I had a situation arise yesterday. It took, at most, thirty minutes out of my life, and it certainly didn’t do anything other than make it clear I need some mental re-adjustments about how to answer the door, but… It made me think.
I’m getting ready for class (CJS 101, the irony of which will be apparent momentarily). I have one boot on and the other about to go on when there is a pounding on the front door. Now, I’m alone in the house, and the dog is showing no signs of distress so I think maybe it’s the mail? Forgetting for a second that it’s Veteran’s Day. With boot in hand, wool sock showing… I head for the door. Now there is a second pounding, and as I’m closer, I pick up a certain urgency to it. I glance out the window and open the door, having just shoved foot in boot and am facing two people I don’t know. There’s a man who was knocking, and a woman standing at the end of my car, looking down into the road. A sound like an injured animal can be heard.
I know it’s not our dog, she’s right behind me. The man blurts out. “Call 911, there was a man trying to break into your car and I think he’s having a seizure.”
I run back in the house, lock the reluctant dog in, and dial 911 on my cell, then get back outside, having zipped the boot up. As I round the end of the car, the two people who knocked on the door have disappeared. I’m alone, and there is a man lying in the street. I can see where he’s vomited all over the side of my car and the road, but he’s lying on his side, agonal breathing, and eyes rolled back in his head. I describe this to the dispatcher, including the vanishing neighbors, and she asks me to make sure his airway in clear. Back in the house, quickly, for gloves. NO way I’m putting bare hands in this guy’s mouth. Sweep for airway, which seems clear, he’s breathing and unresponsive although eyes are slightly open. No-one’s home…
The neighbors pop back out, tell me they think he’s on heroin (this is *why* I gloved up). The ambulance shows up, neighbors disappear. When the paramedics shake his shoulder, the man sits up, but is completely disoriented and unable to respond verbally, but doesn’t want them to touch him, either. I’m standing there like a bump on the log at this point, I’d like to retreat but don’t know if they need me. The man gets to his feet (with classic ballerina posturing. This was definitely a grand mal) and fixates on me for a minute, eyes wide and confused. When his attention strays, one of the paramedics herds him to the far curb while the other makes a hand gesture at me, two fingers walking. I scoot as requested, relieved, and lock myself in the house.
I left about 20 min later, as they’d all disappeared. As I turned the corner for school, I could see three cop vehicles and the ambulance. The man seemed to be lying in the bushes. But I got to class on time, and amused my professor by telling him how I was almost late. He informed me that yes, they would help him, even if he didn’t seem to want it, because it was so obvious the man was not all there.
Now, what did I do wrong? I opened the door to a stranger. Granted, from a peek through the side window I thought he was the fellow who cuts our grass, but still. I was not carrying a weapon. I opened myself up to an attack that way. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. Would I be armed? More than likely, out of sight.
As I was standing over this unknown man, who was lying on his side seizing and vomiting, I felt utterly helpless. There was nothing more I could do for him than I was doing, which was to call for help, and make sure a passing car didn’t run him over. He was fairly young, dressed well, and in a bitterly ironic twist, wore a belt stamped US Army on a day when veterans who both made it and didn’t make it home are remembered. Was he really on drugs and trying to break into my car? I don’t know. As confused as he was, he could very well have thought it was his own. I will likely never know.
But that he might be a vet struck me. I count many who were and are serving their country as friends and family. I know from a childhood as a military brat and an adult-life-lived that not all who don the uniform are pure at heart. I also know many who broke under the pressures they endured during their service. Which one this man was, there is no telling. The belt may not have been his originally.
There wasn’t anything I could do, other than stand watch. There’s not a lot I can do now, for those who are broken. Best I can do at the moment is talk about it, wonder out loud what it is that brings some people to this point, lying broken and helpless. I’m not naive enough to think that they can all be helped. Some want to be there. Others just might need someone to listen when they are at their lowest.
And me, if I’m needed, I’ll try to keep calm and just do what needs to be done. After, the reaction sets in.