Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Monday, August 21, 2017

If you learn one rule in life, let it be this: Just because you have a camera handy, it doesn’t mean you need to take that photo. 

Today I was reminded how truly stupid some members of humanity can be when faced with someone in distress.  We were on our way down to Yonge & Bloor this afternoon, when we heard screaming and shouting. It didn’t take long to find the source of the noise – it was a large man in the street shouting. Thing is, he had stripped off all his clothing and was completely naked, shouting incoherently.   

Now, to any mature, compassionate person, that means the person is having some sort of mental health crisis. It’s not the time to whip out a smartphone, giggle in a group and start taking videos and photos to send off to the internet.  It’s the time to use that phone to call the man some help. I counted 5 people snickering as they madly took pictures. When the man kneeled in the middle of the road, gesturing to the skies, some of the on lookers began to laugh. Ah .. no … this really wasn’t funny, it was distressing.

I did call, as did a number of others as it turned out. The man was in the middle of a breakdown and was a danger to himself – which became painfully obvious when he wandered onto Yonge St. (if you aren’t familiar with Toronto, it’s one of the busiest roads in the city).  I redialed 911, and updated them on where the man was heading, which wasn’t good. He wandered onto a construction site and had made his way onto the top of the building. There was a collective gasp as we watched him navigate a ladder onto the top of the structure and then wandered close to the edge.  I won’t go into any more details, except to say police and paramedics arrived and the man was safely removed from the roof. He’s now in hospital where he needs to be and taken care of.

This brings me to the point I want to make –  those photos and videos people were making are now out on the internet forever. What could possibly be this man’s worst-day-ever will be immortalised by people with no compassion or understanding.  THIS WAS NOT A KODAK MOMENT. The man was in distress. Why? No idea, but he needed help, not ridicule.   

Just in case you really, really don’t know what to do if confronted with a situation where a person is having a crisis here are a few tips:

1 – move yourself to a safe distance and dial emergency.  

2 - Don’t assume “someone else has called”. I overheard a number of people say they were sure someone had called. People die because no one wants to make that call. Just call. Use your common sense about what is or isn’t an emergency call. If someone smacked their fingers in a door <- NOT an emergency.  If someone is wandering into traffic after they’ve stripped down naked <- That’s an emergency.   

3 – take a deep breath and speak clearly, don’t shout into the phone or rush through what’s happening. It’s not easy to do, but try.

4 -  tell emergency services exactly where you are. What street, cross street whatever. Give them all the info you can.

5 – describe the situation as clearly as you can. Is the person a threat? Or are they in imminent danger? Is the person aggressive? DETAILS help keep both emergency services and the person who needs help safe. The more relevant info you give, the better it will be for the person who needs help.

5 – if the situation changes CALL EMERGENCY SERVICES BACK and tell them.  It was imperative police and paramedics were updated that the man was no longer going east, but had done an about face, changed directions and went into a construction site. They could have spent time looking in the wrong place.

6 – don’t laugh or do anything to further agitate the person. Back off and simply observe … and if you feel the need to take photos just fuck off down the road Ok?

7 – when emergency arrives, make sure they know where the person is.   

It really isn’t rocket science. Put the camera down. The person having the mental crisis doesn’t need your shit.  You have no idea what sparked the crisis – don’t make it worse.  

Compassion counts.   

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"Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life."

- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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