Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Just do something

"Well, at least she doesn't seem to be in a lot of pain." —My mind at approximately 5:10 p.m. this evening, as I stood awkwardly on the side of West 57th Street, watching an elderly woman's blood mixing with rain water on the pavement.

Sorry, I know I've been gone for a while, and I do have things I'd like to say about graffiti, but today's one of those rare days where I have to diverge ever so slightly....

Whenever I read a story about someone either being hit by a car, or hit by falling debris, or just generally in distress, I wonder, "I wonder what it's like to be near that? If I were present, would I be one of the people who rushes to help, or would I freeze up, adopt a cold-hearted "It's not my problem" attitude and carry on, or perhaps whip out the old iPhone and gawk? In the moment when I had to make a split-second decision, would it be the right one?

This evening, I left work on 57th Street and almost immediately upon stepping down on the sidewalk, I saw a very large old woman slip while attempting to get into the back of a livery cab, and fall flat on her back. I sprinted over to her, as did a student  worker from my office who only moments earlier I had wordlessly ridden down the elevator with. We'd never spoken, and I don't know his name (he works in another department), but we and another guy immediately tried to help her to her feet. We struggled to lift her, but on my count of three, we managed to get her back up, and for a second, it seemed like she might be able to get herself back in the open door.


Instead, her right leg buckled, the three of us lost our grip, and down she went again. We kept her from banging her head on the pavement again, but when I glanced over at her ankle, now on the other side of the car door, I saw it bent in a way I'd never seen before. Another bystander asked us if she should call 911. Yeah, I said, that's a good idea.

So the four of us and the driver of the car hung around for awhile, waiting for the paramedics to come, rain drops pelting us from above, and the crush of humanity that is Midtown rush hour pulsing around—cars and trucks on one side, pedestrians on the other. One woman gave us a large umbrella to shield us from the rain, and a cop joined us for good measure. We knew we couldn't move her at all, but she also made it clear she didn't want to lay flat either, even though another bystander offered to put their jacket on the pavement for her to lay on. So the three of us stood there, awkwardly bent down, with our hands on her back, keeping her upright.

While we were waiting, I felt obliged to ask, "How does it feel? "I can't feel anything," she said. It was then that I noticed that her ankle was already bandaged, and there was blood coming out. It wasn't a lot, but there was enough that when it mixed with the rain, I could see traces of it flow past my feet in the stream running alongside the curb, destined for the storm drain.
"Well, that's probably a good thing," I said for some reason.

Then, just like that, the paramedics were there, thanking us, and telling us they'd take it from there. A flat board was swiftly retrieved, and the professionals took over for the amateurs. Standing next to one of the cops, I remarked, "I think she broke her ankle." "Dude, that whole thing is GONE," he replied. I felt ill.

I lingered a bit more, and tried to find the student worker, but he'd already taken off, as had the other guy. There was no need to stick around, so I without so much as a goodbye to the woman whose name I never learned, I headed home.

It took about half my subway ride home for the adrenaline to wear off, and I found myself strangely depressed. On the one hand, I was happy that I was able to help, but saddened that in the end, the effort didn't really amount to much; From the looks of it, I'm sure this woman is going to be in the hospital for quite awhile, and probably in a wheelchair after that. She was clearly beyond our help.

Then there was the second guessing. Should we have actually picked her up in the first place? She didn't tell us not to, but what if her falling the second time was what actually caused her ankle to break? And why the hell didn't we do a better job of holding her up? It's been suggested to me that in situations like this, (old, obese), a person usually breaks something, and then falls, so it's very possible that we did nothing wrong. But still...

I'm never going to know the answer to these questions, and I'll just have to be happy with my capacity to help others. Still, I now no longer fear that I don't have it in me to do the right thing. Now I fear that when someone is in danger, I may do something and make it worse.

What a weird, weird day...