I usually walk or ride my bike to and from work, but on a cool rainy night recently, I tried taking a bus instead. Ended up taking much longer than just walking. Part of the problem was a busy road (Gubei Road near Gubei’s elegant pedestrian street) was partly blocked by a traffic accident. As we drove by the scene, I saw a car and a little motorcycle-powered three-wheeled rig for a restaurant delivery service. There was a woman pacing next to the car talking to someone on a cell phone. And then I saw two feet pointed upwards on the ground. A man was lying on the asphalt near the car that had struck his little vehicle. Cars were passing near him. It was raining on him. Nobody seemed to be looking after the victim, with hundreds of cars steadily moving on both sides. Why was nobody helping?
It seemed beyond my ability to do anything about it, but I got off at the next stop and thought I should at least walk back to the accident site and see if things were OK. I debated internally as I pondered all the things I needed to do and the shear improbability of making a difference because things were probably under control by then. But I felt drawn and so I went back. As I approached the scene, I was relieved to see two police officers had shown up. Things were under control. Still, I crossed the street near them to get a peak at the victim, whom I assumed would now be receiving some kind of help. He was still lying in the same place, rain falling on him, with no protection. Then I realized that, perhaps for the first time ever, I had two umbrellas with me that day. I had grabbed one when I went to work, forgetting that I already had one in the bag I carry. I had two, and since the officers didn’t seem to have any, I could offer them one to help them at least keep the victim dry until an ambulance showed up.
The officer I spoke to recognized that an umbrella would be useful, but he was busy directing traffic and said if I wanted to, I could hold it for the victim. Well, OK, the ambulance would be here any minute and so sure, I could help out a bit. I recognized that people passing by might think that I had been the driver of the vehicle that struck the man, but hoped that I would be doing more good than harm by being the volunteer umbrella holder. The woman driver who had been standing around doing nothing said something like, “Oh, right, good idea” when I started trying to protect the victim. But she didn’t offer to take over that role. I was disappointed that the driver didn’t seem very worried about the delivery man she had struck. He was about 50 years old and had a lot to say about the allegedly reckless driver who struck him while he was driving properly and carefully. Proper driving isn’t all that common here, so I can’t judge who was at fault. He worked for one of Shanghai’s best and healthiest restaurants, Element Fresh, which I would learn provides good health care coverage for their employees.
The man was in pain but it didn’t appear critical, but I was worried about the possibility of internal bleeding and wanted the ambulance to get there ASAP. After about 10 minutes I asked if ambulance was coming. “Yes, I called for one.” After about 20 minutes I asked again and she then said that the ambulance service she called had said all the ambulances were busy and that they would call her when one became free. Huh? I talked to the police and suggested that we should give up on this no-show ambulance and take him to the hospital in a taxi. There were taxis coming by all the time. Why not use one of them?
The police reminded me that the man was injured and it would be dangerous to move him ourselves. By then, though, the man was really sick of lying on the road and said he was going to sit up, and would we help him. So the police helped him to sit up. And then he said that this was a bad place to be waiting and that he wanted to talk over to the curb where it would be safer and more comfortable, and could we please help him walk over there? So the police helped him as I held my two umbrellas above us, and continued holding both for the man and me as we waited. And waited. I again raised the possibility of a taxi. After about 40 minutes of waiting, the police saw that as a good idea and agreed. So I waved down a taxi and wondered if I would be needed to take the man to the hospital, but was relieved to see that the police arranged for the woman to take the man there and that I would not be needed.
The ambulance never came. A poor man struck by a car laid on the road for perhaps an hour or so waiting for am ambulance that never came. A Taiwanese friend of mine later suggested that the woman may have lied and never called the ambulance because in China it is the person who calls the ambulance that pays for it. Perhaps. But later another friend at lunch shared an even more painful story of a stroke victim he was helping in Shanghai, where it took an hour to get an ambulance and then when they came, the team had rough street people who moved the victim like one moves a bag of potatoes. In any case, in this, one of the most advanced and modern cities in the world, when you need it, the ambulance might not come for a very long time. This is a problem that can happen anywhere, especially in times of crisis, not just in rush hour.
