A call for help


Driving through Reno and out of the corner of my eye I see a crumpled heap of laundry on the sidewalk. Oh wait, that’s a human being. He was flat on his back with legs askew, not the position for someone who decided to just take a nap. I had to pull over to take a closer look and help if I could.

He was 30 something with a scruffy beard, but dressed like a frat boy in long shorts, hoody, polo shirt and black tennis shoes. His baseball cap was turned around backward and he was completely unconscious. I took a step closer, not even sure if he was alive.

“Hey buddy, can you hear me? Can you hear me? Are you OK?”

His eyes blinked open, dazed and confused. I kneeled down to talk to him and held his shoulder to keep him from trying to stand. I asked if he’d been drinking and he was able to mutter “Yeah a little bit.” The whiff of alcohol told me it was way more than a little. I asked him if he had ID or a cell phone and he reached into his front pocket and pulled out a half-empty pint of vodka. I threw it into the bush, looked him straight in the eye and said “You don’t need that, it’s not going to help you.” He was too drunk to argue.

He tried to stand up and walk and nearly tipped over into the street. I couldn’t just leave him there, so I grabbed one arm and helped him down the sidewalk. He said he lived “right over there” as he pointed to a Bank of America. That was enough.  I sat him down on a stair and called 911. The operator asked a few questions and then transferred me to the paramedic dispatcher.

I hung out with him until they arrived 10 minutes later. Fire and paramedic trucks with a total of 6 people attended to him. I told them his name was Rich and that he was in really bad shape. They didn’t need anything else from me. I snapped this picture and I was on my way, believing he was in good hands

Now for the truly disturbing part… I drove down the road and 3 minutes later realized I needed to make a u-turn to get back onto the freeway. I passed by the scene again and saw the unbelievable… Rich stumbling down the sidewalk. No, it couldn’t be him. Yes. It was.

The firetruck was gone but the paramedics hadn’t left yet. I pulled up broadside and rolled down my window. “Hey, why did you let that guy go?!”

Apologetically, the paramedic said “There’s nothing we could do. He answered all the questions and we can’t force him to go to the hospital. It’s legally like kidnapping if we do that.” I could not believe my ears. Is this really true? Could any of you paramedics out there enlighten me on the policy for situations like this?

Maybe I should have asked for the police to take him to a cell to sleep it off. Maybe I should have poured him into my car and drove him to the emergency room instead. All of us letting him stumble back out onto the street to fall and crack his head or get hit by a bus does not seem like the right thing to do. Does it?

I don’t know if I’m more disturbed by how drunk this guy was at 3:00 in the afternoon, or by the rescue workers inability to do anything about it. Please pray for Rich. Pray that he gets help and that he gets sober before he dies way too young.

If you found someone who was a danger to himself and others and unable to tell you where he lived, what would you do?


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4 Comments on “A call for help”

  1. It’s hard to believe isn’t it? I was in a situation like this once too – I had called 911- but they could not take her against her will. She needed to hit bottom and make the decision to get help on her own… And she finally did after missing her daughter’s wedding , losing her job, becoming totally estranged from her family … Alcohol is cunning, baffling and powerful. Bad stuff if you have he allergy.

  2. George Jarosik Says:

    I commend you David for pulling over and reaching out to help this young man. You did the best you could do. I know this man will not remember you, but you did engage the medics. One day one of these medics will say “Enough is enough” and take these unfortunate souls to the emergency room or ask friends at the police station to lock them up for the night. You demonstrated and shouted out what we need to hear. You did good David.

  3. Stan Says:

    You did good. But, sometimes there is nothing we could do at all. The law is the law. And, people have rights. Crazy isn’t it. My wife, Pam, tried to help a guy in our neighborhood. All she got for it was screamed at by the guy. You can’t help those that don’t want help.

  4. Jeff goad Says:

    Very tough call, but the only way for him to have a safe rest of the day would be police. They would do a field test and either take him home if he truly lived close by and they were in a sympathetic mood or arrest him for “public intoxication” and transport him to a cell for an overnight stay.
    It’s hard for me to believe he was lucid enough to pass the emt field test. They could have transported him under “suspicion of concussion” from falling if they really wanted to but perhaps they just didn’t want the hassle of babysitting a “drunk patient” to ER for the next couple of hours. Sometimes first responders can become a little jaded depending on where they work and the protocols they work under.
    Sad/tragic any way you slice it.

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