Hospital, VA help piece together clues about mentally ill man’s past
POLSON, Mont. – He wandered into St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson on Oct. 15.
The man was clearly confused, and obviously homeless. He was cold, dirty, hungry, unshaven and disheveled.
He had no identification on him, and often made little sense.
But he was unfailingly polite and kind. He seemed to want to know if anyone could help him find his sister, who he said lived “near a ski hill.”
St. Joseph emergency room technician Gloria Quiver wasn’t sure what to do about Orin Storrud, the stranger who showed up in the emergency room on Oct. 15.
“Orin had absolutely nothing,” Quiver says. “Not a penny to his name. He looked homeless. He talked to himself a bit, like he was having a conversation with somebody else.”
She got him food from the hospital cafeteria, because she could tell he probably hadn’t eaten in a while.
Police were called, and ran a background check on the name Quiver had coaxed out of the man, but it came up empty.
No one by that name was wanted, nor had been reported missing.
“We couldn’t check him into the ER, because he wasn’t hurt,” Quiver says, “and without an ID, you can’t stay at a homeless shelter. It was raining out, and cold and getting dark, so when I got off shift I got him a blanket and pillow and told him he could stay in our waiting area.”
When Quiver got to work in the ER the next morning, Storrud was still there.
Quiver consulted with nursing supervisor Annie Gray, who called in hospital chaplain John Payne.
“We decided we should look for his sister,” Quiver says, but the three of them had little information to go on.
Storrud told them his sister’s name was Mona.
“But he gave a married name for her last name,” Quiver says. “Gregory, or something like that.”
And he told them Mona lived near a ski hill “in the Pacific Northwest.”
It was, it turned out, information that was more than a quarter-century old, from a time Mona was married and lived in Chewelah, Wash., home of 49 Degrees North Ski Resort.
But it was just enough.
Internet searches revealed no phone number for a Mona Gregory who fit the description, but four times they returned information suggesting who they might be searching for was … a Mona Storrud in Washington state.
“They all wanted money for more details,” Quiver says of the Internet sites, “but we just called information. We found her in Deer Park, Washington.”
Just a week before her phone rang with the call from the folks at St. Joseph, Mona Storrud says she had a dream in which her late father told her it was “time to get the family back together again.”
“It was so bizarre,” says Mona, who broke down crying when she got the call asking if she was Orin’s sister.
“I thank God so much for those people in Montana and what they did for him,” she says. “I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to find him.”
Turns out Orin, a rodeo bull rider in his younger days, had been missing for 14 years.
“My biggest fear was him freezing to death someplace, and no one knowing who he was,” Mona says. “Every time they pulled a body out of the Spokane River I checked the description to see if it sounded like Orin.”
Orin had been in and out of his family’s life for long stretches over the past 30 years, ever since returning from Germany, where he was stationed for much of his four years in the U.S. Army.
But the last anyone had seen or heard from Orin was 1997. Mona had been searching for him since.
There was no missing persons report, because Orin was an adult who was free to come and go – even to disappear – as he pleased.
And, while the former Army sergeant had shown some signs that concerned his sister the last time she had seen him, they were nowhere near as pronounced as the ones in the brother who returned to her about four weeks ago.
‘Catching up a bit’
“The vacuum cleaner scares the dickens out of him,” Mona says. “He has major anxiety, major tics.”
Orin talked to himself a lot, and all night long, after he got to Spokane. It was clear, Mona says, that he was hearing voices.
Whether it was the voices, or just his emaciated body telling him to do so, Orin has been a human vacuum cleaner at the dining room table.
“He scarfs food down like he doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from,” Mona says, “and he stuffs extra bread in his pockets. I don’t know how we’re going to get him out of that. I had to hide the grandkids’ Halloween candy from him because he needs protein, not sugar.”
Her granddaughters all loved Orin “like a shiny new toy,” Mona says, and “hugged him up, but that panicked him. We had to tell them they needed to back off a bit. He likes to talk to people one-on-one, but larger groups make him nervous.”
Over the phone, Orin tells a reporter he’s not sure who found who in this story.
“I managed to find her,” he says of Mona, “or she found me. We haven’t worked that out yet. We’re still catching up a bit.”
Mona, who is unemployed, shares a house with a daughter in Deer Park, north of Spokane, and cares for her grandchildren while her daughter is at work.
“I told them I’m out of work and don’t have any money” when the people at St. Joseph called her about Orin, Mona says, “but I said I can get him help if you can get him to Spokane.”
Orin spent a second night at the Polson hospital, and employees there chipped in the money to buy the polite stranger who had wandered into the emergency room a bus ticket for the next day.
