3:22 am - Fri 8/22/03
I hardly know where to begin...Or more accurately, I know where to begin, I just don't know how.
Tonite, on the way to karaoke (which I didn't expect to happen again so soon), I was walking down 6th street, and after walking maybe a mile or so, I saw a homeless guy lying on the sidewalk, maybe a block ahead of me.
Typically, that's not a big event here in LA–I see more homeless people here on any given day than I ever saw in Lansing, (And I lived down the street from the Rescue Mission!)--but I thought it was a little odd that he was lying pretty much in the middle of the sidewalk. Still, it wasn't that weird; Obviously, the man was drunk, and had just passed out.
I noticed people walking by him, walking around him, but while some people were looking down at him, curious, no one was really stopping. There seemed to be a lot of people kind of "hanging around", but I wasn't sure if the guy on the sidewalk was the evening's entertainment, or if he just happened to be lounging in their normal hanging-out area.
As I got closer, something definitely seemed to be wrong, but I didn't know what.
When I reached him (An older man, in maybe his 60s or 70's, wearing a green polo shirt and nondescript gray pants), I looked down at him for a moment without seeing something you'd think would be really hard to miss.
Then when I did see it, it took me another moment to understand just what I was seeing-- A thick, red stream of blood was flowing from under his head.
A young, heavyset hispanic man on the other side of the homeless guy nervously said "Is that blood?"
Having determined that it wasn't Faygo red pop, I said "Yeah...".
To be honest, at that point I wanted someone else, someone with more expertise, to "step in". But no one did.
I didn't know what to do, and I was scared. But I couldn't just leave the man.
I didn't know if anyone around me spoke English or not, and wouldn't have known what to ask them if they had.
My memory of the next few moments is kind of fuzzy, but I did ask if someone had called an ambulance. And I guess I didn't get the response I'd hoped for, because then I went into a nearby hair salon and mimed "There's a guy hurt outside. Could someone call 911?" ( They nodded affirmatively, but I didn't know if that meant they had already called, or they would call right then).
I went back out, and I don't really know who handed them to me, but someone gave me a shirt and a pair of shorts (Maybe I looked like I wanted to do something, but didn't know where to begin). And I got down on one knee, took a deep breath, lifted the man's head up, and slipped them underneath (I didn't feel squeamish about the blood–It wasn't making me sick or anything–but I did feel a moment's hesitation about touching it).
I saw–I'm not sure what–either a clump of the man's bloody hair or a piece of his scalp hanging down, and realized I didn't have my--what would you call it? My "compress"?-- over the right spot on the back of his head. So I held his head up with my right hand while I moved the compress over with my left.
After that, I just held his head in my hands, and talked to him while waiting for the ambulance (He never responded to me–He didn't respond to the paramedics when they got there either–but he was breathing). His eyes were partly open; they were light blue, very rheumy, and I could tell he wasn't seeing anything.
I don't know if I've ever felt more helpless. I didn't know how long the ambulance was going to take, and I was afraid he might die right there on the sidewalk while we waited.
Apparently, someone had called the ambulance before I got there, because it was only a few moments till I heard the sirens (Two paramedic units had responded to the call).
When the paramedics got there, I thought they'd tell me to step aside at that point, but they actually asked me to stay where I was; They asked if I had seen him fall (I hadn't), they asked if he had talked to me (He hadn't), and they asked me to keep his head steady while the four of them rolled him on his side, while one paramedic put a neck brace on him, and the other three laid down a "back board" (There was an odd moment, when they cut the man's shirt open, when I thought, "That might be the only shirt this guy has...").
(It just occurred to me that I didn't actually see them bandage his head, though of course, they must have.)
I had pulled away the bloody wad of clothes at that point, and that's when I noticed the back of my left hand was covered in the man's blood (I remember looking at it, thinking "That's weird...how'd it get on the back of my hand but not the palm..?").
That's when I returned, for a moment, to being me; I said, "I know I'm not the priority here, but could I get some antiseptic in a minute?" (One of the guys said they would "fix me up").
Then I stepped to the side, and watched them load the man into one of the ambulances, and pull away.
(Three of the four paramedics left with the man.)
I think that's when what had happened really hit me. I just sort of stood there for a moment, looking at the place on the sidewalk where the man had been lying, and I almost started to cry. I don't know why exactly, but I just felt tremendously sad.
For a moment, I was actually afraid the remaining paramedic was going to forget about me, and I was going to be left there with my bloody hand (Try explaing that at karaoke night!).
I watched him putting things back into his vehicle for a moment, then walked over to him, and saw he had a large tube of antiseptic gel in his hand, reassuring me that "this is great stuff...". He gave me a towel to wipe off the blood, then applied the gel liberally to the back of my hand and told me to rub it in good, then wipe it off.
He had me do a couple applications, and while I did that, he wiped up the blood on the sidewalk, and put the bloody clothes and the towel in a plastic bag.
I guess I still looked pretty shaken, because he asked if I was "okay"; I responded by saying, still feeling near tears, "I just didn't know what to do...".
He said I had done everything right–He particularly mentioned keeping the man's head "in line with his body"-- said that there wasn't much else I could have done, and thanked me for getting involved.. Then he asked me where I'd been headed, and when I said to Little Tokyo for karaoke, he asked if I wanted a lift (The station is near there).
On the way, we talked for a bit.
He verified something I had wondered about; I have probably walked by a dead homeless person. He said that a homeless person will often be on the sidewalk, dead, for the better part of a day before anyone realizes something is wrong (The way he put it, "They're in the same spot they're always in...they're just not breathing anymore).
And he was very understanding about my upset; He shared his own feelings of powerlessness when, off-duty, he happened across a car accident while coming back from a vacation with his wife and kids (He was on the scene, in the desert, without his rig or equipment, for two hours before help arrived. In the meantime, he had the horrible task of telling the driver's brother that he needed to move his brother's head so he could straighten his airway, cause otherwise he'd die, but that if he did, his brother might end up paralyzed from the neck down).
He let me off in Little Tokyo, and thanked me again for getting involved.
(Well, there's a whole lot more I want to say in here, but it's late, and as you might imagine, this is striking me a "stand alone" kind-of-entry.)
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