Thursday, October 1, 2009

Incident in Friendship Park


This morning, around 8am, a man in Loaves & Fishes' Friendship Park had a seizure of some sort. This is decidedly not an unusual occurrence at Loaves & Fishes or in Homeless World Sacramento.

I know of many people who have had seizures or who have abruptly been hospitalized because they are subject to seizures, or because they have blood-sugar-maintenance problems or MS or frailty from the cancer they're living with. Others faint and fall and are transported by ambulance to a hospital due to abuse of alcohol or heroin or another substance. Yet others, suffering from emphysema, can't get up in the morning at the mission, so an ambulance is called to take them away.

Within the last week, while I was getting my mail at Union Gospel Mission, a man accross the street from the mission was seen rolling on the ground and foaming at the mouth, so 911 was called.

[You get the idea.]

Anyway, it was very crowded in Friendship Park, and the man, whom I would later learn was named Michael, was in a coffee line when he was stricken.

I was at my locker, talking to my friend Dave, when we began to realize something bad was happening not far from us. Through the blur of shuffling legs, about fifteen yards away, I could see a man, face-down, on the gravel. His complexion looked a little bluish, and if he was breathing, it was shallow and inevident.

Two park denizens were trying to aid the man. They put an unfurled sleeping bag under his head and otherwise desisted from moving him. Nurse Suzi came to the scene [or was there all along and I hadn't seen her], and seemed OK with was was being done. They waited for the fire crew from down the street to arrive.

I played a tiny role. The man who owned the sleeping bag is one of the many cognitively impaired people who are abandoned to the streets. He was demanding his sleeping bag, and I was trying to calm him and assure him he'd get his bag back in a few short minutes.

The fire crew arrived after tense minutes. A woman fireperson with the crew seemed a bit unhappy as she attended the stricken man. I think I heard her tell Suzi that the "man fell and nobody helped him," which would seem to be incongruous with what I'd witnessed.

Soon, though, all was clearly, relatively well. Suzi had a file on the stricken man which pinpointed the probable problem. Michael's blood sugar was checked and he was given a shot of some sort. Over the next couple minutes, as his neck was fixed in place with a brace of some sort and he was strapped to a board and placed on a gurney, Michael became increasingly coherent and responsive.

Lying on his back on the gurney, we could see that one of Michael's hands was slightly injured and his face was bloodied. Thereupon, Michael was taken away.

So, why I am telling you all this?

I think things easily can have gone awry. What if the stricken man shouldn't have been moved but had been? What if Nurse Suzi hadn't been in the park, as she often/sometimes isn't?

Why isn't it a requirement that the Green Hats, the staff that works in the park, have some basic medical-response training and the fortitude to manage things when incidents like these occur?

I submit that the culture of the Loaves & Fishes employees is one of emotional empathy for the homeless people they are meant to aid, and not compassion.

Emotional empathy is defined thus by Daniel Goleman [taken from a blogpost I put up in Homeless Tom on types of empathy]:
  • Emotional Empathy, refers to someone who feels within herself the emotions of the person she’s with. This creates a sense of rapport, and most probably entails the brain’s mirror neuron system, which activates our own circuits the emotions, movements and intentions we see in the other person. This lets us feel with the other person - but not necessarily feel for, the prerequisite for compassion.
Compassion is defined thus at wikipedia [I've included a big chunk of Buddhism in this blockquote since Buddhism is so extremely cool]:
  • Compassion is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was reputedly asked by his secretary, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindess and compassion is all of our practice."
A great many in the army of employees at Loaves & Fishes are able to get energized for marches and protests that whipsaw donors to empty their purses, but have a far reduced interest in things during the mundanity of an ordinary day's work. IMHO.

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