The One Who Called 911
The One Who Called 911
The one I can’t stop thinking about is the person who called 911, the person who witnessed the accident that killed my youngest brother. I feel enormous tenderness for that person, even though I know nothing about them. The only thing I know is that they saw the accident and called 911.
They will likely have the image of it in their brain forever. I have an imaginary version of it in my brain that will likely be with me for as long but the caller has the actual event there in their brain. I’m sure it is not a nice thing to have there and yet I am grateful that that person was present, that they called the emergency line and did something. It was too late for my brother, but they tried and I think of them, this person I know nothing of, with so much warmth. They were there for the last moments of Will’s life. They were witness to his exit. I’m not sure why it moves me but it does.
Maybe because of this grateful 911 “song” that keeps playing in my head, I also haven’t been able to stop thinking of a 911 call I had to make for a stranger a few weeks before Will’s accident. It was a much different situation but the events are somehow linked in my mind. I’ll tell you about it.
About halfway up my block as I walked from my apartment, I noticed a young man, who I thought was sitting on a stoop but turned out to be crouching. As I approached, he fell to the ground in front of me. Not quite at my feet but awfully close. I asked if he was okay and though he did not answer, it was clear he was not okay. I asked him a couple of questions and he seemed not to be able to speak. I asked him if I could call him an ambulance and while he couldn’t really say anything, the look in his eyes and the slight nod gave me the permission I felt I needed. (Note to my readers from other countries: Because of our outrageous health care system, people will often object to having emergency services called for them as ambulances are incredibly expensive and are not always covered by folks’ insurance. Many people will not thank you for calling an ambulance.)
When I called 911, they seemed unconcerned really — more interested in the scrape he’d gotten on his fall to the ground than anything else — but they asked me if he was male or female and I found myself unsure of how to proceed. He looked male but I did not want to presume when he couldn’t speak for himself. So I said “male?” while looking at him inquiringly and he nodded so we were clear there. (Side note: Is gender identity really necessary for this sort of thing? Like how important is it to know what gender someone in trouble is?) Then they asked me how old he was so I tried asking him and I THINK he said 22 and he did not object when I repeated it back. And then they were on their way.
The elderly woman who’d been standing nearby all this time asked me something and I told her the ambulance was on the way. I’d thought she was standing there because she was concerned for this fallen man’s welfare — but no, it turns out, she was asking for my assistance in walking her around him. She was very unsteady on her feet and was making her way down the block by holding on to fences and the 22 year old was on the ground in front of the fence she needed to get by.
So I gave her my arm and walked her as far as she would let me then came back to the young man on the sidewalk who was now passed out and entirely unresponsive to my voice. As we waited, a woman passed by and said dismissively, “Drunk.” I said, “I don’t think so.” And as we chatted, she revealed that her husband had had Parkinsons and people were always assuming he was drunk when he categorically was not. I was fascinated that someone who’d had such a painful experience of someone dear to her being misjudged in this way would do the same to a helpless stranger on the street. A group of young men passed by on the other side of the street and laughed and shouted about drugs. Several people passed by, ready to dismiss this guy because “drugs.” Was it drugs? Maybe. But people on drugs need help, too. Also, I’ve seen “drugs.” This did not look like drugs. I was stunned by how little compassion folks had.
This stranger on the sidewalk had just started to turn blue and I was just starting to panic when the ambulance arrived. The arrival of the paramedics brought him back around a bit and the paramedics seemed just as unconcerned as everyone else until they took an oxygen reading and then they swung into swift action, getting out the stretcher, putting him on oxygen and getting him into the ambulance. Meanwhile, cars behind the ambulance started honking. It was entirely obvious there was an emergency here and these assholes were honking. Come on, guys. Come on. The honking was clearly an annoyance to the paramedics but they also seemed entirely used to it. I could not believe how jerky these people in their cars were.
The stranger on the stretcher was sort of awake now but very disoriented and kept trying to pull the oxygen out of his nose. They told him they were going to the hospital and off they went. And I don’t know what happened to him from there. I don’t know anything. I haven’t seen him on my street again, but then, I’d never seen him on my street before. I hope he’s okay. I feel strangely tied to him, like, having been with him at this terrible moment, he’s now sewn into the fabric of my life and yet I’ll never know how the story will turn out. Nor do I know if that elderly lady tottering on her red pumps, holding onto fences, ever made it to her destination.
I sort of understand why people don’t stop to help, don’t stop to call 911 — because you do become tied together somehow, in tragedy or fate or something. When you start to care, you can’t unstitch yourself from that caring. Every time I pass the spot this guy fell, I think of him. This 22 year old, who could have been my brother, only seven years younger than my brother, really, ended up on the sidewalk in big trouble and very few people stopped to help. Not only that, a lot of them were real jerks about it.
But someone did stop to help my actual brother when he was struck by that motorcycle. Someone was there. Someone made the call and they were a witness. Even though it ended in tragedy — my family’s tragedy — it was a good deed that person did and I am so grateful to them for it. It can’t have been easy and probably continues to not be. But I am grateful. Also, I realize I’m not 100% certain this person exists. I got a lot of information in a highly concentrated and emotional moment. I’m not entirely certain I didn’t make up this person who called 911 at my brother’s accident. But I think I’ve got this right. Someone must have called emergency services because they came.
If the circumstance arises, make the call. Someone will be grateful, even if you never meet them. And please don’t honk at ambulances taking care of someone in an emergency. At the very least.
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on December 1, 2021.