You may (or may not) have heard about the gentleman who was lost in the mountains of Colorado last October. He started out on one of the trails traversing Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak, but failed to return come nightfall. The folks where he was staying reported him missing and from that point on, search and rescue teams began canvassing the mountainside, beginning with the areas where he was most likely to lose his way. From 10:00 PM until 3:00 AM, five team members searched in vain. Another team of three set out at 7:00 AM, scouring areas where hikers were known to easily lose the trail. And throughout the entire search and rescue effort, the team members called his cell phone . . . and texted him . . . and left voicemails . . . all in an effort to determine if he was, indeed, lost or even still alive. You know why he didn’t answer? It wasn’t because he didn’t have service. It wasn’t because he or his phone (or both) were dead.
He didn’t recognize the numbers . . . he didn’t recognize the numbers . . .
HE DIDN’T RECOGNIZE THE NUMBERS!!!!!
And yes. I know I’m yelling.
This man was lost for 24 hours in the mountains of Colorado . . . and he wouldn’t answer his phone because he didn’t know who was calling. Would it really have been the end of the world if it was about his car’s extended warranty or his school loans or his credit card account? No. If he’d answered just one of those calls, the search could have been shortened considerably and no one would have wasted hours and risked their lives hiking around in the dark looking for him.
Fortunately, most of us will never be so lost that search parties are formed for the sake of locating us. And hopefully, if we ever are, we’ll have enough sense to either call for help if we have service or answer our cell phone if it rings. Other times? Maybe not so much. We’re all tired of the spam calls and the untrustworthy folks who seem determined to gain our trust—and our money. So it might be understandable when we ignore those numbers that don’t ring a bell (pun intended).
But there’s at least one time when that habit needs to be broken.
In Tennessee, please don’t turn off your phone and don’t not answer any strange numbers if you’ve had a family member to die in a hospital or if they were taken to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. Because you see, in Tennessee hospitals are required to hold someone’s body for up to (please notice the “up to” part) 23 hours and 59 minutes (so just shy of a day) if they believe that person has the potential to be a donor. This gives Tennessee Donor Services the time they need to review that person’s medical history and, if they agree that donation is possible, to contact the family for permission. Which means if you turn your phone off because you’re absolutely exhausted or simply don’t want to be bothered . . . or you don’t answer because you don’t recognize the number . . . your loved one won’t be released to the funeral home for what could turn in to several hours. It can also delay the donation if you’re inclined to grant permission.
The gentleman in Colorado finally located the right trail and returned to his temporary place of abode around 9:30 the next morning, unaware that he’d been the subject of an extensive search involving over 32 man hours. Because he wouldn’t answer his phone. Because he didn’t recognize the numbers.
There are a few times in life when we just need to throw caution to the wind (a sarcasm font would come in handy right about here) and answer the phone. One of those might be if we’re lost in the mountains and it rings. And another might be if we’re the legal next of kin and Donor Services is on the line.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.