Thursday, April 5, 2012
A Walk That Took A Very Unexpected Turn
It was this time last year that I went for one of my lunch time walks - this one was going to take place at Hampton Park. It's one of my favorite places to walk in the spring because the landscape is just too gorgeous for words, there are several different loops you can walk on and you can be totally alone if you want. Plus it has parking, which, as my fellow Charlestonians know, is kind of a big deal.
I had just parked my car and was heading towards the park when I realized that the scene next to me just didn't seem right. I turned, and with a closer look, realized that something wasn't just not right, it was terribly wrong. At the car next to mine, a teenage boy was trying to roust a girl about the same age. My first impression was that he was harassing her, but a moment's observation let me know that was not the case.
"Hannah. Hannah. Wake up Hannah. Come on, Hannah, wake up! We're going to get in trouble." At this, the mom instinct kicked into overdrive. I lingered, watching and listening. The young man gently shook the girl by the shoulders, all the while calling her name and urging her to wake up. He paused for a moment, and when he straightened up, I got my first glimpse of her. Lifeless. Limp. Not really breathing, just kind of gurgling a little.
I walked up slowly and said as calmly as my pounding heart would let me, "Is she okay?" Looking guilty as sin, the boy replied, "Oh yeah, she's fine. She just has narcolepsy sometimes." Uh-huh. Me again, "Are you sure she's okay? She looks terrible." He began shaking her again, calling her name over and over, with what seemed like more urgency, now that there was an adult involved. When he stood up this time, she slumped over towards the passenger seat.
"She is NOT okay," I said. "I'm calling EMS. Move out of the way."
I opened the car door and reached in, hoping to all that is holy that when I touched this girl's shoulder that it would not be cold, or beginning to stiffen with death. She wasn't, thank goodness, and after I pulled her more upright, I dialed the magic digits, and began the agonizingly detailed conversation with the 911 dispatcher. The operator began typing furiously while talking to me, and I knew that the fire department had probably already sent a truck and that EMS was not far behind.
But when the emergency dispatcher wanted me to find out if she was breathing, I couldn't tell. She was warm, but she was also a grey color that was decidedly unnatural. I could feel a pulse, but really just could not tell if she was breathing. I was instructed to get her out of the car. "Hey!" I called to the boy, "Help me get her out of the car! The operator says she's supposed to lie down." He obediently tried to pick her up, but he was so scrawny it was no wonder he couldn't. We both got hold of her and laid her gently on the ground, resting on a blanket I had found in the back seat of their car.
Once she was laying down, it hit me. They were getting her into position for CPR. She was dying, if she wasn't dead already. Right there in front of me, on a beautiful spring day in lovely downtown Charleston. I was still on the phone with 911 and they were asking me to check for a pulse. I looked down at this girl. She was filthy. Covered with scabs. Greasy hair. Dirty clothes. The first thing that went through my head was that there was no way I was going to risk my health by trying to resuscitate her. I just couldn't take the chance that she was HIV positive - I have children and a husband to think of and contracting a disease like that was not a risk I was willing to take.
But I couldn't just sit there and watch her die either. So I told my hand to follow the directions of the dispatcher to search for a pulse, and when I still couldn't tell if she was breathing, I placed my hand directly under her nose, hoping to feel her breath. At that moment, I heard the sirens and heaved a sigh of relief. The young man, however, began to panic. "Oh my God, oh my God, we're going to be in sooo much trouble. Oh shit, this sucks. HANNAH WAKE UP!!!!!" "You have GOT to shut up. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!", I yelled. "That is NOT helping!"
The fireman arrived and took over. About a minute after they got to work, EMS pulled up and began their work. The police showed up too, and began questioning both me and the boy, who apparently was in lot of trouble. Hannah was taken into the back of the ambulance. After about 10-15 minutes of this, the female police officer came over and asked me if I was okay. I assured her that I was fine, and finally just asked her what the hell was going on. "Heroin. She OD'd on heroin", she told me. "They can counter act it with meds in the rig but she'll need to go to the hospital."
You guys, this was a child. 16, maybe 17 years old. As I stood there in the parking lot, I wanted to sit down and cry my eyes out. It was just heartbreaking to see the destruction this poor girl had visited upon herself. The adrenaline drained out of me, and I just kind of flopped down into the car and watched them all do their thing. The police officer looked over and told me that she knew it was upsetting, but to feel good about it, because I'd probably saved Hannah's life.
I did feel pretty good about that, but what really struck me is that this was someone's daughter. I'm someone's daughter. I have a daughter. What if this was my child? Would someone help her if she was in dirty, strung out and in trouble? I hope so. I imagined my own child in that same terrible predicament, and said a silent prayer that someone would care enough to find out what was going on.
I don't tell you this story as a mean of glorifying myself, because truth be told, I really didn't do much other than make a phone call. I remind myself of this incident frequently when I catch myself making certain judgements about people that I don't even know. But I think one of the reasons that we so easily fall victim to stereotypes is that it makes it easier for us not to care. By viewing others by a term of description rather than as an individual, we can walk away more easily, pretending not to see the need in front of us. The truth is that we are all someone's children. And we all need a hand every now and then.
As for Hannah, I hope that wherever she is, she has found help. I hope she has a family who loves her. I hope she's free from addiction. And I hope that the experience I had with her will always remind me to look with eyes wide open, not with ones clouded by judgment.