Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Tao of the Who

Odd story tonight: I pretty much did a real-life interpretive vignette of the first verse of the Who's "Who Are You."

For those of you not Who-conversant, first of all shame on you, and next, here's what I'm talking about...

I woke up in a Soho doorway,

A policeman knew my name.

He said,

You can go sleep at home tonight,

If you can get up and walk away...

Basically, I came home from Teslagrl's place at 1:30 or 1:45, and because I live where I do, I had to park around the corner. So I walked down 9th street, and prepared to turn left; I can go ahead past the row of "fancy brownstones" that is just like where the Huxtables live, or I can turn left and walk past the complex of buildings that became merged when city redevelopment money turned a cracked-out, condemned brick building into the place I would eventually live. I crossed the street, and decided to stick to the right and go by Chez Huxtable, on account of there being a guy passed out on the sidewalk there.

He was half in the street. A parked car shielded this dude's creased black trousers and shiny loafers from being run over; the upper half of him, clad in a short-sleeved, combed-cotton polo shirt, was up on the sidewalk, and he had his neck sort of cricked at an angle to accomodate the parking meter. Way classy.

He didn't look dead, which was nice. Dead people, mind you, have a look. It's tough to describe; basically if you see a movie and you think, "that dead body is obviously fake; it doesn't look real," then you're probably right, but then again maybe it looks perfect. Actual dead bodies don't look entirely real either. Or they look too real, to be metaphysical about it. Anyway, this guy looked alive. No pools of blood under him, no smears of blood on him. No foamy mouth, no stink of incontinence. Just a guy sleeping under the stars, not a care in the world. Except for being passed out in the middle of the city.

I was carrying a basket with assorted cleaning supplies, stuff I'd left at T-grl's when I was out east, and which she still had two of. I also had a paper bag with a six of Leinie Red and a bottle of Shiraz, but the irony of this was not yet clear.

I said, in that clear, neutral, calm EMT voice, "hey." Then a pause, looking for a fluttering of the eyelids or a movement of an extremity. "Hey, buddy. Are you okay? You're lying on the sidewalk, man." Nuthin.' Not wanting to poke the guy with the toe of my shoe -- a little dignity is important -- I set down my stuff and knelt over him. I gave him the ol' shoulder shake. Then the chest-poke. When you're doing the chest-poke, you're skating on the edge between concerned citizen and EMT.

"Hey, guy. You're lying on the sidewalk. What's going on?"

He opened up glassy, drunk eyes. Slight odor of alcohol, but c'mon, you know where I work. No way was he over 0.09. He slurred some type of "leave me alone, I'm fine, who are you and why do you care?" -type blather at me. I explained that a guy lying on the sidewalk at 2am is noteworthy, and said I was concerned about him being okay. I took his pulse. Steady, strong, 80 or 85.

I love the way you can just reach out and grab someone's wrist to feel their pulse, and if you do it right, not only do you learn some helpful information, you also reinforce the notion that you are there to help and you know what you're doing. I've written here before about the theater of medical care, and it's totally applicable on the street.

Along with mild alcohol only, there was no odor of ketones. That was the other first thing I thought of: diabetic who drank a little much and put himself into DKA, or induced a diabetic seizure or syncope. That sounds smart and all, but basically, here's how the medical thing works: when you see a guy lying on the sidewalk, there are many questions. Who is he? How did he get here? Where was he earlier, and who was he with? How come they left him here? How long has he been here?

The only question you actually care about, however, is this one: what caused this guy to be lying here, now? The answer is probably "because he's drunk, and this seemed like a good spot." But it could be lots of stuff. He has a seizure disorder, or diabetes. He hit his head. Someone hit his head for him. He fell just now, from a low-flying and very quiet zeppelin. Things on the list get less and less likely as you go down it.

So he's coming around a little, and he's taking his time doing it, but I explain to him that if I don't see him at least sit up, I'm going to call an ambulance. He sits up. He starts asking questions I can't answer, questions like, "what happened?" I explain that all I know is, I walk along and here he is. He expresses skepticism. I acknowledge that it's weird, but hey, here we are.

We talk a little more. I get some yes/no answers to relevant medical questions. I tell him I work at the hospital, and I can get an ambulance here quickly. (Never mind that anyone with a phone can do the same thing; I'm maintaining control of the scene, dammit.) By now it's pretty clear he's merely drunk, but he's not moving, and I'm not going to just leave him here. I explain that I'm worried about him being hit by a car. Or robbed. Or hauled in to Detox. He tells me he lives a block away, in the swanky high-rise condo building I see out my window. But it starts to look like he can't stand well, much less walk, so I push the button and dial 911. By the time the dispatcher is talking to me, Drunk Guy has done some mental calculus and has sucked it up to an impressive degree.

I talk with the dispatcher for a minute. I explain, in hospital-speak, what's up. I give our location. I report that he's looking able to walk, and says he lives a block away, so we're good. Okay, says the dispatcher, call back if things go otherwise. Drunk Guy has heard my half of this 30-second conversation, and gets the picture -- it's not okay to be asleep on the sidewalk -- and repeats that he lives a block away, and he'll be fine. At which point, we do our little Who Theatre bit; I tell him I'm going in the direction of his building, and I'll walk with him. Let's go.

And we do. He's crap at walking right now, but he's uninjured. He's making sense, in that drunk-guy way. He hasn't had a stroke, or a seizure, or a heart attack. And he's really lucky, because he still has his watch and presumably his wallet. The people he was with presumably had the wrong condo building, and ditched him at the sidewalk. He probably told them he was fine.

And as we're walking, he says to me that the funny thing is, he has a $300,000 condo and a $70,000 car, and he needs me to walk him home. Yep, that's funny. I tell him what's funny to me is that I have this night off in a string of overnight shifts, and here I get me a patient.

I got him to the right side of the street, half a block from the entrance to his complex. It's well-lit, and security-patrolled, and I figured he'd be welcome to pass out on the grass verge there if he likes. Could be a character-builder. And then I went home. I'm looking out my window right now at the complex in question, and all is calm.

I've always liked the common-sense approach of the cop in that song. It's a diagnostic test and a treatment all in one. It's an "if/then" algorithm. So long as Roger Daltrey's character isn't asleep in that doorway for some more serious reason, it's a win-win situation.

This guy had not spent eleven hours in the tin-pan. But lord, there's got to be another way.


Amber said...

Crazy. Don't you love it? It never ceases to amaze me that a five month course in EMT training has regailed me to a lifetime of being the person who feels responsible for so many that others would rather pass on by.

Anonymous said...

I'm so impressed Erik, you're such a kind soul. Hope I see you 2nite at LOD.