Friday, 24 August 2018

Caring is not a heroic task

I am having lots of thoughts and feelings about what happened yesterday that I need to get out. So long post warning. (CN: seizures, drug and alcohol use, homelessness and related issues)

What happened

I was walking along a pretty busy street (Boar Lane) in Leeds heading to get a bus. Just off the pain pavement I saw a guy start to have pretty severe convulsions. It was distinctly not somebody wobbling and stumbling as if drunk. He was still mostly upright at that point but was starting to sag. I went over to help him - he appeared to be unconscious and seizing. I got my arms around him to stop him falling but couldn't lower him to the ground by myself as a fully grown unconscious person is difficult to manoeuvre. I called for help and a man and woman came over to me. The man called for an ambulance and the woman helped me lower the patient to the ground. He was still seizing but we got him into the recovery position. Eventually the convulsions stopped but he remained unconscious. his pulse was weak and his breathing irregular to start with though it did steady eventually.

We stayed like that for 45 minutes waiting for an ambulance monitoring his heart rate and breathing.

During that time three people stopped to see if wee needed help, two security guards asked if we needed him moving, a pair of Leeds BID asked us what he'd taken and and, group of kids stood and watched and told us we were idiots for helping him.

Also a group of homeless guys came over to see what was happening, managed to give us his name, informed us that he suffers from seizures but he'd been using spice so he was just sleeping and then left.

After 45 minutes the guy woke up confused and a little belligerent. I managed to talk to him for a few minutes but we couldn't keep him there and he left. He told us he had been smoking spice not long before it happened. He left to go and smoke more.

The aftermath

So last night and today I felt like crap. Part of me is so angry at all the people who walk past and stare and do nothing. I guess when it's fairly obvious that first aid is happening and somebody is on a phone you don't need to stop because it's under control. But at the point where i was one small person with a walking stick trying to hold on to a fully grown convulsing man how many just ignored it. The people who did help were lovely. They weren't local and were having a short break in Leeds this was their first day.

What's worse though are those who said we shouldn't help. The people who are happy to ignore somebody in distress because they look homeless. From the distance I was at when he started convulsing I could see no indication he was homeless or a euphemistically named "street drinker". I wasn't even sure when I literally had my arms around him with him leaning his full weight on me. I wasn't sure when he was on the ground (though I had a fair idea at that point) and saw the dirt and the purple ears and the abrasions and other signs of spending your days and nights on a street. I was only sure when the other local homeless people came and told us.

But even then why does his status as homeless or a drug user make him less worthy of help?

Several people said "oh it's just spice." or some variant on that. But it doesn't matter. he had a seizure. Maybe if he was just asleep it wouldn't matter, it would be "just spice" but he had a seizure. That's not normal. That's not good. OK using spice isn't exactly good for you and but neither is sleeping rough. But that doesn't make having a seizure any less of a medical red flag or to be taken any less seriously.

I was particularly angry at the Leeds BID (Business Improvement District) reps who walked up and the first thing they said was "what has he taken?". No concern for his welfare. No concern for our welfare. Just an assumption and a judgement that he had taken sometihng. At that point we didn't know anyway. When we responded with "maybe nothing, he had a seizure" they just walked away.

Since they first appeared I have had a strong distrust of Leeds BID and their bowler hatted reps. Their purpose is to make Leeds attractive to investors and business. Their methodology is to remove anything on the street that isn't aesthetically pleasing or is in someway distasteful or a nuisance. They make me think (not helped by their uniforms) of some sort of Nazi era brigade charged with ridding our city of the unclean and unwanted, those who are a stain on their plans of creating a capitalist utopia. I don't believe they have any real power to move or harass homeless people but they do. I have a horrible nagging suspicion that they would deploy the same tactics on disabled people if they could especially those who use chairs and scooters and don't look "inspiring" enough.

Image shows three people wearing matching Leeds BID uniforms of white shirt, black skirt or trousers, black waistcoat, yellow tie and a black bowler hat with a yellow band. The are stood in a street and are smiling.

