This is what happened to me today. I was meeting my friend in the city centre. As I was waiting for him, I noticed a woman and a man on the other side of the street. The man couldn’t walk properly- he clearly had issues with taking a single step straight, was very wobbly on his feet, but somehow managed to get to a bus stop with the woman. The woman was trying to give him a cigarette, but he wasn’t really able to get it off her. He dropped his plastic carrier bag too as seemed not to be able to hold anything either. From where I was standing, he looked potentially highly intoxicated- booze, drugs- no idea. The woman left him at that bus stop a moment later. He then started losing his balance, was trying to prop himself by holding the bench at the bus stop. At that point I felt turmoil inside and started having conflicting thoughts: should I ring for an ambulance/police or not? Should I just run to the Children’s hospital which was several meters away and ask for help there or not? I looked around- no one seemed to be doing anything and didn’t look even slightly concerned- people just watched. As I watched him losing balance even more- by then he hunched over the seat- I decided I wasn’t going to leave him like that. I didn’t want to run to that hospital as didn’t want to lose the sight of him, so I pull out my mobile and rang emergency services and asked for an ambulance. As I was on a phone with the ambulance service, few people approached us to… look. Some of them were homeless people who seemed to know of that guy. Some gave me his nickname and told me he was known to smoke ‘mamba’. I was relaying all the info to the ambulance service. A coffee shop worker (this bus stop was in front of a coffee shop) came out and gave me a leaflet, so I could provide the ambulance with the postcode. I kept asking any person who was near me whether they knew the guy etc. I was having rather challenging time talking to the ambulance dispatch lady as she was asking me questions I wasn’t able to answer, i.e. whether he was known to have diabetes, how old he was etc. I felt I was losing my patience with her, although I understood why she was doing it- she also then explained she needed to give the ambulance crew as much info as possible. But I think I know what it was- I was feeling scared. It was strange to have made such decision and although I felt it was the right thing to do, I was scared that I wasn’t handling the situation well enough and felt a bit embarrassed about it. I didn’t approach the guy straight away when he was still with the woman and didn’t ask if he was ok (although I was thinking about it), but I was scared. And I was thinking that I should’ve been more decisive, more assertive in my approach to the situation, but I wasn’t. Yet, I made that call. And I feel it was the right thing to do despite some of the homeless guys saying that the guy was wasting people’s time and resources as he was known to have been smoking ‘mamba’. But I just couldn’t let it go. It was him hunching over that bench at the bus stop that made me really worried- what if he fell over and hit his head on the pavement? What if he fell over, fell asleep and choked on his own vomit should he started vomiting? I just couldn’t not do anything. I saw my friend passing me by in his car, but I could only wave to him and indicated I was on the phone. The ambulance came and a paramedic took over- I checked with her if I could go now. Left my phone number and name with the dispatch person and left. My friend managed to park his car and came to the scene too. I told him what had happened. Then noticed how much I was shaking, mostly inside. We talked about helping people who seemed to look intoxicated- when is the right time to help, when is time to let go and accept their decisions? I don’t know the answer- I don’t know if one,correct answer even exists- I think all depends on that particular moment and situation we face. And I think thinking about personal safety isn’t a bad thing either.
When I was chatting with my friend in the car, I suddenly had this realisation. Only few weeks ago I went to Warsaw, Poland. It was the first time I was going somewhere new, so I left earlier to ensure I had enough time to find the place. As I was in a metro station, just about to insert my ticket and get onto the platforms, I heard this scream behind me. I turned around and saw two women by the escalators- one was on the floor, clearly having fallen down. I looked for a moment and realised that the other woman was struggling to get the one on the floor up. I abandoned my plan of getting on a train and ran to help. I ended up dragging the woman off the escalators as she couldn’t get up having one of her feet still on the moving stairs. She hit and cut her head, she was bleeding, but she was conscious and able to talk to us. I could also smell alcohol on her. We took her aside and I said we would need to ring for an ambulance as she had hit her head. But the woman didn’t want to hear about it and was begging us not to. We tried to convince her that she needed medical attention. I asked the other helper if she could do it as I didn’t have a Polish mobile phone. We managed to convince the injured woman to give us a telephone number to her estrange husband who could potentially help her. Another passer by arrived. She wasn’t as diplomatic as we were- she properly told the injured woman off for not letting us ring the ambulance! I admired her for coming across so decisive and self-assured in her actions. After a short update, the third woman rang for the ambulance. In meantime I was dealing with the injured woman and also her husband who was then on the phone and wanted to speak to me. Luckily the metro workers arrived with the first aid kit and having assured me they would stay with the woman till the ambulance arrived, I could go on my way.
I thought about that incident in Poland in the car today. I said to my friend that maybe I had to come across that guy today and made decisions on my own-and much faster than I had done in Warsaw. Maybe that was my lesson for today. And I thought that it was ok to feel scared as I was taking decisions for another person and I was on my own.
I look at this today’s situation now and at the moment it feels a bit surreal. But it still feels like I’ve done the right thing.
I always had this urge to save everyone, ensure they’re not hurt, shield them (yeah, I did it too- literally!) from harm even when I sacrificed myself or my well-being. I know I’m unable to save the whole world. But where and when I do stop?Should we help strangers even if they don’t want us to help? When do we draw a line and let go and let them face consequences of their actions? Are there really straightforward answers to those questions?