About this time last year, after a long day of work around house, both inside and out, I found myself fast asleep by 10pm on a Saturday night. Only to be woken from my slumber around two hours later to the screams of a child. I could feel them drawing me out of my deep sleep. Softly at first as my mind and body adjusted to consciousness, but evoking confusion… ‘something is very very wrong’. As I adjusted to the world again the screams became louder and louder, desperate cries ‘somebody help me, somebody help’. It was definitely just a little kid. I leapt out of bed and out the front door in my pjs and bare feet, having the foresight to grab my phone, but still dazed from sleep. A little boy about 5 years old stood on the opposite side of the road, directly opposite my driveaway screaming with tears streaming down his face. I called out to him as I walked towards him, ‘Are you ok?’, ‘What’s the matter?’… ‘My Mums not home, nobody is home’ he replied. I had no idea where this boy came from, adrenalin set in. A million things rushed through my mind… was this a case of neglect and mum had actually gone out for the night leaving him at home, was this a family violence situation and something had happened to his mum, had some random person broken into their home and something had happened to his mum, was his mum hurt, sick or injured in some way and unable to respond to him or was his Mum is inside sleeping and this boy is just having a little freak out?
The boy kept asking me to come with him, he told me his 2-year-old sister was inside. He pointed to his house and I didn’t know the family (and you can never be 100% certain of what’s going on in someone’s house) but I’d seen them around. The Mum ran her own business from home, there were always Mums and their kids coming in and out. She certainly didn’t seem like the type of Mum who might leave her kids at home alone- not that you can tell that 100% but neglect wasn’t ringing true. And the reaction of this little boy was hysterical, he wasn’t a kid who had been left to fend for himself – ever. That left two options something bad had happened to his Mum or she’s perfectly fine and he’s just having a freak out because he had a ‘boy look’ for her. Even though those were the two options, there were still many, many things that sat in the ‘somethings happened to mum’ category for me to feel safe. I still couldn’t think straight, there were still too many unknowns. I kept surveying the area, my senses were still adjusting to life after being thrust from my sleep only a few minutes earlier.
In that moment all I wanted was to be off the street and back in my house, so I knew I was safe and could think about how to help this boy. He was actually very good in that he didn’t want to come to my house, being a stranger, but I knew I didn’t want to go into his house at midnight unsure of what I’d find. Even if his Mum was just unwell, I wasn’t sure how I would tend to her and this hysterical little boy. I managed to convince him to sit on my front veranda with me. At least then if someone did suddenly burst out of the house with ill intent, I’d have enough time to take in the situation, grab the little boy and lock us inside. I’d decided, particularly as there was supposedly a 2-year-old unattended that the best thing for me to do was call the police. To my amazement this 5-year-old little boy knew his mum’s mobile number, so we did call that a couple of times first but there was no answer. So, we called triple zero (911 for anyone international who might be reading) and I then suggested we go inside to read a book.
Whilst reading the book (still so stuck in my flight fight response that I couldn’t remember the line before to know what the story was about- but he didn’t know that) the little boy looked at me and said, ‘I might just stay here tonight until my Mum comes home okay?’. The police were wonderful, they showed up about 5-10 minutes later, had a chat to me and then went over to the boy’s home. (the first thing my Mum asked, ‘were they cute?’, ‘umm yes, I guess’, ‘were you wearing your Christmas jarmies?’, ‘of course I was’). His mum had put the kids in her bed with her as a treat because her husband was away and because they were kicking her had gone to sleep in her sons’ bed. I went and introduced myself the next day and I felt so horrible for this woman, being woken by the police in the middle of the night, probably thinking something had happened to her husband. But the most important thing was everyone was okay. And she was just incredibly grateful that someone nice had found her little boy, alone in the street at midnight.
A few months later I found myself in a similar situation, although much more dire and with a far worse outcome. I was, again, asleep when I was awoken in the very early hours of the morning to the sound of young people screaming in the street in front of my home. ‘Oh my God, what do we do, what do we do?’ It was a sound of utter desperation. I could hear another sound, a strange gasping sound; which I knew was not normal. My first thought, not being able to see anything, was a drug overdose. I was worried about my own safety if I were to go outside to help. I needed to weigh up my options and had my phone poised to call triple zero. I peered out of my window and as I adjusted to my state of awake and my senses sharpened, from the adrenaline – which was pumping through me – the voices became clearer. The horrible gasping sound was undeniable; someone was dying. They were not drug affected, but I still couldn’t tell what was happening. While this felt like a lifetime it was just a few seconds. I grabbed my phone and was out the door running down the street bare foot (maybe I need to put shoes by my door?), where 3 young people were on the street with a young man; unconscious and not in good shape.
