Roommate has sudden medical issues, how to cope financially/emotionally?
February 5, 2014 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Asking this on behalf of a close friend: "What do I do when a person I do not want to be close to is dying, or believes they are dying, in close quarters?" Her roommate has diabetes and has developed significant kidney issues, and is very upset and scared. Complicating factors: my friend expects that the roommate will be unable to pay his share of rent and bills, and she does not have the means to cover them on her own. Also, she has very sound reasons for not being emotionally close to him.
posted by NMcCoy to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Call his parents.
posted by quincunx at 12:32 AM on February 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with quin, get this person's family involved. This is not her burden to bear.
posted by OneHermit at 12:38 AM on February 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

If you cannot reach the parents, call an ambulance. Then call family.
posted by zia at 1:28 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have any other information? This is worded kind of strangely and I'm not sure I understand what's going on. I mean, shouldn't this person be in the hospital if he thinks he's dying? Why would your friend not call an ambulance if they think he's dying?

I'd worry about making sure he doesn't die in the apartment first, because that's going to be pretty unpleasant. Then I'd contact his family. Sadly, unless the family agrees to help out with bills, your roommate may be out of luck getting his family to pay his bills.
posted by i feel possessed at 5:11 AM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds heartless, but your friend needs to speak with her roommate ASAP.

"Roomie, I certainly hope that you've attended to everything you need to become healthy and well. That said, we need to discuss the nuts and bolts of our living situation. As you know, although I wish things were different, ain't nothing going on but the rent, and if you're going to be out of work or leaving, I need to make arrangements to get someone in here who can pay rent and utilities. What do you need from me now, to help you get better? Is there anyone I can call or anything I can do? Are you going to be able to pay your half of the bills, or should I be looking for a new roommate?"

It absolutely sucks, and it would be nice if we lived in a world that would forgive us for a couple of months when we have a health crisis. But we don't.

Now if the roommate is employed, it's possible that he'll have short or long term disability insurance that will keep him in the place, and your friend's concerns will be for naught.

The key to this is to be empathetic and dispassionate. "I know it's upsetting, and I need to have concrete answers because both you and I have an obligation to the landlord."

Questions that indicate that your friend is concerned, without being involved are, "This must be terrible for you, who can I call for you?" "Have you discussed this with a social worker at the hospital?"

It's okay not to be involved. You don't owe anyone anything, especially if you're in a business relationship, as some roommate situations are.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on February 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds more like the roommate is seriously ill in a way that could impact their lifespan, not that they are actively dying in the moment.

Kidney disease is common in people with diabetes. Depending on the stage of kidney disease, this could mean that the person needs diaysis or a kidney transplant. Some brief info here from the American Heart Association.

On preview - I agree with Ruthless Bunny. Be direct and deflect involvement.
posted by jeoc at 6:55 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming he's not dying right there in front of your friend, but thinks he's going to die in the next few weeks/months?

He's right, diabetics with kidney disease have a horribly short lifespan. If he's just been diagnosed he almost certainly won't be dying imminently, but he's right to be frightened and upset, it is bad news. However it sounds like he has just been told the news himself and doesn't have the full information or doesn't completely understand what this means for him yet.

Peopley usually live for quite a few years with dialysis or a transplant. This is also a frightening prospect, but AFAIK dialysis entitles you to medicaid so he won't have to pay for it himself (I'm not based in the US but there's a lot of discussion about perverse incentives to go on dialysis early in the states because at that point you can get free care for everything else).

Does he have a nephrologist? If not, make him make an appointment to see one. The kidney patient association might be helpful:

There will be local branches who do patient education and support, google them. And yes, tell him to tell any family or friends so that they can support him too.

Although you should symptathise I don't think that you need to take on all of his problems yourself. Lots of people have medical and financial problems, his are not your responsibility if he's just a passing acquaintance. What would you do if he just couldn't pay his bills, without any of this kidney stuff? Do that. Personally I would try to move out myself, you could try asking him to leave but if he says no you can't easily make him. Look into how to break your lease.
posted by tinkletown at 7:04 AM on February 5, 2014

Does he have workplace benefits / leave of absence benefits?

Does he have a girlfriend?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a someone in charge of this person's case at the hospital who can help them find out what disability funding they have as far as expenses and housing? I think there is usually a liaison for that sort of thing. I think I'd find out if that's the case, then talk to the roommate and say, 'I'm very sorry for your situation but I need to talk to you about some practical matters as far as finances. Can you go talk to person X at the hospital and find out what you should be planning for as far as housing aid, in case you cannot make rent here?'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:55 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just move out and leave the lease in their name.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:19 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The roommate most likely qualifies for SSI or SSDI (if in the US) but the process to get it can take quite awhile (like 1-3 years) unless he is specifically diagnosed with end-stage renal (kidney) disease (ESRD) requiring chronic dialysis. If he is he gets what is called Presumptive Disability that starts MUCH quicker (within a few months...but may be quicker. I can't remember the time limits.). But it depends on where he is at medically, and his lawyer. (Lawyers will do these cases with a contract that states they get a certain percentage of the back pay).

Also he may qualify for housing programs/rental assistance. That is something a social worker would know. In addition, depending on if he is employed he might get something through his employer.

The only way to know is to ask. Be proactive, your roommate doesn't need to wait four months to find out from the LL that he is way behind in rent, and wants payment immediately or face an eviction. If you are concerned he may be lying, ask the landlord directly if rent is up to date.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:58 AM on February 5, 2014

I think a social worker could be extremely helpful. A call to the American Diabetes Association would be able to fill your friend in on the typical progression of disease -and kidney failure is one of the leading sequelae of diabetes. Is the roommate going to start dialysis? If so, he will have automatic access to a social worker who will be part of the dialysis center staff. The SW will sort out insurance (paid by Medicaid as a default. It's the one medical service that is always paid for, and the SW is tasked to make this happen). This will probably make him automatically elegible for other services, like Welfare and food stamps and free transportation to/from medical appointments. General information your friend can probably glean from the American Diabetes Association and the Kidney Association can offer encouraging information she can tell her roommate. The immediate situation might not be as dire as it sounds. Connecting with a social worker, though, is probably not something your friend can do without the explicit permission of her roommate. It sounds like there is not a lot of trust between them - maybe a family member of the roommate would be willing to take this on.

Unless he is being considered for a kidney transplant, his doctor's office is unlikely to be able to offer social worker access.- Social workers are wonderful people whose mission is to find and coordinate resources, but they are expensive and few medical offices, even those attached to academic medical centers, have them for out-patients. On the other hand, if he is being referred by his nephrologist to a kidney transplant program, they are required to have Social Workers as part of the transplant team. So two possible ways to access social work and potential medical and financial stability.

The roommate may actually be over-reacting to his diagnosis and the prospect of dialysis. Yes, diabetes and kidney disease can and do lead to death, but not usually acutely in the absence of serious cardiac disease.
posted by citygirl at 9:05 AM on February 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

does he have short and/or long term disability through his employer?
posted by KogeLiz at 2:32 PM on February 5, 2014

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