Sunday, August 06, 2006

Helping people

In response to my last post, a commenter asked:

If I see someone going pale and looking confused, am I supposed to ask if they are OK or not? And if they say they are OK, but seem to me to be confused, do I walk away hoping they'll be OK, or do I check? I understand that folk persisting on checking might be not what you want at the time, but you have to admit, it's a bit of a tightrope for us on the "outside".

This is a good point. And, while I make every effort to be polite and profuse in my thanks to people who offer me help, "disabled" does not equate to "saint" and if someone is in a large amount of pain it's worth remembering that they're not trying to insult you personally should they come out with "F**K off and mind your own business!", they just want to be left alone with their agony and I think we've all been there.

So please, PLEASE don't be put off from offering help where you think it might be needed.

Individuals are all different, medical conditions are wide ranging, circumstances could be anything. Your assistance could just make someone more comfortable, or it could save them a trip to the hospital in an hour's time, or it could save a life. However at the very very least, if you ask someone if they need help then even if it is turned away you get to feel like you've done your good Samaritan bit for the day and can reward yourself accordingly. :)

As a rule of thumb... if you see someone who is apparently in difficulty - they've gone horribly pale all of a sudden and they've started to sway, or they've stopped in the middle of the street and they're clutching their head or their chest - then it's absolutely good and right and commendable to stop and *ask* them "are you alright? Do you need anything?" (side note: don't just grab them, they'll think they're being mugged).

If they can't answer properly, but it doesn't seem to be a 999 emergency, then things that might be helpful are:
-sitting down
-a drink of water
-discouraging people from crowding round
-finding out if there is a family member you can phone for them
-arranging a cab for them to get home safely

For help with these things, just go to the nearest shop where they *have* to have a first aider and will most likely be more than happy to help.

The trouble comes once they've said "yes, I'm fine, just a bit of a headache/cramp/whatever, it'll pass in a moment."

Are they just not wanting to make a fuss? Are they capable of making a correct judgement call? Or are they genuinely certain, with reason, that there is nothing to worry about?

Unfortunately you can't know, nor can you get a run-down of their medical history in the street (Not a word, Tom Reynolds). You don't know if you're overdoing it or underdoing it on the due care and attention front.

And this was the bone of contention in my previous post. How can I reassure my good Samaritans that everything is under control, they've done their bit and can we can carry on with our lives now?

The best way of dealing with this I ever came across was demonstrated by a security guard in Lowestoft's shopping precinct. I don't know where he picked it up but I was so impressed that once I'd got my head back together I bought a bar of chocolate for him and went looking for him just to tell him how exactly right he'd got it.

I was leaning against a wall clutching my head and he came and asked if I was okay, did I need anything. I said I was fine, it was just a bad headache and would pass in a few moments.

1) He said "You know, if there is anything you need - a quiet sit down, or to have a drink, or a taxi home - it's no trouble at all to go into one of the shops to sort that out for you." This is good because a lot of people in my state are really worried about making a fuss.

However, my headache was already easing off, so I said I wasn't going to spend much longer in town anyway.

2) He said "Okay, I don't want to hassle you, but I want to be sure you're okay, so just look me in the face and tell me whether or not you're happy for me to walk away." In other words, if I wasn't demonstrating clear signs of needing medical assistance, then he would leave the decision in my hands.

I looked straight at him, thanked him, and said that yes, I was 100% happy for him to walk away.

3) Before walking away, he reminded me "if you start to feel a bit odd again, remember all the shops have first aiders and they'll all let you have a sit-down if you ask.". Then, good as his word, he walked on.

I hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

This does indeed help. That security guard seems to have it just right - a nice balance between not hassling someone but also just making sure everything is really ok. If you see him again, thank him from me! All the very best, Tessa

Anonymous said...

Re the escaped mental hospital patient. Please don't think that I've got the hump because I haven't but I'd like to point out that very, very few people with psychiatric illness are dangerous. Of course the dangerous ones DO exist and have done some terrible things under the influence of illness. A common misconception is that people who self-harm are likely to hurt others. In my longish career as a psych patient I have never known this to be true, self-harm is usually about looking for a way to cope with apalling mental pain. However when a close friend was self-harming police ALWAYS come to check the situation out before the ambulance arrived. That just made everything worse and was a waste of police time. (That might be because he lives in Lambeth). Of course ambulance crew must be protected but I don't think that self-harmers are a risk to them. And of course again, there are exceptions to every rule.
It seems to me that poor old ambulance crew (less of the old please!) are not very well trained in mental illness matters. I would be very please to do my best to help.
Also, praise where it's due, I have seen excellent responses from ambulance crew to mental illness.