By the way, I was able to reach the man later to check up on him. He’s doing well and is taking a month off from work to recover from the injury to his side. No surgery needed. He was quite upbeat. Element Fresh provides good health care benefits it seems and the responsible driver paid for the medical care. I also was impressed that the leaders at the Element Fresh restaurant at Yili Road/Yanan Road were aware of the man’s situation and care about him and helped me contact him to check on his status. To thank Element Fresh (and more selfishly, to enjoy delicious, healthy dining), my wife and I dined there last night and had a wonderful meal.
More and more, it seems that we need to be increasingly prepared to take care of ourselves and reduce our dependency on others. When it comes to health, we need to be doing more to reduce our future reliance on services that might not be there or whose quality might be far below what we need. Now is the time to exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, eat wisely with plenty of plants in our diet, and to reduce behaviors that put us at risk.
As I reflect upon the many things I am grateful for, the gift of physical health is high on the list. Each day as I experience the fascinating sights and sounds of China, most commonly on my way to and from work by walking or riding my bike through the always intriguing streets of Shanghai, I ponder on what a blessing it is to be able to walk or ride.
A couple years ago I had a near-miss with a bad surgeon at a good hospital here who was going to “fix” a knee problem (he said he would repair my meniscus), but after I had checked in for the surgery, a comment from one of the staff about “removing the meniscus” raised my suspicions and I decided to just get up and walk away. I’ve been walking ever since. Had I succumbed to the recommended surgery, I think my mobility might have been impaired.
After I walked away, I called a physical therapist I knew for a second opinion. He said the way to check to see if I really needed surgery would be to go to another reputable hospital and meet with a surgeon there and show them my MRI scan, but tell them that if I needed surgery, I would not do it there so they would have no profit motive to sell their surgery to me. Surgery is the solution for everything in China, he explained, because that’s where the profit is. Something like 70% of all babies born are delivered with C-section. And I suppose a lot of knees get repaired unnecessarily as well.
I took a taxi to another hospital and minutes later was meeting with a surgeon. He checked my knee, looked at the MRI, and said this was not a case where surgery was needed. “Try physical therapy.” I went to that physical therapist and after the first treatment, my problem was significantly reduced, and ten treatments later, I was pretty much back to normal. There is a damaged meniscus, but better damaged one than none at all. I came so close to reducing my long-term mobility, and I remain grateful every day that I can walk or ride. It’s exhilarating to move and to be independent. I will greatly miss this freedom when it is gone or limited someday. But for now, my mobility is one of my most cherished gifts, and I recognize it all the more as a gift since that near miss, and from some accidents that could easily have given me a broken bone or worse, where I am just so grateful to have been able to walk away.
Our health is so precious, and it is up to us to protect it. With the strains on the healthcare system and the increasing difficulty of paying for medical insurance, coupled with the decreasing quality of coverage in many places, it is imperative that we do more to preserve our health and to be able to cope with our problems on our own or with our own resources. We can’t always assume that the help we expect to get will be available. And when we do get it, even from good doctors at good clinics, things can go wrong. Prevention must be our first line of defense. Being prepared to render first aid and take care of basic problems is also vital. For more serious things, doing our own research so we understand the issues can make us less dependent on one person’s opinion and can often increase our ability to guide outcomes in the right direction.
Special thanks to those of you who are going into the the medical profession. We need more good doctors, nurses, and other experts. Thank you!
2 thoughts on “The Ambulance Never Came”
Reading this I caught myself wondering how often you may be late for your appointments because of your willingness to help others! I even wondered if you had an established reputation for getting somewhere "whenever you show up" because of such experiences.
I realize, of course, that you don't get to be who you are or do what you do without usually being punctual. And that is why I commend you for being so available to help even – and especially – when it's not convenient.
You also struck a chord with me about personal health. I have been contemplating what I should do to reverse the slowly expanding waistline I'm experiencing. (I even keep old clothes that I hope to be able to fit into again someday…)
Thanks for the reminder on both counts.
I want to see a guest-post by your wife on the subject of what it is like to live with a "compulsive helper".
There have GOT to be some hilarious stories of these types of events from her perspective.