Off Duty Nursing:  To be a good Samaritan or not to be?

Recently I met my friend Paul at our weekly meditation group.  He shared that he was in a serious bike crash a few months ago, when he was side-swiped by a car that fled the scene.  Paul lost consciousness briefly but luckily an ICU nurse was on the corner and stopped to help.  Bike crashes suck, particularly when the driver flees the scene. Having a nurse respond take the edge off the misery when we can provide a calm presence and a sense of safety and security. Paul is on the mend, but dealing with post concussion syndrome, which has had a significant impact on his life.  

Enjoying some warm chamomile tea just before bed, I hear a long screech outside my window followed by a crash and a scream.  I sit for a moment, change out of pajamas into jeans, throw on Danskos and pop outside. It's a Spillane family trait, influenced by my father a retired NYC fire captain, to instinctively respond to an emergency.  Growing up, people knew that we were the house to go to for any emergencies.  

I walk out my door to find a black SUV, a woman on a bicycle speaking to the driver and a third woman walking away.  The driver is yelling "don't leave, don't leave,” as the pedestrian she hit walks away.  I ask if they were OK.  The driver, a woman in her twenties, clearly upset said, "it's my fault, I hit her and now she's walking away."  As I piece this together, I realize the cyclist is an uninjured witness.  No immediate medical care is needed and the responsible driver has already called 911.  I offer my apartment if they need anything, but with the power of the smart phone, calls to police, tow trucks and friends are at their fingertips. I wonder if that same smart phone prompted the accident?  

Earlier today, I was driving south on Hwy 101 when the annoying traffic jam revealed a crash with a northbound car in the center lane. I didn’t stop to help. It had not occurred to me to stop, as I took note of a man attending to the elderly passenger.  My day was full of places to go and people to see, and like everyone else rubbernecking, I gawked at the scene. As I drove on, the sirens and lights from the ambulance prompted me to think – should I have stopped?Is it even safe to pull over on the highway? Was I not a good Samaritan? Which then led me to think that if I stop for every little thing, I'll never get anything done. 

I personally have been the recipient of good Samaritans in four bike crashes over the years. Thirty-two stitches closed the gash under my right eyebrow after it met a telephone pole, biking home from my summer lifeguarding job.  My sister flagged down a car, since this was pre-cell phone days as I watched my white sweatshirt turn red when I applied it to my wound.  The couple in the car didn’t have time to help.  We eventually found a pay phone and my other sister took me to the ED.  

All traveling nurses know the importance of timing their assignments.  It was August when I arrived in Seattle.  I would complete my 13-week stint on Halloween, in time to fly back to New York City to run my first marathon.  The marathon was a crucial, first step in my goal to complete an Ironman Triathlon.   I was alone on this Seattle adventure and excited to explore.  I had plans to hike Mount Rainier, run in the rain and meet the people of the northwest.  Off I went to the bike shop to buy my new hybrid bike.  My plans did NOT include inserting myself into a plaster body cast from chin to pelvis as a result of a collision with a pick up truck, a mile from the bike shop. However, that was to be my fate.  Woody Allen once said "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans".  I'm sure Woody and I have given God a few chuckles over the years.  There was no marathon for me that year.  Lying in the street, I knew things were bad, but I could move my legs and that was something I would be forever grateful for, as well as the people of Seattle who knocked it out of the park responding to my crash.  

A few years later, my Ironman training ride in Lake Tahoe was terminated seventy miles too soon when my bicycle tire fell into a storm drain missing a grate cover due to recent construction.  The left half of my face and head took the fall as I skid three car lengths. (See photo!) I lost consciousness briefly and was in a haze, aware of two things: The pain that my bike was causing digging into my body as it lay between my legs and this nagging voice saying over and over "Eileen, don't move."  In my fog, it felt like the voice of a mom waking a teen for school after two hours of sleep.  I wanted no part of that voice.  My memory disappeared after visualizing the drain, but my good friends happily filled in the blanks.  Apparently, I pointed my finger in the face of this nagging voice, (which was coming from a lovely woman who pulled over her car to assist) and I said "SHUT UP" to which my friends took a sigh of relief knowing that I was now back to baseline.  I send deep apologizes to the thoughtful good Samaritan that tolerated my primitive brain behavior and for all those she decided not to help after my incident.

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 Do you stop?  Well lets give a big shout-out to the ICU Nurse that helped Paul and all the people out there who stop!