thought he saw N headed for the front door. OMG!!- I thanked him. I checked with the pharmacy – but they had no recollection of him coming into the store, so out the front door I went, desperately hoping he was not far. No N.
I remained on main street, frantic on my cell phone speaking to my husband in tears, when a lady with two children approached me. They asked me if I was looking for a disabled young man. The little girl said – we followed him all around the block! This lady and her children were kind and observant enough to recognize a problem – that the person should not have been where he was, alone. They walked behind him keeping an eye on him. They told me he had gone back inside the medical building. I thanked them sincerely, forever grateful, and went back in the lobby.
A lady in nurses attire was there, and I asked her if she had seen N. She said that when coming down the elevator she heard sounds of jumping. So we decided to go up the elevator and split the floors. She went to floor 2 and I went to floor 3. A quick survey of those floors turned up nothing. She went to floor 4 and I went back to the lobby, to check out the basement.
I called down the stairwell “N”!!!! “N”!!!!! No reply, no N Noises, no sounds of autism or developmental disability, no loud jumping. Then I heard the faintest echo of his voice. It was coming from the elevator shaft. I ran upstairs as the elevator door opened and there was N with the nurse. He was wandering around the 4th floor. It was not the floor where his appointment had been. Of course he would not know that. At the same time the police entered the lobby.
I cannot describe the relief that I felt at that moment. He was safe and other people cared. And the gratitude that I felt for the help of some bystander angels, and the police. I had an APB for Thanksgiving. And more.