I work in a very cool dress shop just one day a week. It’s probably the only fashion outlet in town where I can get away with being forty-ish, a little on the curvy side whilst sporting some fairly large tattoos and a full head of dreadlocks. I get to dress up like Stevie Nicks, then hang out listening to chill-out music while selling cool stuff to some pretty happy people most of the time. But as lovely as it is, it’s still retail. I don’t actually feel totally comfortable with the consumerist principles of retail, but those principles are helping me pay my sons school fees just now.
Last Friday, the manager and I were having a pretty slow afternoon, so slow in fact my boss said she would probably send me home early. I made myself busy pulling stuff off some shelves, then cleaning the empty space with Windex and paper towels and putting it all back in again. In this way I managed to make myself useful enough to not get sent home. Late in the afternoon, an elderly lady came in looking for easter gifts for her family. I played with the bric-a-brac as my manager sold the lady some stuff she liked, and we all enjoyed some light hearted banter together. My manager had just completed the sale and the woman had stepped away from the counter a few feet, when I heard her call out in a panic stricken voice -
“OH MY GOD!”
I turned to see the woman standing beside the counter in a rapidly expanding pool of her own blood.
My mind scrambled. What the hell? Where is it coming from? Did she cut herself? Is she hemorrhaging?
I raced to her side. By this time she was holding her calf, fumbling with her pant leg,”Oh no, oh no…” I lifted her pant leg a few inches and was greeted by the sight of the woman’s blood pumping vertically out of a hole in the side of her calf. It had filled her shoe and was now pouring out onto the floor.
The blood was spurting straight out in a stream as thick as my little finger in a steady rhythm – gloop, gloop, gloop. I’m not exactly sure what happened next. All I know is that I must have grabbed the roll of paper towel which I’d left sitting nearby and made a large wad, which I then must have clamped over the hole in her leg. I found myself kneeling on the floor beside her, telling her that everything was going to be okay, trying not to get too close to the huge puddle of her blood which was spreading quickly across the tiles.
Another woman who happened to be in the shop at the time came to help me. Like me, she had been trained in first aid, and we began trying convince the woman she needed to be lying down, and her leg needed to be elevated. It was kind of difficult, not just because english was not the elderly woman’s first language, but because she didn’t seem to see any reason why she shouldn’t continue to stand up and talk a dime to the dozen at us as we tried to calm her down. I had visions of her passing out on the floor of the shop because of the blood loss, and us then having to do CPR, as well as continuing to prevent her losing her entire blood volume on the floor.
By this time we were surrounded by a crowd of very concerned onlookers. Someone had called the paramedics, and was kneeling beside me giving me instructions for everything I was already doing. “I’m doing that, yes, I’m already doing that.” I explained as patiently as I could. “I’m just telling you what the lady on the phone is telling me to tell you.” she whimpered. I must have barked at her. I didn’t mean to. I wanted to say thank you, but the Macedonian lady whose pulse I could feel through the palm of my hand was trying to keep my attention on her. “Oh-a, my son, he was-a keeled in an accident twenty-six yeers ago-a.” “That’s awful,” I said, “but can you tell me Maria, has this happened to you before?”
“Oh, yes, seven-a times!”
Everyone gave out a collective sigh. One day we too would all be vulnerable and frail, and going out in public would become a exercise in risk assessment and accident prevention.
We managed to get Maria to sit down on a plastic crate, and elevated her leg by placing it on another crate. We tried to put a cushion under her leg to stop her being hurt by the sharp plastic, but she shooed it away with frantic gesticulations.It took us a few moments to realise she was actually afraid she’d bleed on the cushion. We waited until she was distracted and shoved it under her ankle. We had to reassure her several times we weren’t going to expect her to pay for it.
After a short while, a security guard from the shopping centre came and knelt beside me. “How you doing?” he asked in a low, calm voice. The hand I had been pressing as hard as I could against her leg was beginning to shake. I was crouching on the floor, and my foot was numb, and my other hand had lost all feeling from holding me off the floor at such an angle as not to have me fall in the blood. “I’m ok.” I said. He had at the ready a pressure bandage. We began making a plan to replace my hand with the wad of gauze and bandage he was holding, but Maria was having none of that. As she realised our cunning plan to replace my quivering hand with the dressing, she began to berate us with a waggling finger. “No, no, no, no, no! Just the finger! Not to take away! You hold it, with the finger!”
I held it. With the finger.
“Maybe,” I said to the security guy, “if you put your hand over my hand, we can go on like that.” So he put his very large, and surgically gloved, hand, over the top of my bloody hand. I released the tension in my shoulder and immediately felt better.
Soon after I got help from the security guy, the paramedics came. I guess we’d been there about twenty minutes, maybe longer. Maybe it was only ten minutes – I don’t know. As they loaded Maria onto the stretcher and began to make her ready to leave, she pulled me close like a long lost friend. “Oh you, you bootiful, you enjel, thenk you, thenk you.” Just you be good Maria, I said, you just behave yourself, then they took her away.
