In the arena of battlefield medicine and emergency medical technician scenarios, there is an air of authority, of expertise, of the righteous duty to act. On paper, at least. And even then, the textbooks say, ‘beware bullets, beware ego, beware in general.’ Take away the shock and awe inspired by a uniform or the impact of sirens and flashing lights, and you’ll find that most people don’t give much of a damn about your accreditation or knowledge. You’ll find yourself without the barrier of lawful authority or social etiquette between you and their fist, which was already a thin barrier to begin with.
I served for 8 years as an Army Medic, working in Emergency Rooms, basic health clinics, austere medical environments and out of the back of ambulances. I worked on patients with an entire medical team during Code Blues in a hospital setting and on my own on top of mountains in the middle of the Mojave. I have years of clinical, practical and classroom knowledge and experience. Legally, I am also a licensed EMT-Basic and am certified in CPR. I say all of this for the benefit of you, the reader, not out of some egotistical need for validation.
Recently, I was involved in a medical situation that required a higher level of care than I could provide, dealing with a hostile bystander, unarmed, acting from my legal obligation to offer assistance. It did not go smoothly, but I did my job as best I could, and I would like to share with you what transpired. Maybe we all can learn something from it. Learn from my mistakes, and the mistakes of others. I have altered or omitted names out of courtesy for those involved.
On the night of August 3rd, I was working Concierge at the Alamo Drafthouse in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. At approximately 9:30pm, a man entered and approached me, saying that a woman outside needed help, and if we could assist. I radioed to my manager the basics of the situation and followed the man outside, obligated to offer aid. Outside, just beneath the main marquee of our theater, tucked into the very corner of our building’s entrance and the neighboring building’s outer façade, a young woman was slumped over, covered in vomit. A man was standing close to her, assuring everyone that she was okay.
I immediately knelt beside her and attempted to get her attention, I addressed her directly, the man, who’s name I forget, turned his direction to me, telling me her name was Julia and that he had everything under control. I continued to address Julia, keeping her head supported and trying to keep her awake, asking my manager to call for an ambulance. The man said it was unnecessary, and said for me to back off, jabbing me in the face with his elbow, attempting to force himself between the woman and myself, though I held my ground.
I identified myself as a licensed EMT, stated that someone had brought her to our attention, that an Ambulance was being called, that I was not going to leave until the next level of care arrived, and told the man to please stop attempting to push me aside. The man insulted me, stating, over and over, “I don’t believe you, where’s your license.” I then produced my credentials, showing it to him clearly, though his jostling and crowding of me caused the woman’s head to knock back against the wall, something he didn’t notice or comment on though I did, including a direct warning. The man then continued his insults, stating, “You’re nothing, man, you’re a loser, you’re just some F’ing security guard, you’re nothing, man.” I ignored him, focusing my attention on Julia.
Every step of the way, the man physically and verbally accosted me. If it wasn’t attempting to elbow and shoulder me aside, it was shouting directly in my ear or face that I was an idiot, that I was a nobody, criticizing my assessment of her (taking her pulse, talking to her, supporting her head). The security guard assigned to our theater was standing nearby and the man turned his attention to the guard, speaking to him in Spanish, trying to gain his sympathy and asking for his help in leaving the area with the girl. The guard later told me he’d asked him for assistance, to intervene on his behalf, to act in some way to separate me from the woman. My manager had informed the guard of my credentials and was also standing by to assist if anything got out of hand, so the man backed off from this avenue as well.
The man continued his verbal and physical intimidation tactics with me, even as Julia slipped in and out of consciousness and vomited whenever she awoke. I spoke to Julia throughout, taking her pulse, noting it as being slightly elevated, about 100 beats per minute, that her pupils were dilated, that she responded to vocal commands with grunts and simple gestures (If I asked her to squeeze my hand, she would, if I said look at me, she would) and reassured her that the ambulance was on the way. The man attempted to intervene again, asking her in one of her brief lucid moments if she wanted to go home with him. She began to weep and refused to answer him.
Finally, First Responders arrived. As an Ambulance and Fire Engine crew approached, I handed Julia to the Paramedic and gave a brief breakdown of the situation and what I had observed. The Paramedics immediately decided to transport her and began to question those involved. I stated I had been asked to help, that the man apparently knew her, and asked if anything else was needed of me. The emergency personnel released me from the scene and questioned the man. He stated he was the woman’s manager, that she had had 5 shots of tequila, and then fell silent when pushed by the First Responders as to whether or not she had taken any substances or if she had drank more than what he had stated.
Within about five minutes, it was over, everyone was gone, and I was pacing up and down the hall of the theater, my heart racing, my fingers tingling, my eyes wide, my voice raised. I had felt calm dealing with the woman, but the abuse hurled at me by the man had sent my adrenaline into overdrive. I felt excited, happy, angry and anxious all at once. I knew, and still know, I had done what I could do for the woman at that moment and had handled the man with a great deal of patience. But I thought over and over about what more I could have done, what I should have done.
I wondered if I should have been more assertive with the man. I wondered if I should have lain the woman down in the recovery position. I wondered if I should have gotten the police involved once the First Responders had arrived. As the adrenaline coursed through me, bringing about both a cold sweat and a sense of elation in my heart, as well as a slight tremor to my movements and voice, I thought over every detail, every action, every word. Could I have done better? Yes. Did I perform poorly? No. But I know what I did, and what I could have done, and that is better than doing nothing.
I’ll leave you with this, though. Know how to aid someone who is extremely, life-threateningly intoxicated. Know your rights as a good Samaritan, believe it or not the law is on your side even if the crowd isn’t. If you have credentials, ensure they are easily accessible and know that the minute you invoke them you are liable. Finally, always, always, always ensure that you and those around you are safe when dealing with a potentially dangerous situation or person.
Stay safe out there.