Payne, who is also pastor at journeyBe, a progressive Christian denomination in Polson, took Orin to the church to shower, and bought him a fresh set of clothes before putting him on the bus. Payne also tipped the driver and asked him to keep an eye on Orin and make sure he didn’t wander off at one of the stops between Polson and Spokane.
Mona’s daughter Carrie picked up Orin at the bus depot in Spokane at 1 a.m., and called her mother on a cellphone to say her long-lost uncle had been easy to pick out of the crowd.
“He looks just like grandpa,” she said.
After a couple of days to let him get used to his new surroundings, Mona took Orin to the Spokane Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“They were so wonderful,” Mona says. “I mean, Orin had no ID, no means of support, and doesn’t remember where he’s been – and I have no proof that he served in the Army, except for my word.
“The VA saw how confused he was,” she goes on. “They looked up his military records. They asked him if he’d like a place to stay for a while that had food and a TV, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ He’s so agreeable, so polite. Then they told him he’d be admitted to the psych ward and asked if he’d be OK with that.”
“Oh, that’s interesting,” Orin announced again.
Her brother always loved to read, Mona says, but hadn’t been able to for years because he’d lost his glasses.
“They had new glasses for him in 24 hours,” she says, and when Orin returned home after two weeks in the psych ward, he’d also been diagnosed.
The Army veteran suffers from schizophrenia, a complex mental disorder typified by auditory hallucinations, paranoia or bizarre delusions and disorganized speech and thought processes. It makes it difficult for a person to think logically, tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, and behave normally in social situations.
“They said it’s the kind of schizophrenia,” Mona says, “that can’t be helped.”
Delving into the past
But the VA obtained a copy of Orin’s birth certificate, a new DD Form 214 documenting his service in the military, and a military photo ID. It is setting him up to receive Social Security disability benefits, plus the medical and dental care he earned through his time in the Army, and he’s seeing a VA psychiatrist once a month.
“They’ve got him on medication for his anxiety and nervousness,” Mona says, “and it’s shut up the voices in his head so he can sleep at night.”
The Storruds grew up in Butte, two of six children belonging to Art and Elvella Storrud.
Mona, 55, is the only daughter. She says she and Orin, a year her junior, were extremely close growing up.
Their parents met while both were stationed in Nebraska. Art was a corporal in the Army Air Corps and Elvella a sergeant in the Army – “The only time my mom outranked him,” Mona says with a laugh.
The family moved to Butte when Mona and Orin were just reaching school age.
“It’s where Dad decided to park after retiring from the military after 30, 35 years,” she says.
All the Storrud boys served in the military.
“I’m the only child who didn’t,” Mona says, “but some of the other girls in our family, cousins of mine, did. We had people in the Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Army – we covered it all.”
Orin, she says, enlisted in the Army right after graduating from Butte High School, and just as the Vietnam War was coming to a close, so he didn’t have to see combat there.
‘A big jigsaw puzzle’
The phone call last month solved the mystery of where Orin Storrud was.
Now the mystery is where he’s been. How did he survive the last 14 years?
“Probably on the kindness of strangers,” Mona says. “And probably because he’s so kind himself. Everybody loves him.”
She believes he’s probably wandered around northwest Montana, the Idaho Panhandle and Eastern Washington for years, perhaps supporting himself doing odd jobs.
The last time she saw him, in 1997, was after their father’s death. It took her three months to locate him that time, and she accomplished it only after taking out personal ads asking if anyone knew of his whereabouts.
“It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle, and this will be the hardest one I’ve ever done. …
“Between the chaplain and ER people in Montana, and the VA over here, they saved his life,” his sister says, crying softly. “I wish I could tell the people at the hospital in person that they saved a man’s life. I am so grateful to God for them and the VA.”
“It’s the least we could do,” Quiver says. “I didn’t know he was a vet when he first came in, but we talked about that possibility, that maybe the VFW could help if he was. To me, Orin gave his life for all of us by serving us. At least, that’s the way I look at it.”
Mona’s greatest worry now is that the easily distracted Orin will again wander off. She’s asking neighbors in Deer Park if they can come up with odd jobs to keep her brother busy.
“He really likes to help people,” Mona says. “Right now he believes he’s helping me with my grandkids. I just hope he stays through the winter at least, so I know he’s warm. If he wants to wander after that, fine, but I hope by then I’ve gotten him to understand that he needs to let us know where he’s wandering, so we can keep track of him.”
Before that, however, there’s one more meeting that will take place.
Elvella Storrud has asked Mona several times to find Orin. She hasn’t seen her son in approximately 20 years.
She’s getting close to 90 years old now, is in a Spokane-area nursing home and suffers from stroke-related dementia.
“She thinks my daughter is me, that I’m my grandmother, and she’ll probably think Orin is my dad,” Mona says.
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