The Big Issue : Edition 455
22 THEBIGISSUE4–17APR2014 OCCASIONALLY SOMETHING HAPPENS that makes you review your attitude to life. I want to share an experience I had a little while back that changed my attitude and, I hope, made me a more caring person. I was cycling home from work along the cycle path next to the Yarra River. It was a beautiful Melbourne evening: tourists were ambling along, commuters hurrying to their trains and trams. I was enjoying the mild weather and watching the rowers on the river. As I passed under Princes Bridge a young man stepped out and waved me down. He had an accent but his English was good. He said: “Should we do something about that man over there?” I looked to where he was pointing. A man, probably in his early twenties, was lying down – apparently comatose – next to the arch of the bridge. His shirt was unbuttoned to the waist. Around one bicep was an improvised tourniquet; a discarded syringe lay next to him, together with the empty bladder from a wine cask. I am ashamed to say that my first thought was: I don’t really want to get involved here; it’s just a junkie who’s overdosed. But the young man, whom I learned was a German tourist, was insistent. “Do you think we should call for an ambulance?” I am equally ashamed that my second thought was: If I refuse to help, then this foreigner will think I am uncaring and callous. And he will probably then think that all Australians are uncaring and callous. So I reluctantly got out my phone and dialled 000 and asked for an ambulance for a man who, I said, looked as if he had overdosed. The woman on the other end was warm and friendly and kept me engaged. “Can you tell if he is breathing?” I went closer. “Yes, he’s breathing”. “Is he conscious?” “I don’t think so”. She asked me to turn him over... But I looked at the syringe and said: “I would really prefer not to touch him.” She understood. Then she congratulated me on being so caring. I didn’t tell her that my first impulse was to ignore him. By this time we were attracting a bit of attention. Bystanders were peering down at us from the bridge parapet. A waiter from the nearby terrace bar came over and said: “Yes, he’s been here all afternoon.” That stunned me. Perhaps we were an uncaring and callous nation. All those in the restaurant had sat in the sun enjoying their wine and food while someone was possibly dying next to them. Dozens of people had walked or cycled past a comatose body. And I would have been one of them, were it not for a concerned foreigner. The paramedics arrived, running, and clamped an oxygen mask on the young man. He coughed and spluttered and came to. “What’s your name?” they asked him. “David,” he replied. David. A name that loving parents would give a newborn son together with their hopes and dreams for his future. As soon as the anonymous man had a name, he ceased being just a dirty junkie to me. It was a shock – the realisation that he could be someone’s brother, someone’s son. Once we know someone’s name they have an identity. They are not junkies, or derelicts, or homeless, or refugees, or asylum seekers. They are someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. Someone’s loved one. I have since asked myself: why was my first reaction not to stop? And I think the answer is fear. Fear of getting involved; fear of looking foolish; fear of the unknown; and, of course, fear for my personal safety. I wonder if I would have had the courage, like that German tourist, to stop in a foreign country and ask for help in another language? Possibly not, but at least I could do that kind deed in my own homeland. I sometimes think of David. I wonder what became of him. Perhaps he held up a store to feed his drug addiction and is now in prison. Perhaps he took one fatal overdose in a remote place where no one found him in time. Perhaps – simply because, one evening, a caring tourist worried about him – his life has changed and he is now a valuable member of society who is back with his family. Back being a well-loved son and brother. The experience didn’t change my life, but it did change my attitude... And I truly hope and believe it has made me a little more caring and considerate. » Ann has recently retired from paid work and spends her time looking after her baby grandson, volunteering with FareShare, writing and trying to find time to ride her bike. SOMEONE’S BROTHER, SOMEONE’S SON A TRUE STORY BY ANN BANHAM. *‘David’isnothisrealname.