My husband, 11-year old son and I were driving home this evening, heading east along a busy city street. The quiet ride was broken by my son loudly saying “hey, that man’s passed out.” We looked in the direction he was pointing and sure enough, there was an unconscious man in the bus shelter. My husband turned the car around. I grabbed a pair of latex gloves that I keep in the car (I’m a nurse, after all) and went to go see if I could help.
There were two women at the bus shelter – the man’s distraught wife and someone waiting for the bus. The waiting woman said that someone should call 911 and disappeared. The distraught wife kept screaming.
The man was unconscious but had a strong pulse and was breathing normally. He kept fading in and out of consciousness, mostly unconsciousness. By now my husband had parked the car and called 911. I managed to calm the distraught wife long enough to ask her some questions about her husband and sent her to the street corner to wave down the firefighters (who always arrive first) and the ambulance.
It was obvious that the man and his wife were kinda rough. The wife said they were both alcoholics and the man had Hepatitis C. They were the kind of people most of us move away from when we pass them on the street. For the next few minutes, I was alone with a mostly unresponsive man while his wife waited on the street corner for the ambulance and my husband went to reassure our son.
Now, here’s what’s so sad. Not that an alcoholic man was unconscious in a bus shelter and his inebriated wife was screaming. What I found incredibly sad was that no one asked me if I needed help. No one stepped into that bus shelter to see what was going on. People stopped to look and either drove or walked away. A bystander kept a safe distance and watched the scene. But no one other than my husband and myself offered assistance.
I know that sometimes people with the best intentions freeze in a medical emergency. Not everyone carries latex gloves in their car. Not everyone is a nurse/doctor/medical person. Not everyone knows first aid. Not everyone can stop, even if they want to.
It’s presumptuous to think that he passed out from alcohol. Maybe. But what if he was having a heart attack? Or some other medical emergency?
Have we become so desensitized to other people’s sufferings that we don’t respond? We hear about this sort of thing all the time – people not coming to the aid of someone who’s in danger or hurt. I don’t have any great insights or any answers but I found it troubling that people just walked by.
All I know is, being human means stepping outside of ourselves when the need arises and putting someone else first, even if it’s uncomfortable, especially if it’s uncomfortable. You don’t need to know first aid. You don’t even have to touch him if you’re concerned about germs. Something as simple as calling 911 and staying until the ambulance shows up is enough. Just being present is enough. Just saying “I’m here” is enough. Please, if you see someone in need, be the one who stops. Be the Good Samaritan.