I’m feeling rebuffed after repeatedly having my offers of help turned down. It’s proving challenging being a Good Samaritan in a world not necessarily wanting help. I may have to start tactically avoiding situations where medical assistance is needed – let’s just hope Brown Owl doesn’t track me down to reclaim my Community Action or First Aid badge.
As the youngest of four, my default position in the past has always been to assume that someone older and wiser will jump in if a crisis arises. If your older siblings spend your formative years drumming into you that they know best; that they get priority seating in the old family Volvo; that they deserve first dibs at meals times and that they will use you to change the channels on the TV because a remote control hasn’t yet been invented, then it’s unlikely that you will arrive a confident first on the scene in an emergency and trust in your own initiative.
This has backfired on them in the past. Once left ‘home alone’ with one of my older sisters, she pleaded for my help after cutting her finger badly while preparing my lunch (I didn’t do much cooking either). Not being able to stem the bleeding and not being able to get hold of either parent, she asked me to run round to a neighbour’s house to get some help. My response? ‘I’m much too shy to knock on their door, you’ll have to go yourself’. You’d think at this point I would at least offer to apply pressure to the wound and show some Savalon care. Not a bit of it. Turns out that I’m a bit squeamish in that direction. I vaguely remember handing out some encouraging noises and kitchen roll – backwards, over my shoulder – so that I didn’t have to personally assess the damage.
Fast forward some 50 years and I’m trying my hardest to make amends. Strangely my siblings rarely ask me to mop a fevered brow these days, but I have had occasion recently to make an emergency call.
Driving to 6 am Boot Camp the other morning, I encounter what looks like two people weaving around in the central carriageway. Being a woman of the moment and an avid documentary consumer, I sigh at this ‘obvious’ use of Spice, assuming I’m seeing some blatant zombie after- effects. Looking closer, I realise it is in fact a young man trying to help an older woman to her feet – she has fallen in the middle of the road and has blood pouring from her forehead. No more Mrs Squeamish, I pull in; I do not drive by.
We help the lady to my side of the road and I ask the young man to call 999 as I’ve left my phone in the car. Sadly I’ve met my nemesis for he replies, ‘I’ve got to get to work and my bus is coming, I’ll leave her with you’. I give him my best teacher look and tell him to get dialling for his bus is not yet in sight.
Meanwhile our patient is finding her voice:
‘I’m off to get cigarettes,’ she tells me, pulling her arm away.
‘There are no shops open, lovely, let’s get that head wound looked at first,’
‘Sod off,’ she responds and sits down hard on the pavement.
In mid conversation with the emergency services, my young assistant looks up to see his bus on the horizon and shouts at me to give my own mobile number to the call handler. He disappears and I sense relief on his part. Where are my siblings when I need them? I run back to my car to get my phone. My impatient patient tries to make a run for it while my back is turned. She makes it to a bus shelter and is asking me for a roll up when the ambulance service call me back.
“No I don’t have any pets to keep away from the patient, and no I don’t have a warm blanket to keep the patient warm. I’d love to keep the patient perfectly still but she keeps wandering off. Yes, I realise that this call is being recorded and yes, I realise that if the patient vomits I must put her into a recovery position. No, the wound is no longer ‘open’, so if you don’t mind I won’t put my hand over it to stem the bleeding. She’s called Sonia, apparently. How old? I’d say early 70’s’
Sonia corrects me, “I’m bloody 56 and I need a cigarette’.
Sonia is not happy with me and Sonia does not want my help. She tells me she’s not going to wait for the ‘sodding’ ambulance. I try to engage her in conversation while we wait. I’m usually good at small talk, but she’s sulking; I’m clearly unforgiven for the age blunder.
‘I love your sequinned shoes Sonia. Thank goodness you thought to put on a coat before setting off on your shopping trip. Have you had a little drink, Sonia? Where do you live? Is it far?
Sonia is bored with me, refuses to engage and decides to vacate the bus shelter again to go in search of nicotine. I can see lights going on in the flats behind us but no-one comes out to help. I’m getting a taste of my childhood medicine.
I call 999 again and tell them I’m losing this fight. The call handler this time is superb. He tells me he will keep asking Sonia questions – through me – to keep her from walking off before the ambulance arrives. It works. Through him I discover Sonia lives alone, has a dog, likes gin and has run out of cigarettes (I knew the last bit). She’s also very lonely – and tired. She likes the call handler; she’s still very off with me. I’m gaining no Brownie points from Sonia.
The ambulance arrives and the crew are also superb. They seem to know Sonia and easily coax her onboard their vehicle to clean up her wound. They advise me to get off to Boot Camp. I go, but feel strangely affected by Sonia and worried that I’ll never know what will happen to her next. I won’t. Sonia would probably prefer it that way: ‘Mind your own sodding business’. I don’t think she was waving at me as she climbed into the ambulance.
I’m not sure if it’s adrenalin but I seem to have a heightened sense of medical awareness for the rest of the day. Firstly I insist on checking the First Aid box when I arrive at Boot Camp and refuse to let my partner carry her own inhaler; I can surely do that for her. At work I take a boy with a nose bleed to the Student Centre, another with a twisted ankle and then a girl who looks like she wants to be sick – all of this before morning break. Our school First Aider takes me to one side and asks me politely to stop searching out students in need of medical care. She tells me I’m not helping her waiting time targets.
Our school First Aider is clearly not up to speed with Brownie Guide Law – my badge could be at risk here. I call my sister to ask about her finger. She says it healed fine years ago, despite my thoughtless neglect. Luckily she lets on that she’s lost her TV remote control down the back of the sofa and could do with my help after all – she needs to change channels in time for ‘Casualty’. I’m back in business.