Responding To Those Who Don't Want Your Help
In a recent article I wrote for this site, I talked about dealing with those people who are sure they’re fine. That can be a tough situation, but there’s a whole other kind of “I don’t need help” call that I think is even more difficult to navigate. You see, some people for one reason or another don’t just not want your help, they’re actually angry at you for even being there.
I ran a call to a middle-class neighborhood residence on Thanksgiving last year. It was dispatched as “Unconscious,” and on the way we got enough information to know that this was a young guy who was visiting his parents for Thanksgiving, and who had gone into a really heavy state of sleep. So heavy that when he rolled off the bed and hit his head, he didn’t even wake up. We were advised that he was taking Xanax, and one of the side-effects of Xanax is possible drowsiness, but this level of unresponsiveness was a little bit past “drowsy.”
When we arrive, we walk into a bedroom and see…nothing.
“He’s behind the bed!” the dad yells from the hallway.
We peak over the bed, and there he is, facedown and contorted up, wedged between the bed and the wall.
“Check his breathing,” the Captain murmurs as he begins to open the med-bag.
Leaning close to the kid I can hear respiration and can feel it on my face. Smell it, too. Definitely breathing.
“He’s breathing, but shallow, probably because of his position. Shall we move him?”
We each grab a body part and move him out into the center of the room. He moans and moves a bit as we move him, but goes flat out again as soon as we lay him down.
“Let’s get him on some O’s,” I hear from over my shoulder.
I pull a non-rebreather out of the packaging and hook it up to the oxygen bottle that’s already been primed for me, then apply it to the patient’s face. He doesn’t like that.
Sitting up groggily he yanks the mask off his face and asks what’s going on.
“You were pretty unresponsive there, for a while,” the captains says to him, checking his pupils (which are currently small pinpoints).
“I wass nnnapping,” he slurs.
Now we have a paramedic from the ambulance in the room, already briefed by the parents, who asks what’s been going on, pointing out that the heavy sleeping, The grogginess and slurred speech seem to indicated something is wrong.
“I’mmm sleeeepy,” he manages to get out.
“Well, your behavior is not quite what we’d expect from someone who is just sleepy.”
He really doesn’t like this.
“Well! I didnn’t knnnow…that..that…that therrre was a right wayyy to be slleeppy!”
“Calm down, buddy…” the medic says.
“NO! See, you’rrre starting to piss me off herrre! Herrre’s what’s going on…” his speech is improving a bit as his new found anger cuts through the haze “You all are in this house…telling me how to be ****** sleepy!….and I don’t aprrrrreciate it….So all five of you ******** can just take a flying **** out the ******* window….cause I swear if I find out where you live….”
How about that?! This guy just doesn’t like us at all. It’s not just, “I’m ok, thanks.” It’s more like “I will hurt you if you touch me.” I consider myself an emotionally tough guy, but it stings a bit when you reach out with compassion and get met with anger. You can see why the medics who have been on the job for a long time seem more likely to be rather unconcerned regardless of the situation (almost to the point of being dispassionate). Apathy is hard to offend. If you don’t care about someone that much, nothing short of a physical assault is really going to hurt you. But if you put yourself out there emotionally-if you try to feel some empathy for someone who’s having a rough day and you do your best to have concern for them and help them-and they reject you, it feels like pretty much any other relationship where you get something nice pushed back in your face. Far safer to not care that much in the first place.