‘Accidental inventor’ devises welcome relief for seniors seeking to shuffle off this mortal coil
You’ve seen the commercials on TV and chuckled at their countless parodies on YouTube; a senior citizen, prone and helpless on the floor, cries out for assistance. Helpless, that is, unless they’ve had the presence of mind to order the miracle medallion that, with the merest touch of a button, instantly summons emergency medical personnel to their aid.
“Miracle medallion” indeed, but many whose fingers — and spirits — have become calloused from fumbling for that button one too many times, seek a drastically different form of relief from their pain.
Wainright Harle experienced that very situation first-hand. Harle’s aunt Esther, then age 98, had used her medical alert device to summon help no less than 17 times before she turned to her nephew in desperation.
Auntie Esther’s Dilemma. “Auntie Esther was at the end of her tether,” Harle, a sous chef at Bert’s Lobstah House in Wiscasset, Maine, said. “She begged me to remove the batteries from her alerter thing, because she just didn’t have the will power to resist pressing the button whenever she fell. Of course, my conscience wouldn’t let me. Besides, except for a having lousy sense of balance, Auntie Esther is a tough old bird.”
Still, Auntie Esther’s dilemma set Harle wondering whether there was a way to help her, and others like her, take control of their situations and make a dignified exit when they’d simply had enough.
A ‘Eureka!’ Moment. The solution finally came to Harle, literally like a bolt from the blue, while he was administering electric shocks to live lobsters at Bert’s Lobstah House, using a device called a Crustastun, a machine invented in response to a public outcry for a humane means of preparing the tasty sea creatures.
“It was my ‘Eureka!’ moment,” he recalled. “I thought that if I could come up with a human scale version of the Crustastun, seniors in a similar situation to Auntie Esther could at last take control of their lives. Or deaths.”
Leveraging his experience at Bert’s with his enthusiasm for all things electronic — “As a kid, I thought of Radio Shack as my second home,” he proudly admitted — Harle took soldering gun in hand and fashioned his first working prototype.
He admitted that the result was crude, to say the least. “My first attempt, which I dubbed @ Death’s Doormat, consisted of a kiddie pool filled with salt water, a roll of chain link fencing and ten 12-Volt truck batteries wired in series,” he said.
“It sorta worked in Alpha testing with cows,” Harle observed, “but when I performed a non-lethal Beta test using Auntie Esther as a subject I realized that you’d need to be awfully spry just to climb into the pool, folks not likely to be in my target demographic. What I needed to move the project forward was a way to miniaturize my invention. What I really needed was a second ‘Eureka!’ moment.”
A Second ‘Eureka!’ Moment. Harle’s second “Eureka!” moment came while he was watching an episode of the hit TV series 24: Live Another Day. “Jack Bauer was using a specially designed high-powered Taser to enhansively interrogate a suspected terrorist,” he recalled.
I thought, ‘why not marry the deadly stunning power of the Crustastun with the miniaturized circuitry of the Taser to create, well, to create whatever I was going to name my invention in a handy, easy-to-use package that could be used by customers of virtually age, mental state and physical condition.”
An Invention, a Name, and a Choice. After months of exhaustive testing and refinement, Harle is finally ready to market his device to the general public where permitted by applicable “death with dignity” laws and what he terms “shortsighted” regulatory hurdles.
Dubbed Ded/Alert — Harle proudly credits his Auntie Esther with suggesting the name — the device consists of a triple density lithium ion battery, ultra high-capacitance discharge circuitry and a spring-loaded nano-needle fashioned of high strength titanium alloy.
About the size of White Castle burger, the entire device is contained in an attractive high-impact polymer case suspended about the neck by an attractive raw silk lanyard. “I predict that Ded/Alert will be the must-have fashion accessory for seniors,” Harle enthused.
Controlled by just three buttons — a red frowney face, a yellow smiley face and a plain oval — Ded/Alert couldn’t be simpler to use. “Pressing the Frowney Face button produces a soothing hum that calms the user while the charging circuitry builds and delivers a wallop designed to euthanize the equivalent of 100 five pound lobsters,” Harle explained.
To accommodate feedback from focus groups, and to head off a potential firestorm of public criticism, Harle has also added a critical safety feature to Ded/Alert. “Pressing the Smiley Face button summons help, the way many alerter devices do,” he said. “That gives folks a choice, and who the heck could be against choice these days?”
And what about that oval? “We let folks think that it’s a Cancel button, in case they change their mind,” he confided. “But until I figure out how to add ‘cancel’ circuitry it just gives them something to do until Ded/Alert has done its thing.”
A Dignified Option. An optional Ded/Alert feature of which Harle is particularly proud has been branded Nex/Pire “Once Ded/Alert monitoring circuitry confirms the cessation of life, Nex/Pire pauses a respectful moment of silence before Tweeting the funeral home and up to two next of kin of the customer’s choice,” he elaborated. “I think it adds a nice dignified touch and a sense of closure to the process.”
What does Harle’s Auntie Esther think of the result of all his time and effort? “Sadly, Auntie passed as the result of a skydiving accident on her 99th birthday,” Harle said while failing to hold back a tear. “But hey, I can think of worse ways to go.”
George Point is a freelance writer who lives and works in Lawrenceville. He served for the first time this year as a reader for U.S. 1’s Summer Fiction issue. He notes: “The Crustatun is an actual product. Sometimes truth is stranger than summer fiction.”