This morning I was walking to a nearby hospital with my wife. I was there to offer her support, because she was nervous about having a routine test done.
We had our dog with us. The plan was that I would continue to walk the dog in the park beside the hospital, while my wife underwent the brief test.
As we neared the hospital, we heard an unusual, loud noise. It sounded like the call of a howler monkey. My wife and I both reflexively looked up into the branches of the nearby trees, then laughed because we knew we had both thought the same illogical thing. We began to wonder aloud what had made the noise. Then I noticed.
Near a low hospital building a young woman was being held by the wrists by a young man. Then she started to scream, “Get off me! Get off me! Leave me alone!”
I decided to intervene and I asked my wife to stay back and phone hospital security.
As I approached the couple, I noticed that there was quite a lot of blood on them both, but mostly on the young woman. My instant reaction, I’m embarrassed to say, because of my OCD was, “Ugh, blood! A source of human contamination!”. Thankfully, common sense thinking immediately replaced the kneejerk intrusive thought. At least one of them was injured. One or both of them could have a weapon.
They were both visibly distressed. My approach didn’t stop the young man from holding the young woman firmly by the arms. With both hands. No weapon in his hands.
I started to talk to the guy in a calm, measured tone. “I don’t know what’s happening here fella, but the lady looks upset at being held, so maybe back off a couple of feet”
“It’s not what it looks like sir. It’s not what it looks like”
“Sir” seemed an odd and unthreatening way to address me. Even so, I remained alert and cautious.
“OK, but I still want you to back off to let things calm down”
He let go of her and took a couple of steps back.
“You don’t understand. It’s not what it looks like. You don’t understand sir”
I then managed a first proper glance at the woman, while remaining vigilant near the young man. Most of the blood was on the young woman’s arms and jacket front. The blood was coming from very recent cuts on her arms. Not deep cuts, so no immediate danger of fatal blood loss. No evidence of stab wounds. Any blood on her face & jacket was transferred or spattered from her arms. I noticed extensive scarring further up the young woman’s arms. I then understood what was happening.
“Please sir, let me help her. You don’t understand, I’m trying to help her”.
The young man was very upset. Covered in blood spatter and his own tears. I scanned him for injury. He looked unharmed. Injury to him? Why would I check that? Because I had been in his situation many times with my first wife. Whenever she was self harming with a knife, she would try and slash me as I tried to take the knife off her.
Oh shit! I had my back to the woman as I remembered this. I hadn’t checked her hands for weapons! Stupid stupid bastard! I was so busy worrying about the man being the armed one. I instinctively took a step backwards into a defensive posture and scanned the young woman. No weapon, but she was very agitated and distressed.
“Are you OK?”, I asked her.
“You don’t understand man. I’ve lost my phone. I need to find my phone. I am so fucked up and anxious man. I don’t have my meds with me. I need my meds. Where’s my phone…”
She turned her back to me and started to pick through the contents of a hospital dumpster. The distraught young man, overcome with the stress of the situation, had slumped, sobbing against a low wall.
“I can’t find my phone. I need to find my phone…”
The woman was scrabbling through the discarded paper waste. She may have been looking for her phone, but I suspected that she was also looking for a sharp object to cut herself with. I didn’t touch her. I couldn’t touch her, not with so much blood on her, though I would have done so if she had tried to self harm again. I tried to start a conversation.
“So, how come you guys are so upset?”
She stopped searching and turned towards me. “You wouldn’t understand man, nobody understands”
“I think I understand”
“WHAT WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT BEING MENTAL?” – loudly, aggressively.
I stood my ground, despite the blood spatter coming from agitated hands”
Quietly: “I do understand. I have OCD & PTSD. I’m under the care of the community mental health team. I’ve tried to die by suicide before. I understand your difficulties.”
“Oh… Oh right…” Her stance became less confrontational. Her shoulders dropped and relaxed a little. She started to talk to me in a flood. I won’t detail what she said, because it might reveal her identity. She is entitled to her anonymity. She was engaging with me; I was listening. She was still very agitated, but starting to calm down. I eventually replied.
“I understand. You are very upset. You need help…”
“WHERE CAN I GET HELP?! NOBODY WILL HELP ME!”
“We’re close to the accident and emergency department of the hospital. If I go with you, I can help you to ask for help from the crisis team. I’ve done it for myself. They’re good people. They helped me, they can help you too”
She was considering the idea. She was calming down. I glanced across at her male friend who was continuing to sit on the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. He gave me a thumbs-up sign.
At this point a police car pulled up and two young police officers, one male, one female got out. The male officer helped the young man to his feet, started to talk to him and checked if he was injured. The young woman immediately tensed again as the female officer approached. I reassured her and she relaxed a little. The policewoman was fantastic and straight away put the young woman at ease. I was no longer needed or useful.
I walked over to the young man and the male officer. The man was explaining the situation. He was still visibly upset. He was doing his very best to help his friend, to prevent her from harming herself more seriously. I felt so sorry for the guy. I gave him a hug, despite the blood all over him. I explained to the policeman that I was just a passer-by, a random guy, who had stepped in to help the young woman in distress. I recounted some of the details of what I had witnessed and suggested to the policeman that the young woman was genuinely in need of immediate crisis team intervention. I wished the young man good luck and left in order to walk my wife to her appointment.
I cried a little as I walked the dog round the park. It’s tough to see other people in distress, but I’m glad I was able to step in and in some small way help two other human beings who needed it. I was glad to see some early crocuses in flower in the sunshine. It cheered me up.
I met my wife when she finished her appointment and we started to walk back home. In the distance, the two police officers were walking with the young couple towards A&E. I wished them all a thought of good fortune.