“You’re Welcome”

As I went to get into my car and away from the accident scene, one of the police officers who responded shook my hand and thanked me for helping out. A woman who also came to the aid of the victims thanked me as well. “We need more people like you,” she said. The cop said something similar.

For the first time in a long time, I answered with “you’re welcome” instead of “it was nothing.”

***

About 45 minutes earlier, as I was driving on I-83 out of Baltimore, a blue car lost control on the far right lane. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that it was coming straight at me. I also remember checking all my mirrors and seeing that there were a lot of cars behind me. A concrete barrier was to my left with no place for me to maneuver. So I stepped (more like stood) on my brakes.

If my Jeep doesn’t stop on a dime, the blue car plows into me from the right. As fast as we were going, who knows what kind of force exchange would have happened. Who knows if we would have ended up on the other side of the interstate. All sorts of engineering controls to save us would have gone out the window then, no pun intended. Instead, the car hit head-on onto the concrete barrier. I was able to maneuver around the debris and stop right behind them.

As I grabbed my phone and dialed 911, I ran out of the Jeep to check on the people in the car. The passenger, who I think was not restrained, had hit the windshield just as the air bag went off. The driver climbed over her and out of the car in a daze. He asked immediately if he could lay in the back of the Jeep. I told him to go ahead. Then a woman who stopped to help (on the other side of the highway) and I helped the passenger out of the car and on to the back of the car.

IMG_6696
The woman standing with her hands on the divider was the Good Samaritan who stopped to help… She also put that red cap on the passenger’s head. No lady can be seen with her hair a mess.

I thought the car had caught on fire, but my brain quickly did the math and told me that the radiator had exploded and that the sweet smell from the “smoke” was the engine coolant in the steam. That’s why I was perfectly comfortable with the passenger staying right behind the car. I did ask her to sit down because she was hyperventilating and complaining of chest pain. If she passed out, she would have hurt what she already had even worse.

***

A few years ago, when something horrible happened in my family — something I still don’t like to talk about — my cousins and relatives thanked me for being there. I told them it was nothing, that I had done what anyone in my position would have done. A few weeks after that, a woman was hit by a car right in front of Hopkins Hospital. I ran out of the Jeep and held her while fire and EMS arrived. (Her leg was bent in angles that legs shouldn’t bend.) Then too, I said it was nothing for me to be there for her. And a few weeks after that, a man fell off a metro platform onto the rails. Another man and I jumped in to get him and get him out. I also said it was no big deal.

As I looked around today and saw that only that woman (and another man who left almost immediately) and I had been the only ones to stop and help this couple, and saw that probably hundreds of people drove by before fire, police and EMS arrived… As I saw all this, I started to understand that Good Samaritans are not a dime a dozen. They’re actually kind of a rare breed.

Jesus was on to something.

Yes, I had to stop because I was about to plow into them, but there were three cars behind me who just drove around and drove away. So, no, not everyone or anyone would have stopped to help these folks. At the metro station, the man who helped me get the victim out of the rail well was the only one of about a dozen to help. The others just stood and watched. And when that woman was hit, I was the only one holding her hand and comforting her. Everyone just gawked.

As I drove away from when the woman was hit, I called my wife and cried — literally cried, tears and all — into the phone, telling her how much I hated, absolutely hated, everyone for just standing there. No one came over to see how they could help. It wasn’t until a police officer ran over that he radioed for help. The woman who was driving the car at fault was on her own phone, calling someone to tell them that she (HER, THE DRIVER) needed help because she wasn’t going to jail again.

The selfish gene was strong with that one.

In that anger, in that absolute rage I felt at all the people who just stared and/or went on their way, I started to understand things a little bit. But it wasn’t until today that it finally clicked. Not everyone is the Good Samaritan. Some people are the robbers. Some are the Levites. Others are the priests. Others are the ill intent.

My entire life, I’ve been given a set of skills that allow me to be there for others. From first aid training and CPR, to the ability to speak slowly and calmly to someone in unimaginable pain, I’ve been given these gift, and I best put them to good use. Just like I use my ability to solve puzzles, see patterns in the noise, for public health, I will use my ability to be there for others. I’ve been trained and I have chosen to be the Samaritan, and I won’t minimize it.

I’m also not going to boast about it. This might be one of the few posts where I tell you what I did.

