This is our truth, tell us yours
After a great morning with Jem, I was walking round my local Asda, looking for bargains. I was, it has to be said, very chilled.
I noticed the couple, late 60s, him bored, pushing the trolley, her talking about the varieties of flavoured tuna. I smiled, and wandered off to look at protein shake prices.
I heard the thump behind me, the sound of a man’s head hitting the floor. I looked around and he was down, on his back, stationary, his wife watching. An ASDA asistant was coming from the opposite direction, talking into her cordless phone.
Getting him onto his side, dentures out into his wife’s hanky, his breathing and pulse checked, his frustrated, embarrassed words listened to, took ten seconds. The ASDA woman confirmed the paramedics were on the way, and headed off to get some screens. I chatted to the man, listened to his frustration that we wouldn’t let him up, listened to his wife’s worry that maybe it was his chest infection, maybe she shouldn’t have brought him out…
Then the first fuckwit arrived. He had a first aid certificate apparently. He wanted to check the man over. I explained his vital signs, the reasons why he was in the recovery position. Apparently first fuckwit had a certificate. I didn’t doubt that he had. He looked like the kind of useful idiot who was the office fire warden, and had a clipboard and hi viz jacket to prove it. He stpped back, in medium dudgeon, perplexed that I wouldn’t let him ask the questions that I’d just given him the answers too.
Useful idiot two didn’t have a certificate. He had a mobile phone. Should he call the ambulance, just in case the ASDA person had forgotten to? He didn’t fuck off until ASDA person came back with a modesty screen and reassured him that yes, she knew how to use a phone.
Bill, toothless embarrassed Bill, wanted to go home and have some food. I wanted Bill to talk to a paramedic who could decide if he needed a doctor. The sticking point was his teeth. Once he had his dentures back in, retrieved from his wife’s hanky, I left him behind his screen, noted the paramedic on the way past the checkouts, and headed in the opposite direction.
Useful fuckwit one and two were still hanging round like a bad smell when I left. From the end of an aisle I watched as they eyed up the paramedics as if checking they weren’t strippergrams. The ASDA woman escorting the paramedics was joking about the previous week when an old man who had collapsed had left the store before the ambulance arrived. I recognized her tone of voice, and the story she was telling.
Bill was embarrassed, and angry that his frailty should suddenly be a public issue. I wanted to hug him, but one of the things I know about men like Bill is they don’t do hugs. I know, because I have a certificate too, and not one of the ones you do because it’s two days off work, a bit of status and a small emolument to recognize your willingness to be the one who gets called in when someone staples their finger to a file.
My certificate starts from the principle that you provide the help people ask for, not the help you think they need. It requires you to listen, to observe, to enable where possible, and to practice humility. From the moment when Bill’s head whacked off the floor like a basketball off a board, he was on a journey which may have started somewhere else, but which would involve lots of people far more medically qualified than me, all of whom would have more experience than me of getting men like Bill to re-fashion their masculinity and engage with their own frailty and medicine’s ability to enable them to make their lives better.
I walked away feeling happy that I knew when to help, and when to walk away. It should be a part of every certificate.