This is the London Ambulance Service. We are experiencing a high number of calls. You are on hold.London Ambulance 999 Service
I was thinking. Thinking about all the challenges ahead as I cycled back from a midnight finish delivering groceries. Life can sometimes feel desperate, but every moment can be greeted with joy.
Cycling down the local high street I spotted a lady. Slumped over. Passed out. Round the corner someone had recently been raped. I had to stop. I had to offer help.
What that was I didn’t know. Her breathing was light. Her appearance unkempt. She hadn’t bathed today. She was under the influence of something. I could barely see her chest move.
As I shook her, she woke. She was alive. Hallelujah. “Do you have somewhere to stay?” I enquired. Her eyes rolled in their socket. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
“I’m fine I’m just very tired.” She falls back into her slumbering sleep. I shake her.
“Honey, would you like me to call you an ambulance? Do you have somewhere to stay?”
“I don’t need no fucking ambulance. Leave me alone.” Her face is full of disgust.
“You can’t sleep on the street. Do you have somewhere safe to go? Do you know a local hostel?”
“I don’t need to go nowhere.”
“It’s really not safe for you here.” I say with a worried expression. She passes back to sleep.
I call an ambulance. I’m left on hold. “Yes the patient is breathing. She is semi conscious. I’m outside the unicorn pub. On the high street”
“I don’t know where that is” the lady answered on the phone.
“I don’t need an ambulance.” the lady in the street shouts at me.
“Sweetie you’re not staying outside” I answer. “The patient is moving” I say on the phone.
“The patient is moving?”
“She’s not sitting still, she’s on the move. I don’t think she wants an ambulance.”
“Can you confirm that with the patient?”
I glance as the lady walks away, her eyes rolling into the back of the sockets. Her tracksuit bottoms falling down. She doesn’t have a pair of knickers. Her heavy walk clumping from side to side.
“I really don’t think she wants an ambulance, I…”
“Can you confirm that with the patient?”
The patient pulls up her trousers. Flicks her pony tale from side to side, as other bywalkers stare on.
“We can’t send an ambulance if the patient is moving”
“I know. I’m really sorry.” The emergency call ends.
Help never comes exactly as it is wanted. Help is often misdirected. But asking or even accepting any help is an act of bravery. It is anti-ego. It is letting go. It is a realisation that things can’t be done alone.
The lady in the street was completely oblivious to her vulnerability. That sleeping overnight on one of the hottest days of the year wasn’t safe. Particularly when under the influence.
Someone had very kindly left behind a packet of crisps and an isotonic drink, which she slurped down quickly whilst rejecting the ambulance.
I was left on the phone speechless. I couldn’t comprehend why someone wouldn’t take action to improve their wellbeing. To protect themselves. To share what was going on. To seek help.
I got back on my bike. I prayed that she would be kept safe. I didn’t speak to her as a cycled past, as she was heading in the direction of the park.
She was moving, breathing and there was a chance that she would be okay. She is not the first person I have found passed out on the street.
Acts of Compassion
Compassion isn’t about solving someone’s problems. Compassion and kindness aren’t about solving everything for someone. Compassion isn’t always giving someone exactly what they want.
It is an act of seeing someone. I see you. I value you. I don’t know what it’s like to be you. I want to help you. What do you need right now?
Sometimes an act of compassion is letting go of what we think an outcome for someone should be.
I learned in AA that the only rock bottom is death. And that we get to choose the moment when we want to stand up and walk in a new direction. When we realise what Einstein said as true. That to repeat something that always leads to the same outcome is insanity.
And sometimes, no matter our worry, anxiety, fears and kind heartedness. We cannot stop someone. They have to see themselves. They have to stand up. And accept the reality.
And as the bystander, that is a painful process. But it is not my life. I may know better. But I also know I can’t change someone unless they are willing to try.
It isn’t the act of accepting help that makes us humble. It is the process that gets us to the point of asking for help. When our world suddenly slips away and we glimmer at the true reality of our crisis.
Sadly, this has real world consequences for some people. And for everyone looking on it’s hard to let go.
For when we remember that people who have sicknesses like alcoholism and addiction; and they are in an active state. We know there and then; they don’t know love, hope, the gift of giving, the joys of being selfish and selfless, the power of creating dreams as your reality.
There is no escape from reality for that person. And that is deep.
Only they can break the cycle. Only they can discover by trial and error what really works for them.
As bystanders we can only offer our support, cheerleading, comfort, shoulders, kisses, hugs perspective.
For the journey that someone goes on is not one made by someone. It is discovered by the self. And made possible by acts of random kindness by others. We navigate. We can access the wisdom of others. We decide what is right.
And that’s a journey.