The first thing I noticed was a white purse lying in the sidewalk about a block away. I had stepped out for a coffee run and hadn’t seen anything strange happen, but the white purse caught my attention as unusual. The first thing they teach you in Red Cross first aid training is to pay attention to usual sights, sounds and smells, which can indicate something amiss. Obvious, I know – but handy to remember.
My eyes followed the purse to its owner, an elderly woman who was seated on the sidewalk. I immediately sped up my pace to help her, assuming that she must have fallen. She managed to grasp a nearby wrought iron café fence and pull herself up before I could reach her. “Are you Ok?” I asked, as I bent over to collect her purse and its spilled belongings for her. She leaned over as well – and a drop of blood spattered the concrete by our feet.
“Oh, goodness, honey, I think you’re bleeding. I’m not a doctor, but I work for the Red Cross and have taken first aid. Do you mind if I help you?” I asked calmly. As she turned to me, telling me she had fallen and had no idea what she’d tripped on, I saw that a streak of blood had run down her cheek. She had about a half-inch laceration just below her eyebrow.
I re-certified in Red Cross first aid this spring – it’s a requirement and a benefit for all of us employees here in Colorado – and so my training kicked in. She had tissues in hand and I told her to put pressure directly on the wound. I asked her questions. She seemed lucid and didn’t exhibit signs of a stroke, but I knew that a head wound should always be taken seriously, especially for an elderly person. I recommended that she seek medical attention immediately.
Fortunately, she had been on her way to the café to meet a friend, who rushed out to us and offered to drive the elderly woman to the nearest emergency room. I maintained my calm, encouraged the elderly woman to maintain pressure on the wound, and helped retrieve the elderly woman’s car keys while her friend juggled her belongings.
The friend was extremely grateful for the help, though really it was so little.
And yet, it struck me afterwards, it’s the little gestures that count. Not every emergency is a catastrophic disaster, but it’s an emergency to those affected nonetheless. It may seem small, but it does matter for us to do anything we can do as bystanders – as neighbors – as fellow human beings—to help. We can bring calm in the midst of a frightening situation. We can help lessen the impact of an injury. We can show compassion. And we can potentially save a life.
I didn’t save anyone’s life today. But I’m glad I work for an organization that trains me to know what to do when someone needs help – and most importantly, to take action when someone is in need.
You never know when someone you love, someone you work with, or a total stranger may need your help. Training and knowledge are powerful tools to move from being a helpless bystander to being able to render aid. You can move from being helpless to being a helper, too – download the free Red Cross First Aid app and get familiar with different emergencies or, better yet, invest half a day in getting Red Cross trained.