Round Rock, TX -- Officer Sean Davies is still stunned at the magnitude of it all.
"I've never seen anything like it before," he said. "We've had our share of sickness at my house, but it's never come to that."
"That" is the situation that Officer Davies encountered yesterday at the home of the Darwin family. Concerned friends had been unable to contact Mrs. Darwin for several days and had telephoned the police. After attempts to raise her, police finally entered the home and encountered a sight that still makes witnesses shudder.
The house was completely filled with wadded-up tissues.
Police used an industrial vacuum to clear path into the house and began searching for Mrs. Darwin, 27, and her two daughters, 3-year-old Noogs and 2-year-old Babs. The trio was finally located in an upstairs bedroom, where they had been desperately trying to make their way to a window. All three were alive, though weak and suffering from a lack of oxygen.
The family had been fighting runny noses for weeks, but things apparently went downhill after Mr. Darwin had to leave town to visit his family in Los Angeles.
"The bottom layer of tissues was two weeks old," Officer Davies stated. "It was almost like looking at rock strata. Our experts could date each layer."
Dr. John Maxwell at Round Rock Memorial Hospital said he'd never seen a case like this before.
"The children had ear infections, and Mrs. Darwin was suffering from flu-like symptoms. The combined tissue usage was simply too great to be contained by trashcans, and so started to overflow. By the time Mrs. Darwin realized the dangerous situation she was in, it was too late."
"You hear of cases like this," the doctor said, shaking his head. "I'd hoped I'd never have to see one myself."
Tissue pile-up is a rare but often deadly side effect when an entire family comes down with nasal ailments. Nostrologist Anne Hernandez of the Nasal Institute of America said that her group has been working for years to educate the public about the dangers of not throwing away tissues in a timely fashion."
"You get sick, you're weak, your aim is bad, and you miss the trash can when you toss your tissue. But if someone doesn't pick them up, eventually you're faced with a carpet of tissues that can impair movement."
She compares trying to move through tissue pile-up to treading water.
"A person already weakened by a cold might not have the energy to wade through the tissues and so just stay in bed. This compounds the problem because then more tissues are added to the pile. People don't know that help is out there."
Kleenex executives were saddened by the affair.
"When you come that close to losing one of your largest customers, you realize that you have to develop new strategies. We're working now on a tissue that self-destructs after two days on the floor. Testing has been positive, though the process can scorch small pets," said a company spokesman.
Mrs. Darwin, resting at the hospital, was only able to say "Thag you bery much" to her rescuers. Police are seeking a nasal translator so they can interview her more thoroughly. Mr. Darwin was unable to be reached for comment.