Certainly this interaction didn't do anything to improve my opinion of them. It just made me sad and angry.

Thankfully the couple helping me seemed to share by views and put up with my emotional socialist rambles.

The other group that had a big impact on me were the kids. This was toward the end of our tenure as carers. A group of kids maybe aged around 12 years old? (I find it really hard to age kids, especially boy presenting kids who are over the age of about 8 and under 14). They stopped and leaned on the railing and watched and jeered. They couldn't understand why we were helping him. They kept saying "he's just asleep. It's just spice". First of all why were they so familiar with spice. That was so terribly sad. I don't want to pretend that at that age I was unfamiliar with drugs or their specific names but I don't think I would have been so blase about it when seeing somebody unconscious in the street. What was even worse is they were right. He had taken spice. How are these kids so familiar with it that they can tell when somebody has used it and just not care.

How are these kids so uncaring that a man passed out in the street that it doesn't bother them? Is it uncaring? Is it a lack of compassion or is it just that for whatever reason they have learned that this is nothing to be concerned about. I know it is highly unlikely that all or even any of those kids were genuine psychopaths, rather that these were learned experiences from listening to and watching adults or even worse based on their exposure and familiarisation with this sort of event. While their reactions were aggravating and unhelpful at the time, really it was overwhelmingly sad. It was heartbreaking to think that these kids were growing up learning not to care. That they were growing up intimately familiar with dangerous drug use. That they were growing up thinking it's ok to abandon somebody in need because they may be a drug user. I just don't know what to do about that. I can only hope that seeing three people taking time out of their day to care may sink in. I can only hope that the explanations we gave - that it doesn't matter the reason, that we didn't want him to hit his head, that seizures aren't a normal reaction and should be taken seriously - were enough to convince them that maybe it is worth caring even if it's "just spice".

For some reason the fact that those kids witnessed the guy waking up, had it confirmed that he had been using spice and saw him walk away just made it all the more bitter. I fear that all their bias was confirmed. It was just spice. He was "just sleeping". We were just silly people who cared too much.

I keep coming back to that. Even the ambulance service, who I know are stretched thin, didn't think a person who had been unresponsive for 45 minutes following a seizure was worth responding too. Possibly just the location - an area with a lot of street drinkers and drug users during the day - was enough to make them lower the severity of the call. Maybe I am naive to stop and help. Maybe I should have walked away. Maybe it was "just spice" and he was "just asleep" and it wasn't worth my effort.

Because afterwards I was physically exhausted. Adrenaline hurts my body. I mean really hurts. Afterwards I was shaking and exhausted and in pain. I had a panic attack and was looked after by a nice barista who saw me shaking and saw my Stickman Communication cards. I could hardly stand up. I could hardly talk. But there's the person we just spent 45 minutes crouched over monitoring his breathing, keeping his airway clear staggering away and rolling another joint so it can all happen again.

photograph shows two stacks of laminated cards on a table next to a glass of water and a hot chocolate. The cards are brightly coloured with text and stickman drawings on 
I know the maxim "put your own oxygen mask on first" meaning see to your own welfare before that of others - because if you aren't OK you can't look after others. Maybe that's all that the people who walked past and said nothing were doing - putting on their own oxygen mask. Don't have the skills or temperament or physical or mental capacity to help, don't get involved. I can't judge that. I really can't because sometimes you do have to consider your own well being and I can't begrudge somebody who doesn't have the skills to get involved in something they may not understand. So why do I. Why don't I put my own needs first. Am I really that stupid and naive to think that it is worth it? It's not the first time.

What the hell is this world we are living in that I am left to feel ashamed and stupid for caring about somebody? Why is it that the first and accepted response is "what has he taken?" and then to move on?

So here I am the day after what turned out not to be a medical emergency but may actually have been a medical emergency tired and sore and broken and vacillating from sadness to anger to self doubt.

I don't want to be told I am a hero or that I am a good person. It shouldn't stand out. It should just be what people do. But it isn't and I don't understand that.

I am so incredibly lucky that the people who stopped to help were of the same mind and that same willingness to help regardless of if it was "just spice."

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