On the morning of our last day in Boston, my wife Kris and our sons Sumner and Connor are walking back with me to our hotel having just visited Harvard and MIT in Cambridge.
Suddenly, Connor – who had been trailing about 20 feet behind the rest of us – comes running up.
“There’s a man back there who was screaming,” he says.
Kris and I glance at each other. “Just keep walking,” Kris replies. I agree.
“But he screamed out and then fell over,” Connor persists.
“Someone will take care of him,” I say, but by now we’ve slowed down.
“I think something’s really wrong,” Connor continues. “He cried out, fell to the ground and was shaking.”
I can no longer ignore the humanitarian pleadings of my 13-year-old son.
We turn around and go back to find a man lying in the street by the gutter, unconscious. I reach for my phone to dial 911. Unfortunately, while you can practically brew an espresso with your smart phone these days, actually making a call on them is about as easy as driving downtown during rush hour…in Bangkok.
As I’m trying to type in the unlock code, I see that another man who turned around after we did and followed us back has just connected with the 911 operator and is giving directions.
I look over the man on the street wondering what to do. As I do so, another man comes running from around the corner and identifies himself as an off-duty policeman. He asks what happened and I explain what Connor has told me.
At this moment, a passing car stops and out jumps a young woman who states that she works at a nearby hospital. “Are you a nurse?” asks the cop.
“No. I’m a doctor,” replies the woman in a tone that clearly indicates she is tired of people making stereotypical assumptions about her role. She examines the man and asks for a detailed recounting of what happened. I bring Connor over and he explains.
She tries to talk to the injured man and he becomes momentarily conscious with a look of wide-eyed terror since understandably, he has no idea where he is, what has happened or why these strangers are hovering over him in the street. Then he lapses back into unconsciousness.
We decide to get him off the street, so the cop and I gently lift him and move him up onto the sidewalk. I’ve heard people say how heavy “dead weight” is, but I never appreciated that until today. I carefully use the hood of his jacket to pillow his head and avoid putting pressure on the half-dollar-size wound on the back of his skull caused by his falling.
A police car then arrives and the officer tells us an emergency medical team is on the way. As the fire engine and that team then pull up, I realize that my family and I are quickly transitioning from Good Samaritans into gawkers. I ask the doctor and the off-duty cop if there is anything more we can do. They say, “No,” so we walk away, praying that the man laying there is okay.
As we make our way back to our hotel, I consider two things.
First, if you’re ever planning on having a heart attack, stroke or seizure, try and get to Boston. It seems (from my very limited sampling) that there are more helpful, responsive emergency professionals in this location than in any concentrated place other than your local Dunkin’ Donuts.
Second, when did I become the cynical, jaded, fearful person who wanted to walk away and ignore this man? Despite being less than 24 hours after assisting Tony at the Boston train station and thus being attuned to reaching out, it took Connor’s pleading for us to turn around and go back to help.
Kris and I later discussed our initial reactions: it’s a scam or a person who is drunk or on drugs or a host of other rationalized scenarios that justify our walking on. But Connor’s insistence broke through such excuses and made me realize how cold and uncaring I’ve become. The world has enough desensitized cynics for whom “I don’t want to get involved” is the default mantra. I don’t want to go on living like that.
On this day, Connor did help save a life, but it wasn’t just that of the man who had the stroke or seizure. The life Connor truly helped to save – or at least nudge back in the right direction – was my own.