I’m a planner. I plan each day…it makes me feel organized, purposeful and in control.
Control…what a joke.
I even plan my Saturdays and this Saturday was no different. I planned to wake up leisurely, pick up my computer at the Apple store, go to the bank, gas my car, get my car inspected, go to Randall’s and then home to get ready for my “Colors of Sapphire” show.
There was one thing that was making this day a little different. My niece Gabby was due to enter the world any minute. In fact when I got into my car at 10:20am, I got the text from my mom:
Gabby arrived 5lbs 14oz.
I smiled instantly. Wrote a funny text back, and then exited my garage, going about my planned morning. As I drove my normal route, using the neighborhood alley shortcut, I saw what looked like feet.
No! Please let this be a mannequin, a blow-up doll…something left over from a wild night out. But NOT an actual human.
My No’s became louder and moved from my head to my mouth as I became parallel with what was definitely a human, a man. I stopped my car and jumped out.
R: Sir, Sir, are you okay!
Nothing, lifeless. I grabbed my phone and began dialing 911.
A voice from across the small street perpendicular to the alley said, “is he okay?” He was a man in a red shirt. A face I’ll never forget.
R: I don’t know!
Red Shirt: Should I call 911?
R: I am calling them right now.
Red Shirt: I saw him standing there and when I doubled back around, he was on the ground.
The dispatcher answered. I gave her the details, all the while looking at the man face down in the alley. “Help is on its way.”
R: Thank you.
And I hung up.
R: Sh*t! I just hung up!
Get it together Roxanne.
I called back. They were waiting for me.
R: Sir, Sir are you okay?
I tried to flag a car down for help. It wouldn’t stop.
I looked up to see if the man in the red shirt was near by. He wasn’t he’d gone back to whatever he’d been doing. I was alone with the man in the alley.
Do Something. You need to Do Something.
R: I need to do something. I need to help him.
Dispatcher: Help is on the way Roxanne. You should be able to hear the sirens by now.
I hadn’t even noticed until she said it, but there they were.
R: Yes I hear them. I need to do something.
Dispatcher: How old is he?
R: I don’t know, he is face is down, 40? I don’t know if I should turn him around, I need to help him.
Dispatcher: I have the EMT on the line. Yes you can turn him over.
Oh my gosh, I have to turn this man over! I don’t know if I can do this. He isn’t moving. I am scared. If I roll him over, I have to put the phone down. And then I’m all alone with this man. What am I going to see when I turn him over? Will he be bloody? Will he say ‘boo’ and scare me? Is this really happening? Is this a joke?
I looked around one more time for help. No one. I bent over him for the first time.
R: Okay, I need to put the phone down.
Wait, you know CPR you are trained! But that’s if a student in Jazzercise collapses, I can do that, this, this is different. Be careful moving him. Crap, I need help! Where is the man in the red shirt?
I touched his shoulder and began to push.
R: Okay I turned him over.
Dispatcher: What do you see?
I saw one blue eye partially open. Gravel and dirt on his forehead, dirt on his tongue. Weathered, very weathered face, weathered lifeless face.
Dispatcher: Check to see if he is breathing. Put your hand on his forehead and the other under his chin to open up the airway. If his mouth is blocked put your hand in there and clear his pathway.
OMG. I don’t know if I can do this. I need help.
I looked up, and as if manna from heaven, I saw two men across the street.
R: Excuse me! Can you please help me!
They ran over. I handed one the phone. The other stood over me and the lifeless man. With them there I felt oddly safe but still terrified.
There you go, you remember this move from CPR. Open the airway. You can do it, put your head down there and listen for breath.
I heard the man with the phone tell the dispatcher, “She’s doing that.”
Focus Roxanne, listen, is he breathing? I hear cars, sirens, ground noise. Block it out, is he breathing?
R: No I don’t think he is breathing. I don’t hear anything.
The man with the phone said, “He has a faint pulse.”
It willed me to put my ear down again and listen.
Please be breathing. I know I haven’t seen any movement from you but please be breathing.
And then suddenly they descended like the Calvary…an ambulance of EMTs, three police cars, an EMT truck and I think a fire truck.
The second that the Cavalry drove up, it started to rain.
And I finally started to cry. I stood there in the rain by my trunk and watched them try to save this man. I blinked and they had his chest hooked up to things, pants cut open, chest compressions started. They were like a large octopus, at least eight of them were on him around him.
An officer was by my side asking me questions, getting my information. I told him about the man across the street in red, who saw more than I did…saw him sooner. An officer went to question that man who was back along with many from the neighborhood. An area that 5 minutes ago felt nearly impossible to get help from was suddenly packed with spectators.
Where were you people when I needed you? When he needed you…
God please don’t let him die. Please let him live, please let him live, please let him live. I didn’t do enough…if he doesn’t make it, it will be because I didn’t act fast enough. Because I was scared. Please let him live, please let him live.
Eventually, he went off in the ambulance, and I stood there praying. The officer came back, a detective he said was on his way to take my statement. Another man, the head EMT on the site came up to me and introduced himself.
He took my hand and thanked me…on behalf of everyone out there.
R: I should have done more!
EMT: No, you did everything right, you did exactly what you needed to do which enabled us to do what we needed to do. People don’t’ stop, don’t call, don’t stay.
If my tears had stopped, they came rushing back.
The next person who came to talk to me was Donna. I looked at her shirt to see who she was…Victim Assistance.
R: Am I a victim?
Donna: No but you have been through trauma.
For the next while, we talked. I told her what happened, my regret, my concern…She told me what I felt was normal, and what I should expect to feel in the coming weeks. Here are smatterings of what she said…
Donna: What you just experienced is life-changing. You will never be the same…no one knows how they will react in this unplanned, unexpected situation.
People either run towards or away from it. You ran towards it…Most run away.
R: I need to know if he is okay.
Donna: Mr. Birch died. Preliminarily it looks like he had a stroke or a heart attack. And there wasn’t anything different you could have done for him that would have saved him.
I believe that even in that state as people are passing, they can tell that someone is there. He knew he wasn’t alone. His passing was bigger than we are, but he passed with people trying to save him…and that was because of you.
I’m processing. Still processing. I’ve never seen someone die. Ten minutes earlier and I would have been at the Apple store without a care in the world. Two minutes earlier and maybe I could have seen him fall, called sooner, helped sooner.
But I wasn’t there ten minutes earlier and I wasn’t there two minutes earlier. I was there at 10:21am. And I have no idea why. But I will never be the same.
I play it back all the time…like a movie, I imagine different scenarios, I pray for his family, his life, his peace. I haven’t been back through the alley.
All I can say, if you are still reading this is please, please, please stop and help a stranger. I want to say it doesn’t matter what they look like, but it does. I know because I lived it. What I didn’t tell you was Mr. Birch was weathered. Although he had shoes (flip flops) on, he looked as though he often walked barefoot. His hair was unkept, and at first glimpse, one might say he could be homeless.
Is it harder to help people who aren’t like us? I’m sad to say that it was for me. But I did it. And you could too.
Mr. Birch is someone’s family member, friend, neighbor.