I was driving down a fairly major street and there was a guy lying half on the sidewalk, half on the meridian, out cold. He was lying on his back, which is an odd enough way to sleep, and as I came down the road, he was not moving. And people were stepping over him, and around him, and drivers were looking anywhere but at him.
And I knew this guy. Not his name, but his face. I'd had seen him, at a soup kitchen we used to volunteer at, around downtown. And I have always been struck by how kind his face looks, and how small and unassuming he seems to be.
I pulled into the alleyway, and got out of my car. And lest you think that I am Mother Teresa in training, I got out of my car, grumbling, muttering.
Why am I always the one to stop?
I counted 5 cars that went past in 30 seconds. Surely there have been hundreds of cars. Surely. Why am I stopping? And I walked around the corner, and thought:
"I'm going to be late for dinner - and - please don't let him be dead."
And I came upon him, and he was not dead, which was a relief. But, given the smell of alcohol, and the fact that certain parts of his body had let loose, and that he was out cold, I debated. Ambulance, police. Police, ambulance. And I knelt, on the side of the road.While cars paused to ask if I needed assistance - for what? Could they not have stopped earlier? Quickly checking for breathing, pulse, bleeding, indication of what might have happened. Was he beaten? Diabetic? Seizure? Stroke? Heat Exhaustion? I debated, recovery position? And I took another whiff of the alcohol, saw no evidence of trauma and decided.
And lest you still think that I am a saint, I put him in the recovery position for his good and my own. For him, so that he would not aspirate if he vomited, and for my good, so that I would not have to go home to change my clothes. And I reflected, as I always do, that I really should get some vinyl gloves to put in my glove compartment. And I rubbed his hand, and told him I was there, and he would be ok. And I equally reflected that I did not like the indignity of wearing gloves where there was no infectious material, that the feeling of my hands on his, they must be a comfort. I wonder who had last touched him with some sense of human care in their mind. And the late summer sun beat down on us, and I called the emergency number and told them where we were. I reassured him. It would be ok.
And I am still not sure what would be ok. He was homeless. He was on the ground. At the least he was drunk. While I waited, I tidied up his few things, put them back in his shopping cart. Tucked his jacket and hat around what few items he had. Reflected that someone had rummaged through his shopping cart, likely taking everything of value. There were a few rice puddings, past their due date, a wind breaker and an old ball cap, much like farmers wear. I wondered if he liked it, or it was merely what came to hand at a clothing bank. A copy of a newspaper that was a week old, and three slices of bread. Perhaps there had been more, but it was gone. Likely a day's worth of bottles he had collected, although it was possible he had spent that money on the bottle of 90 proof grain alcohol that was on the ground, not 3 feet away. Empty now.
And with the sun beating down, I put his things together, to hand to the ambulance attendant. Trying to get what little that was his, what little might matter. I reflected on the rice pudding, and wished that I still carried around granola bars with me, to give out. And I looked at his face, slack in unconsciousness, and noticed how his mouth was caved in, and decided that the rice pudding would still be best, expired or not.
I wondered, in an itinerant life, what you could have of value? Memories perhaps? I am sure, that this old man, with his kind face is not safe or secure in our shelters, and I am equally certain that he too has a story. I wonder if his memory still exists. It did not at 5:15 pm on Tuesday.
And quickly, kneeling beside him, looking into startled blue eyes that had just opened. I told him my name, told him he was safe, and that help was on the way. I stopped saying ok. And he did not tell me his name, merely mumbling and waving his hands, but not trying to get up, not trying to move away. Lost, confused, in another world.
And the ambulance arrived with its clanging sirens and flashing lights, and the techs poured out. In clean sanitary uniforms, taking control of my unsureness. And the woman, as she was pulling on her gloves, and putting on her glasses, she said his name.
I told her that I had come upon him, lying so still, in such an awkward, inopportune place, and I had stopped. And she turned and looked at me and said:
And I nodded. She helped him up. With care and concern I had not expected. Gently. I handed the other tech his things, such a small package, even in the heat of summer where not much is needed. Such a small package for such a confused man.
And I thought about patting his shoulder, but they were already helping him away. I looked at the last tech, moving the shopping cart, now empty, out of the way and said:
"that's all, then?"
And the tech nodded yes. And I walked away.