Monday, 21 June 2010

Guide Dog

A woman was flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft the plane would re-board in 50 minutes. Everybody got off the plane except one lady who was blind.

The man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell the lady was blind because her guide- dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight. He could also tell she had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached her, and calling her by name, said, 'Kathy, we are in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?' The blind lady replied, 'No thanks, but maybe Buddy would like to stretch his legs.'

The pilot took the dog with him off the plane so they could both spend a few minutes out of the cramped environment.
Picture this: All the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a guide-dog!

The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.

People scattered. They not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to change airlines!


Another call to a man, almost incoherent to the call taker, stating that he's in a park but doesn't know where. I can almost hear the call.

"I'm by the big tree, near the lake."

Not very helpful. The lake has a three mile circumference and there must be thousands of trees along those miles. I drive in circles around the park, trying to get updates, clues, general directions so that this lost man can be found. Not even sure I want to find him. He's probably one of the local NFAs. A person of No Fixed Abode. Probably drunk. Probably filthy. Probably very unpleasant in his appearance, manner and demeanor. In fact, chances are that the only thing more filthy than his attire will be his language. It's not a call that leaves me wanting for more of the same.

I drive in circles, following instructions from control, who in turn were getting directions from what may as well have been the Sahara desert. "Take the third sand-dune on the left and keep going for three days. You'll see a sand-dune. Turn right there, and just in front of you will be a row of sand-dunes. I'll be there".

Sand-dunes in a desert. Trees in a forest. Same thing really. This is slowly becoming a futile task for one car and its driver. It's pointless driving round in circles with no idea of where to look. Instead, I stick the blue lights back on to see if that attracts the attention of the caller, or at least gives him a point of reference.

Clearly not. That'd be too easy.

"I'm walking to the edge of the tree-line", he tells the call-taker, "and I'll just sit down. If they find me - good. If they don't - well, whatever".

I'm about to give it up as a lost cause. Maybe even a hoax call. It's the dead of night, what chance is there that he couldn't see, even if it was at a distance, dozens of flashing blue LEDs? Driving over the brow of a small hill, and round one final corner. Been there already, and there's plenty of light there to be able to complete the pointless paperwork.

Pulling up under the beam of a street light, I suddenly see an outline of a man in a pool of darkness, sitting by the edge of the road, swaying back and forth as if trying to shake the weight of the world off his shoulders.

"Control, believe it or not, I've found him".

As I get out the car, my initial fears are realised. The smell hits me as I open the car door. Even the clear night air seems suddenly infected. His clothes are grimy and in parts torn. His hands and face the colour of a cloudy sky, his entire worldly possessions scrunched up into a couple of plastic bags. Two things are missing from the picture. Two things that are out of place for the normal, run-of-the-mill homeless drunk.

He has no half-empty alcoholic beverage containers.

And he's crying.

Not the drunken cry of the teenager who's overstepped his boundaries and is trying to save face by claiming that his drink must have been spiked.

Not the hysterical cry of the girl who's gone to drown her sorrows after her 3-week-long relationship has gone sour and who's world suddenly and irreversibly seems too dark to cope with.

This was the cry of a grown man. A stone-cold sober man, a man who at one time had everything, and then lost it all.

He told me his story, and left me feeling powerless to help. He's an educated man sent to this country by his company to continue his work and expand the company's reach. Until the company folded. He'd lost his job, his family are overseas, he can't get back there, and he has no other support here. The flat he lived in was rented by the company, and it disappeared along with his wages. The park had eventually become his home. He'd tried all avenues for help, but received none. "You'll get a job", they'd tell him. "Just be patient". Initially he'd sneak into hotels to shower, then the lake sufficed. After a while and multiple rejections from work interviews and social-care agencies, he'd just stopped. Didn't see the point any more.

At first he could afford the calls back home, or plead and beg with someone at one of the interviews to let him make just one phone call. Now even that infrequent contact was lost. It had been several weeks since he'd spoken to them.

I had no idea what to say to this man. No idea how to help him. I just put a blanket around his shoulders.

The call-taker in control said he was incomprehensible. He wasn't. He was inconsolable.

I'd assumed he'd be another regular, drunk, unpleasant, NFA. He wasn't. He was sober, and pleasant. But he was a man who'd lost everything, including hope.

The ambulance arrived, and as the man sat on the edge of the road, wrapped in both our blanket and his grief, I told the crew his story. They invited him into the ambulance, and after a few minutes drove him away.

I sat back in the car and just for a couple of minutes reflected on what had just happened. On how I'd assumed everything and got it all wrong. On how I'd jumped to a conclusion before even setting eyes on the man.

On how sometimes a man with a guide-dog isn't blind at all, and how sometimes people with eyes wide open, have their minds tightly shut.


Bear said...

Very thought-provoking post, which illustrates not only how easily people can slip through the little tears in the fabric of society but also how easily we can become accustomed to the "usual" circumstances.

Your experience and anticipatory reflexes are immensely valuable - if you're called to an RTC you save lives because you apply what you've encountered before to the scene in front of you, now - but it's almost a by-product of this that can lead to a little blindness from the reflected glare of so many negative experiences which fit the pattern you thought you saw on this call.

Anonymous said...

jumping to pre-conceived conclusions is only human and unavoidable.

however, by dealing with the matter professionally, the person didn't lose out as a result of your pre-conceptions, and that's what counts.

Fee said...

Awful. Just awful.

I hope he gets the help he needs. Surely the embassy/consulate for his home country could get him home - even if he had to pay them back later, at least he'd be with his family.