I stayed with them, talking to them, trying to reassure them and keep them calm, only leaving for a few moments to get towels to stop the bleeding. The police arrived; the ambulance arrived. The whole night was so distressing, even for me, who was once a nurse and has seen death many times. I have never experienced this. The uncontrolled environment, the trauma of it all, the helplessness. While I held his head, to curtail the bleeding, and did what I could to keep everyone calm, I was just praying he didn’t stop breathing. I didn’t want to be the one who was performing CPR in front of his friends as he died. He didn’t though and he was taken to hospital where he died later. I had not gone back to sleep, mostly holding it together but breaking down when I noticed the blood coming off my hands as I showered in the dead of night.
One of the young women, who was on the phone to triple zero, was providing first aid. This young person impressed me immensely. She did everything she could. I was ready to step in and take over if I needed, but I didn’t. I let her, with the guidance of the triple zero call taker, take control of the situation. It gave her something to focus on, so she didn’t fall apart – she did everything right. She kept saying to me ‘I’m so sorry, you shouldn’t have to see this’. All I wanted to say was ‘sweetie, you’re watching your friend die, don’t worry about me’. But she needed some hope in that moment, so instead I said, ‘it’s ok, I’m here to help’.
The police were in front of my house, the road blocked off for most of the following day. I could see from my bedroom window where my brightly coloured towels lay in the street next to the blood. I was numb, I was raw, my eyes stung from exhaustion both physical and emotional. Not one other person had come out to help, not one. How did they not hear the screaming, how did they not hear the horrifying sound of his breath? The next day, as people started finding out about the accident, there was commentary on social media. One woman in my street had heard and said, ‘oh I wondered what the fuss was about’. She did nothing. I couldn’t fathom that. How does a person hear that and do nothing, even if she didn’t want to come out, would you not call triple zero? That upset me. Then came the commentary about how the young man who died had deserved it, I was very protective of all four of the young people I met that night, having been with them… haven’t we all done stupid things when we were young? I was disgusted. Then when the media showed up, neighbours who had slept through were speaking to reporters. This felt so low. Then someone who had a friend working at the hospital announced his death on social media hours before the police had. I was heartbroken for his family and friends.
In the weeks following this man’s death I met with a police officer. A comment she made struck me, she said it was the ‘nurse in me’ that made me alert to what was going on, while others had slept. But while, the nurse in me probably helps keep me calm, I think I would have always gone. After speaking with me, this police officer thanked me for basically being who I was, and she said she was ‘honoured’ to have met me. It had never occurred to me that maybe my actions were rare. That I would run out into the street in the middle of the night, not once but twice, to help someone else where most others would not. I thought a lot about what makes me the person who will run out into the street in the middle of the night to save someone. Yes, I was sensible. I surveyed my surroundings to make sure the little boy in the street wasn’t involved in some horrific violence crime. I didn’t go into a stranger’s home in the middle of the night. I had us sit and wait for police in a location where I felt safer. I checked that the teenagers weren’t drug effected first. But I gave no second thought to the horrible experience I was having. I just wanted to help. And honestly the accident was one of the most deeply impactful experiences of my life. Before the police and ambulance arrived, being with him, holding him through some of the last moments of his life and hopefully bringing a little comfort and peace to his friends that they were not alone- I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Despite the weeks that followed where I was anxious; where I couldn’t focus on anything; where when I went to buy new towels I sat in my car sobbing instead; where any noise at night outside my house made me lay awake for hours, my heart pounding so hard that it actually hurt my chest. I’d do it again (I would as I did in the weeks following speak to a counsellor about what had happened- because I’m not a superhero!) I said to my friend ‘why does this stuff happen to me, twice in a few months, right in front of my house’, she replied ‘because you will help’. I know my parents are both people who go above and beyond to help. My mum taking in traumatised foster children, my dad putting his life on the line to serve others as a police officer. There must be more though, I have been through more than my fair share of traumatic events- like friends drowning in Uganda and babies dying in South Africa. I have an uncanny ability to remain completely calm, totally in control until the exact moment I no longer have to be and then I dissolve. But then I also have the skills and resilience to heal and not let it affect me long term or change me.
I pray to God I’m not in that situation again but if I am, I will be there, I will run out in the street in bare feet and I will act. I honestly couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t – that would be a greater trauma to me that I may not recover from. My prayer for this world is that we all would. That we would not be the woman who laid there and did nothing. We would not be the men and women who said horrible things online about a teenager. We would not be that community member that because they were triggered felt it was their news to share on social media – potentially before his family and friends knew. We would not be that person who has to have their say, even though they knew nothing about it, that they would have grace. Albert Einstein said, ‘The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it’. I don’t want a pat on the back, I don’t want praise for my ‘good deeds’. What I want is a world where this is not the exception. That we will all be willing to step up and help another human being. Mother Teresa said, ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can case a stone across the waters to create many ripples’. I pray we will be a kinder, more tolerant community who all race out in the darkness of night to help a distressed little boy, or a dying man or some kids who are going through the worst night of their life. Choose kindness. Choose Action. Choose Love.