Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I have been weighed on the scales and found wanting

Today on my way to work I came across a dead man.

I take the FrontRunner train to work in the mornings, get off at the Salt Lake Central Station and usually take the Trax commuter rail in to my office that sits on 2nd South and Main, but some days I walk. Today I walked. About a block past the Gateway Shopping Center on 2nd South I saw a body lying motionless. My first impression was that it might be some sort of mannequin or dummy. It’s early for Halloween decorations, but thoughts of the scarecrows my dad used to make and place on our front porch for trick-or-treaters came to mind. As I drew closer I realized it definitely was not a decoration. It was a man, late sixties, unshaven, in a black t-shirt and red flannel shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.

I wanted to keep walking.

I’m not proud of it, quite frankly I’m ashamed of it, but it was my first impulse.

I didn’t keep walking. I stopped; spoke to him to see if he would respond. I felt his hand; it was still warm. I felt briefly for a pulse but didn’t find one. I called 911.
Police showed up about the time I got off the phone with 911. He first tried to get a response from the man. When he didn’t get one he put on his gloves and started checking pockets for medical information and identification. He found an inhaler in the man’s right shirt pocket and cigarettes in the left. Found a large wallet in his rear pant pocket full of cards but no cash.
The first responders then arrived and hooked up what I assume to be an EKG to his chest. They asked how long I’d been there, which by this time had been about ten minutes, and then took out a sheet to cover the man.

I don’t know CPR. I learned it when I was 14 and again when I was 16, but I haven’t been refreshed since. Had it been someone I knew and loved I probably would have tried, but given the circumstances I felt afraid, confused, and mostly just totally powerless. What shames me is the fact that when I realized the man was dead, I was relieved I didn’t know CPR. I should have at least wanted to be able to help the man, but instead I was relieved I didn’t have that responsibility. Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I’m sickened by this.
I don’t know what the proper protocol should be in that situation. The man had been there for at least five minutes or I would have seen him fall. He probably hadn’t been there for more than 15, I assume, because someone else probably would have spotted him. Also he still felt rather warm when I checked his pulse. I don’t really know if it would have been advisable to perform CPR even if I were competent, but that’s not really the point. What scares me is that I found out this morning that when it comes down to it my fear is greater than my desire to help. I think of myself as someone who wants to help those around him, but when it came down to it I didn’t only lack the ability to help but also the desire. I'm not exactly a hurried Levite, but I also don't qualify as a Good Samaritan.