An epidemiologist who saw something coming — which would turn out to be Ebola — once said, “Please, God, don’t let it be what I think it is. But, if it is, let it happen on my watch.” I like it.

ps: Big, big thanks to the Baltimore City Fire Department, EMS, and Police who responded to the accident and behaved completely professionally. They are heroes every day, rain or shine.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

4 thoughts on ““You’re Welcome”

  1. I’ve often joked, “Heroes are those incapable of figuring out how to run off, sit in a corner and suck their thumbs like everyone else, when things go south badly”.
    The truth is very similar, heroes are those who actually help, when everyone else has no clue on what to do.
    At one point, the military decided that all medical personnel of field duty fields, should attend a civilian EMT class and acquire an NR-EMT. Standard medics went previously from 91A to 91B, where B previously was EMT, at that point, the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) changed to 91W.
    I, feeling a sense of duty to such a fundamental shift, spent my study time consuming conspicuous amounts of… Whiskey, after all, W in the phonetic alphabet of the military is… Whiskey.
    Needless to say, I aced the course, already being the most advanced specialty of medic.
    But, one thing that was trained there struck me, something I automatically did in the field, in an emergency, designate someone to call 911.
    In military land, I didn’t say, “Go shoot at that target!” and not designate *who* to target, I designated a specific soldier to engage a specific target. If a man was down, I designated a man to help me with their peer.
    At that time, I realized the gulf between my experience and training and both infantry personnel and the populace.

    Much of the non-response is, “I have no clue what to do in that situation”, others, “pull them out immediately, injuries are irrelevant”, fewer are, “It’s not my business, I don’t care”.
    Most have absolutely no clue, they’ve not experienced an emergency in their life of that type or similar, so the avoid a situation so far outside of their knowledge and experience completely. A few will go hell bentto leather to do what they guess is right, extract the injured, never realizing that inappropriate extraction can injure or even kill an accident victim. The rarest, they don’t care. That’s OK, few care about such selfish people and they’re a very small minority of the populace in must of the culture of this land.
    The trick, as I’ve also pulled over and dealt with the hell bent to leather type is, instruct appropriate help methods, being the voice of authority and explain why one doesn’t perform an inappropriate action.

    I also carry my old medical bag from the military in my trunk. Many of the field dressings plastic covers have deteriorated, as they were aging when I retired, but the sterile outer wrapper remains intact. I also carry various splints and airway devices. I’ll not hang an IV, as my fluids were disposed of when they expired and my certifications have also expired. But, I know of a few other tricks that could provide water to a body in need of fluid replacement. For electrolytes, they’re SOL if I’m the only game in town.

    Personal note to Ren: Tapering dose of metoprolol, as my pulse is climbing down to nearly human levels (85).
    As further returns to a normal condition accumulate to true normal physiological conditions, I anticipate a meteor strike.
    Just to continue the trend. 😉
    That absent, it’ll be extremely pleasant to be living a life as usual, rather than attempting to replicate either a weakened Incredible Hulk or The Exploding Man.
    At least the aorta is only dilated by 2.2 CM. Watchful waiting and with luck, it’ll either resolve (I doubt that) or remain static.
    Well, at least until I grow more complicated old and hypertension rules or, I get into a fight with the Hulk.
    Fortunately, the latter isn’t a real being.

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    • I’m 1st Aid and CPR certified (Red Cross volunteer) and have been lugging a small kit around with me for years. I’m lucky that the only time I’ve had to use it was in a knitting workshop last October — one of the other students stabbed himself in the hand with a felting pin.

      But I’m ready, by golly.

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      • Heh, I was skinning a deer word that the profanity filters reject, but refers to an animal body that it’s no longer using and did precisely what I taught others not to do, cut toward myself.
        Got caught around the navel connective tissue, popped free and nailed my calf in a location not easily reached.
        That resulted in me using that bag to place a field dressing over the wound and a trip to the hospital, as I couldn’t reach the wound to irrigate and disinfect it.
        The ED doc and I had quite a few chuckles over complacency over getting away with a poor practice. Thankfully, the ED was slow that day.

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  2. To be fair most people have neither the skills to help nor the experience to remain calm in an emergency. A bunch of panicking bystanders only makes matters worse.

    In addition, even trained professions don’t carry their equipment off duty. I don’t have a first aid kit in my car, let alone a jump bag or drug box. Sure you can control bleeding, do CPR and providing a calming presence is never to be underestimated; but you really only need 1, 2 maybe 3 people for that. You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen.

    MVAs present further problems. They are dangerous in ideal conditions: with police controlling traffic and an engine to protect the scene. Plus you are further limited in what you can do. I can break the window and do an emergency move if the car is on fire but otherwise I can’t safely extricate someone by myself with no equipment. I suppose I could hold c-spine until fire/rescue got there but that’s about it.

    All that said, I have a lot of respect for you. Though I’ve never come across emergencies off-duty (luckily I suppose) I like to think I would do the same. I have also been trying to be more conscious of saying “you’re welcome” when thanked. I think “not a problem” downplays what the other person is going through.

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