We stood back and surveyed what looked like a murder scene. There would have been at least a litre of dark red blood congealing there on our nice, white tiles. The shopping centre management kindly sent a team who efficiently cleaned up all traces of the eventful afternoon. Someone said “Er, I think you need to wash your hands.” Of course I did. I strode purposefully through the shopping centre to the rest rooms, my hands held straight up in the air, my elbows by my side like a surgeon going to perform an emergency transplant. They felt dirty, but I didn’t think to check what they looked like before I set out. It wasn’t until I got to the ladies room and looked down that I saw my hands were stained red up to the wrists with Maria’s blood. No wonder everyone scurried out of the ladies room when I walked in. As I scrubbed my hands, I glanced up at my face. I was ashen. Maybe I was in just a little bit of shock?
We closed the shop for the rest of the day. My manager was clearly not okay. I had glanced up at one stage in the proceedings to see her on the phone, her hand half over her mouth as she gagged to stop from vomiting. She was now obviously in shock. I made a sign to put on the door – management apologises that due to unforeseen circumstances we will be closed for the remainder of the day, thank you – and we went for a walk around the shopping centre together. As we walked past the other shops, we noticed the security guards had a shoplifter sequestered on the floor, the contents of her handbag strewn around her. Busy afternoon, we commented drily. They smiled and nodded at us as we walked by huddled together, looking as blanched and dishevelled as evacuees deserting the scene of a hostage drama.
I called up one of the hospitals in town on the off chance Maria had been taken there. I needed to know if she was all right. “I’m not supposed to disclose that information,” said the clerk, “but after what you just told me, I will let you know Maria was discharged late Friday night. It seems she was quite okay.”
I was talking to Ben last night about how I’ve been feeling since the events of Friday afternoon. I’ve told quite a few people about it, not just because it’s an awesome story – there was a pretty substantial amount of blood on the outside of someones body, after all – but because I think people ought to know that if a varicose vein ruptures out through your skin for some reason and you start exsanguinating at an alarming rate, it’s entirely possible you could bleed to death in a few short minutes. I think this is kind of important to know, in the event. It’s good to know we did all the right things – immediate direct pressure to the area, elevate the limb, and if possible, immobilise and keep the subject quiet. We had a royal time immobilising Maria, and there was no keeping her quiet. She conversed animatedly the entire time, with not a small degree of grand gesticulations into the bargain. How she did not lose consciousness is beyond me. Maybe she was simply too busy entertaining her captive audience to be bothered to faint.
How I did not faint is also a miracle to me.
I was surprised at the different reactions of people to the situation. Some of us sprung into action. Some removed themselves from the vicinity very quickly, and others simply froze on the spot and had no idea what to do. I’ve always assumed that if something like that happened the nearest or the person with the most authority would be the one who would naturally take control, but I have seen this is not always what happens. When the emergency unfolded, nobody asked permission from anyone else to step in and assist. Those of us who knew what to do do simply entered the situation and did what we knew had to be done.
I reacted instantly. I was closest to her. I knew what to do. My manager was the person in charge, but I was the person with the answers. I knew I could help, and I did. I believe – considering the amount of blood I saw on the floor and how quickly it was exiting her body – I saved her life. I have tortured myself with thoughts of what may have happened to her if she’d been alone at a bus stop, or locked behind a toilet door. I shudder. But she was not in either of those places. She was in a shopping centre, in a shop, three feet away from a person who was willing and able to help her immediately.
If you don’t pray for your elderly relatives, please commence doing so regularly from this day onwards. I believe either Maria or someone close to her is absolutely a pray-er.
Anyway, I was talking to Ben about this all last night, and how I’d been reflecting on what I could take away from it. I told him how when I’d been asking God what lessons I could learn from this, He’d suggested – apart from telling everyone I meet how IMPORTANT it is to know basic first aid – the following:
Those who know what to do, and who are truly in the moment, don’t need to ask for permission.
God’s will for your life? Easy. Learn all you can about what you need to be doing when you are doing that thing you think you’re called to do. Whether it’s ministry, engineering, writing, nursing, parenting, whatever – learning is key. Educate yourself, become trained, become informed, become involved. Know your stuff, and don’t wait until the situation is upon you to begin that education. God’s will for your life is not an academic exercise. It’s a practical one.
Be in the moment. Opportunities to do what you believe you are called to do will already be with you, already around you. So many people are seeking God’s will for their life as they imagine it will look in 20 years. I am called to be a successful writer. You’re not there yet. What can you write for ten people today? I am called to be a pastor of a church of 10,000. You’re not there yet. How can you minister to ten people today? I am called to build bridges and save lives and teach high school and find a cure for cancer. So who can you serve with those gifts right here and right now? Stop projecting your life into the future. Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, in the here and the now. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) What is within your power to well and do now? That’s God’s will for your life.
Don’t think about what you can’t do until something else happens to facilitate it. There is always something you are qualified to do with what you have in front of you. You don’t need permission to do what God wants you to do, because what God wants you to do will be right here, right now, and something you know how to do, or are willing to at least have a red hot go at.
Like stop a woman bleeding to death right in front of you.
When I saw Maria standing there, I didn’t wait for permission. I didn’t ask anyone if they minded if I helped, nor did I stand back and let someone else better qualified take the lead. I was the one. It was me. I knew what to do, and I was right there when it was happening. It’s not always a matter of life and death, but there are different kinds of matters of life and death. Yeah?
Those who know what to do, and who are truly in the moment, don’t need to ask for permission.
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