Sunday, September 6, 2009

When Rendered Helpless

We had finished drinks at the German pub a few blocks from our hostel and started back to pack our bags and be ready to fly early in the morning. It was dark. The light turned and we crossed the street. I was being defensive, I thought, when I strutted into the road. A local crossing next to us didn't walk, but rather jogged. We jogged, too--if the locals do it, there may be a reason. A car flew around the corner, not breaking, just as we reached the curb on the other side of the street. I don't think it had headlights on. Had we walked, we would have been hit. We continued in the same direction as the car and as our hostel while reflecting on the car that didn't just hit us in the crazy streets of UB.

And then, a bang was heard, traffic stopped, and I had enough time to see a body fall in front of a car ahead of us. The sound was a thud, really, or a crack. I can still hear it and see this person fall, his face for a moment lit up by the headlight as it passed toward the ground. I became alert and tried to pull forward. My first instinct was to get closer. I was going to help. This person needed help, after all.

Everyone stood, looking at the car and the man on the ground. The people waiting for the bus continued to wait for the bus. The men gathered on the street side remained on the street side. People looked, but nobody did a thing for several seconds, which felt like awfully long seconds to me. The driver got out and reached for the man, shaking him. I saw his unconscious head bounce back and forth on his limp neck and said in a small voice "No, no, don't, you're doing it wrong.." Sasha held my hand tighter. That is when I, too, stopped. The driver dragged the man to his car and put him inside. He drove away. I can only assume he got him to the hospital and that the best was done for him.

I had a hard time not shouting and intervening to check the man's vitals, support him until more help arrived, and direct others to do the same: "you, call the police and the emergency response team." What? Does a response team exist in UB? Will the ambulance ever come? Is it faster, albeit more dangerous, for the man to be packed into the backseat and shuttled to help? What does a foreigner know? Surely, what does a foreigner do? I can't even say 'hello' properly in Mongolian, much less 'let's get help.'

All of the training, the CPR, the First Response, the Life Guard, the First Aid, the take action, the empowerment: you CAN make a difference made, me feel like I let someone down on the street in Ulaan Baator. I don't know if the man survived and I don't know what would have happened had I--or someone--stepped in to keep his neck stable... I do know that hesitation would be easier were I sure I didn't know how to help, instead of it being the other way around.

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