Thursday, June 12, 2008

Figuring out what is and isn't an emergency

Hump Day
Moncton Times & Transcript
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Pg. D9

Like most of you, I rarely feel the need to call 911.

Calling the emergency line is no laughing matter. It's not TV. It's not make-believe. It's real... with real consequences. Many times, it's a life and death situation.

I've already written about the time I called 911 around Christmas 2006. I was walking down Main Street with a colleague from work when I thought (key
word: "thought") I saw two guys shooting at people across the street.

In reality, they were only putting up posters with a staple gun. My call to
911 certainly caught the attention of the police, however, with no less than five police cars and about twice as many armed-to-the-teeth officers descending on the area like a bunch of lions going after a wounded gazelle.

Of course, li'l ol' me wanted to crawl into a hole and die when I discovered that the two dudes were only putting up posters, but it sure looked like they were shooting people from my vantage point. Those staple guns sure looked like real guns! Hey, it was dark out! "Don't judge me," I plead bitterly.

This, of course, has made me think twice about calling 911 again. In fact, ever since the staple gun incident, I always question whether or not what I think I'm seeing is actually happening. Is the "crime" or "accident" I'm seeing real?

This happened to me again several days ago when I was trying to rest after a long day at work. After feeding the critters, I was relaxing on the sofa with a blanket over me, drifting in and out of a nap while watching TV, when I heard a group of four or five young male teenagers (about 12 to 14 years old) making a bit of a ruckus across the street in the park. They weren't doing anything bad, just being teenagers.

All of a sudden, one of them -- who I discovered later was named Andrew -- ended up on my front lawn, rolling around and screaming, "It hurts! It hurts!" His friends were either chuckling or staring blankly at him, likely thinking he was exaggerating or unsure of what to do if they knew it was authentic pain. I hadn't seen what caused "the hurt", but thought nothing of it. I mean, you fall, you go boom, you go ouch, and then you move on.

Unfortunately for Andrew, he fell down and went boom... big time!

While gazing out the window from my sofa under my comfortable blanket and wishing the kid would just shut his trap and move on, I saw a blur run by and then a frantic banging at my front door. This was no knock. It was a frantic bang.

By the time I got up, I saw Andrew fly by my window again and then next door to my neighbour's house. Now, I know some kids aren't the brightest bulbs in the chandelier these days, but I'm pretty sure this bunch didn't look inbred enough to think that pulling pranks during daylight hours was a good idea.

Thinking he had perhaps gone to "cause trouble" for my neighbour (or whatever -- I still was clueless as to what was actually wrong at this point), I promptly got up and looked out the back door to find poor Andrew standing at my neighbour's back door, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Almost immediately, she came out with water for him. He was standing there holding his palms upwards like he was saying The Lord's Prayer. Something was definitely not kosher in this deli, my keen sense of observation ("keen" as in seeing a crying strange teenager standing outside -- kind of a no-brainer in the Something's Definitely Wrong Here Department) told me.

By the time I got outside to take a closer look, it became quite apparent that Andrew had left large chunks of the skin from his palms somewhere in the park across the street. Through his tears, he explained that he had been running, tripped on the sidewalk and then braced himself instinctively by falling on his hands. I'm sure anyone who's fallen and broken their wrist in the winter either on an icy sidewalk or while skating can sympathize with that.

Poor Andrew's palms looked like freshly cut steaks, frankly. His elbows weren't much better. To make a long story short, this kid took a hard fall and was nowhere near home, having travelled a fair way on his bike to visit a friend in the neighbourhood.

To make a long story even shorter, I ended up driving him to his grandmother's when we couldn't contact his parents. One was working that evening and another out of town. Andrew was certainly old enough to be "home alone", so to speak, but these things can happen to anyone and he needed help. My neighbour, meanwhile, cleaned his wounds as best she could.

The worried looks on his grandmother's and aunt's faces when we arrived gave me comfort that this kid would be OK. They would trek him off to the hospital to be bandaged up, his biking days over until his hands healed. Not a good start to the summer.

I never did find out if he was eventually OK, but I remember feeling deeply guilty afterwards for wishing he would just shut up when I first heard him yelling and rolling around on my front lawn. The paternal part of me was very mad at myself.

It's true that sometimes the "emergencies" we see aren't real ones.
Sometimes, however, what we brush off as mere tomfoolery or annoying behaviour is the real deal. The trick is to know the difference, which is quite often not all that clear. You just may have to embarrass yourself by stepping in to help in a non-emergency. The trade-off -- and it's no fun -- is the guilt felt when not stepping in soon enough on a real one.

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