Saving a life, or risking ours? Did I do the right thing?

I’M guilty of trying to shelter our boys from the world. They’ll only be little for a short time, and I want to treasure their innocence and naivety for as long as I can. I won’t let them watch certain things, I won’t buy toy guns, and I’ll let them believe in Father Christmas for as long as they want to. I’m sure that’s pretty normal.

But one evening recently something happened that made me realise no matter how hard I try, I can’t actually protect them from what’s happening around us. And I’m not talking about world events or things we see on the news. Oh no, this was on the way home from my parents’ house when we ended up caught in a bit of a drama.

We’d been for tea because Stew was working late, and I decided to drive the long way home so the boys would fall asleep in the car. We only got as far as the bottom of the street when it began. I spotted two feet sticking out from behind a car, and pulled forward to see what was going on. I could see two men standing over another man, who was laying flat out on the floor. I had an instant urge to carry on and not get involved because, I hate to say it, they didn’t exactly look like model citizens. They were holding cans, slurring, and one had his hand in the coat pocket of the unconscious man.

There was no way I was letting someone steal from a vulnerable person, so I picked up my phone, dialled 999 and asked for an ambulance, not knowing quite how involved we would end up being.

The call handler asked so many questions – was he unconscious, was he having a fit, was he epileptic, asthmatic, on drugs, had he been drinking – which I tried to relay with the men I had found him, while they told me to leave them alone, he’d only had a few cans and that he would be fine once the fit ended.

The only thing I could do was pull over and get out. At this point, all hell broke loose in the car. Our three-year-old, who has inherited my curiosity and need to know what’s going on, immediately wanted to come with me. I really, really didn’t want him to see, or to put him at any risk if these men turned nasty. The man on the floor wasn’t breathing, his legs were twitching, and I was pretty convinced he was a gonner.

I’m not good in situations like this and was shaking like a leaf – partly because I was worried about the two men, partly because I thought I might see someone die, and partly because I’d left my two children alone in the car a few metres down the road. I could hear their crying getting louder the longer I was away from them, and was trying to deal with them and answer the questions being fired down the phone at me, all while holding back tears.

Other people were walking past, telling me my children were crying, as if I wasn’t aware, but not offering to help. I wonder now if they had more sense than me. The man’s eyes were closing, and his “friend” couldn’t hold them open to check if he was focussing. And what happens next? The three-year-old gets so fraught, probably feeding off my emotions, that I loosened his car seat straps to calm him down and he managed to free his arms and fling them around me so tightly that I couldn’t move. Looking back, he was probably quite worried because I hadn’t had a chance to explain what was going on or why I kept walking off to speak on the phone. All I’d managed to say was “I’m talking to the ambulance lady”, which isn’t exactly reassuring.

The call handler needed to know if the man’s condition was deteriorating, and the extremity of the situation hit me. Standing on the road trying to check if a fitting alcoholic was breathing is not exactly what I wanted my innocent, pyjama-d and barefoot three-year-old to experience. But what was I supposed to do? I still don’t know if I made the right call.

Finally – and when I say finally, it was only eight minutes later – the man took a really loud, deep breath and opened his eyes, as a rapid response car came around the corner, swiftly followed by a police van. I could not have been more relieved to see them.

The drive home was filled with “Mammy, why was that man on the floor?” “Is he going to hospital?” “What will they do with him?” as our little boy tried to make sense of a new situation that probably made no sense to him, and I tried to process what had just happened.

Adrenaline had kicked in, and part of me felt stupid for stopping, for getting involved when I didn’t know what I would have been faced with, and for potentially putting the three of us in danger. But can you really drive on when someone could be in a life-threatening situation?  I felt like I had to do something to help, and hopefully that is what Santi will have taken away from the situation.

Hopefully, unlike me he didn’t look at the cans of cider, the hand clasped another man’s wallet as he lay on the ground, and the grey, unconscious face of someone who has strayed down the wrong path in life. Hopefully his trusting innocence showed his mammy’s concern for others, and the quick response of the helpers – the police and paramedics – that I sincerely hope we won’t need to call for anytime soon.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know.  What would you have done?


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