Acting On Evidence

Acting on Evidence

Let’s step back, and see how this plays out in everyday modern life.

It’s a hot summer weekday, as you trudge to the subway stop, your laptop bag slung over your shoulder. Even at 8:45, it’s already blistering, and you keep your gaze on the sidewalk in front of you, shading your eyes from the glare of the morning sun, jostling against other commuters who are in more of a hurry than you. You’ve got time. You made sure to leave a good 45 minutes ahead of schedule, so you can arrive cool, calm, and confident, even on a hot day like today.

You’re back in the city again, headed to an early client interview. Your new employer is expanding their client base into the city, and your old connections and familiar with the market make you the perfect candidate to present. You stayed the night with some old friends you haven’t seen since you moved to the “country”, and it feels great to be back in the urban flow, even if it does feel like an oven. Only two more blocks, then you’ll descend the steps to the cool underground subway platform, where you can catch your breath and catch a break from the heat.

Someone passes you on the left, then cuts across your path. You stutter-step and nearly stumble, then look down at the sidewalk to see what tripped you. It’s then that you see the feet. Two big feet. In brown shoes. Not in your path, but off to the side – where the other passer-by crossed from. Your eye follows the feet – they’re twitching and tap-dancing in space – and you see socks, then pants… then the supine body of a tall man, lying on the sidewalk, his head haloed in a pool of blood.

You pull up, startled. Around you, commuters are pushing past you, and you stumble out of their way, beside where the man is lying. You put down your bag and look at him. He’s tall, thin, almost frail, and his pale blue eyes gaze up at you in confusion and hurt. His arms and legs move jerkily, as though he were a crustacean tipped over on his back… trying to get righted again. Nearby, you see the raised cement garden border where he struck his head. There’s blood on it. There’s blood on him. He tries to rise, his arms reaching toward you. He tries to speak, but the words are a murmured babble.

You draw closer – but not too close. This part of town is known for its homeless, its drug addicts, its gay population that cruises the nearby park each weekend. Blood in this part of town can mean Hepatitis C. It can mean AIDS. It doesn’t mean anything good. For a split second, you consider turning and continuing to work. But that thought vanishes as quickly as it came up. You can’t. You can’t leave him. You’re afraid to help him directly to staunch the bleeding, but you can do something.

He’s trying to get up, mumbling as though intoxicated. He could be drunk, for all anyone knows. He could be one of those bums who lives under the nearby bridge. Or he could be a drug-addicted homo who’s finally gotten his come-uppance. No one else stops. They keep moving. Here and there, you could swear you see disapproving looks on passing people’s faces. But mostly, you notice nothing other than the man lying in front of you in a pool of his bright red blood.

“Stay,” you say, taking a step closer, but keeping out of arm’s reach. “Just stay still. I’ll get help.”

The man looks up, confused, agitated. “Don’t move,” you say, raising your hands and patting the air in front of you, as though it were a thick, downy pillow. “You have to stay still. I’ll get help.”

He seems to understand, and he relaxes back, his head leaning against the sticky cement berm. Grabbing your backpack, you look both ways up and down the busy street, then dash across to a building just across the way. Bounding up the steps, you push through the front door, calling “Help! Help! Someone needs help!”

It’s the lobby of a local college building, and a young woman appears at the reception desk, asking how she can help. She looks too young, too inexperienced. Who else can help? Sure enough, there’s a security guard in the lobby as well, standing at the other end of the room, and call run to him, saying, “Help! A man fell across the street, and we need an ambulance!”

The security guard runs over, loosening the holder of his walkie-talkie. When he reaches you, you point to the man lying on the sidewalk across the street, and tell him what you found. He nods in understanding and steps behind the reception desk to call 9-1-1. You see the man across the street starting to struggle again, his legs kicking the air, and you say you’ll be across the street with the man. The guard waves his assent, and you bound to the sidewalk, look both ways, and dash to the other side.

“Stay still,” you say gently to the man covered in blood. “Just stay still. Help is coming. Just stay still.”

He kicks a few times more and tries to lift himself up, but he can’t support his own weight. You step closer and crouch down just beyond arm’s reach. Drugs. Blood. AIDS. Hep C. And who knows what else? You don’t feel comfortable getting too close. But you can keep a safe distance, and still do some good.

The man quiets down, as you stay nearby. After what seems like an eternity, you hear the shrill siren of an approaching ambulance. The vehicle pulls up to the curb, parks, and an EMT jumps out, carrying a large case. The security guard from across the street joins you, and you explain what happened – what you saw, how the man seems – as the EMT pulls on gloves and opens his case. He waves you off, says “You can go now,” and turns his full attention to the man.

As you step back, you look up to see the security guard watching from his station back on his building’s steps. You wave and nod to each other, then you turn and head back in the direction of your own destiny.

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