Glimmer of recognition

‘I realized that this man — one who takes pride and is well respected in the community for his decades of sobriety — was in medical distress.’

BRATTLEBORO — Walking down Elliot Street last week, enjoying the sun and the breeze as I headed back to my office mid-afternoon, I noticed a man sitting on shop steps about a block ahead of me.

As I got closer, he slowly started to tip over, leaning toward the step on which he sat.

As I approached him, I recognized this courteous man who fills his days doing minor errands in downtown Brattleboro, greeting those he recognizes throughout his day.

When I reached him, I saw that his eyes were half closed and unfocused. His mouth was open; his lips bluish and dry.

As I bent to speak to him, he struggled to raise his eyes to meet mine as he slowly toppled over onto the step on which he sat. He showed a glimmer of recognition when he saw me; he was trying to speak, but his words were slurred and his soft voice trailed off as I heard my name mixed into the garble.

He had a cloth bag next to him, and I lifted his head and put the bag beneath it to cushion him on the step.

I realized that this man - one who takes pride and is well respected in the community for his decades of sobriety - was in medical distress.

Another woman approached and asked if she could offer assistance, which I appreciated. I fished in my bag for a cell phone (hardly ever used, and usually off), and I called 911 for emergency assistance.

EMTs arrived within a couple of minutes. I told them the man's name, and I was also able to emphasize that he never drinks - ever. I was anxious that they know immediately that he was neither intoxicated nor under the influence of some other substance.

As they took over his care, I walked away, secure that he would receive the care he needed.

* * *

I have no idea how long this man was sitting there on the step, fading in and out of consciousness. I thought of how many people had passed by, probably without recognizing his distress.

If I didn't know him, I might have assumed he was intoxicated; many of us might be uncomfortable stopping to check on a stranger, unsure what our reception might be.

It is frightening how uncomfortable we are “intruding” on someone's privacy as they sit alone, taking in the sun. Yet sometimes it is so important to step out of our comfort zone and engage with someone whose safety might be at risk.

I was shocked to realize that, had I not recognized this man, I might have passed by as well.

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