Last Sunday my wife and I were out for a walk along the Hutt river, which flows into Wellington harbour. It was a pleasant autumn morning. And then we found someone lying at the bottom of the stop-bank.
He looked derelict. He might have been sleeping, or maybe drunk or something. But he didn’t look right, so I ran down the slope and called to him.
He stuck his head up and for a moment there was nobody in his eyes. He had, he said, just been discharged from hospital. He was on his way home, though the suburb he named was in the opposite direction. Then I saw he still had ECG leads on his chest.
‘I’m going to call an ambulance,’ I said. He didn’t like that.
‘I don’t want to go back,’ he wheezed. ‘Want to help me? Gimme ten bucks and I’ll get a taxi home.’
‘No, you need medical help.’
He didn’t want medical help. After a bit of debate I finally said:
‘Look, I can’t not help you!’
He didn’t look cyanotic, but he was agitated and incoherent, obviously having a cardiac episode. I went back to my wife, told her what was happening, and we called an ambulance. They arrived within five minutes and took him back to hospital. I hope he was OK.
The moment got me thinking about ethics and morality and that sort of thing. We were infringing on his right to be left alone if he demanded it – and he was demanding it. He was pretty aggro about it too, which may have been symptomatic of having a heart attack. Or maybe in his own mind he was tired of life. I don’t know. Certainly, I am sure, he was tired of being in hospital.
But it wasn’t a moral dilemma for me. He was in serious trouble. He was in pain, his life was possibly on the line. There was no decision to make. He had to be helped, and the best way wasn’t to call a taxi and send him home – it was to get medical support. Fast.
These things are not optional.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014