[I can see that the only way I am going to be able to give this blog its necessary attention is by scheduling a regular time to post. So, beginning on Sunday, March 10 – the sad anniversary of my beloved Chris Huntington’s death (see beginning posts) – I am going to attempt to post every single Sunday. I will try this till June 30th and then assess from there to see if it’s working.]
What brought me to that decision was the horrifying news this week out of a California independent living home, about the nurse who refused to do – or get someone else to do – CPR on a woman who’d stopped breathing. [http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/amid-cpr-controversy-many-unanswered-questions/ ]
Reading about it is one thing, but hearing the 911 tape was simply unmatchable in experiencing cold bureaucratic answering vs. human responding. When told that the woman would die without the CPR, and then asked if there was anyone else available to do it – any passerby even – the nurse’s reply? The title of this posting: “Um, not at this time.” The woman died.
This morning I heard some nonsense by one of the WCBS radio commentators (whose comments I usually like and agree with) that the relevant fact here was that the woman was 87 and that death comes to all of us and we must accept that fact. Or some such ridiculous perspective. We all know about death and we all know about old age. No one is arguing that CPR would have saved this woman’s life for sure. Rather, the argument is that the absolute coldness of that nurse’s answer to the 911 operator was her response to the distress of another human being. Contemptible, frankly.
When I once asked Fr. Huntington how it was that any of us dare spend a dime on anything frivolous when there are people starving in this world, his response got to the heart of it for me, as it has turned out, for the rest of my life (to date, of course). We cannot, he said, respond to everything in the world. Nor are we called to. But we are called to respond to that which comes before us. It doesn’t come before one more simply than a woman lying on the floor in front of you not breathing, does it?
Why did this story inspire me to get this blog going more regularly? Because last November, I had the idea of posting about folks who go above and beyond the requirements of their positions and thus witness that we are all, first and foremost, human. That was the result of experiencing some workers who went beyond their jobs with our kids and in doing so, reinforced that the essential relationship among all of us is as one human being to another. We have roles, and the roles have rules that must be respected. But that does not preclude stepping beyond the roles to keep the essential human relationship. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with a caseworker calling one of their charges from his/her cell phone after hours to wish the kid a “Happy Birthday.” There would be something wrong with not doing it, simply because it was past 5:00.
I suspect this is why there was such a huge reaction to that young cop in NYC who bought that barefoot homeless man a pair of boots this past Christmas season. [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/nyregion/photo-of-officer-giving-boots-to-barefoot-man-warms-hearts-online.html] That the homeless man was later reported to have sold the boots, does not change the nature of the story. The cop transcended his role as a cop and responded as a human being. It was the positive side of this cold nurse story of this week. Both are witnesses, and as such they are very powerful. But they are witnesses to very different perspectives that we must choose between. My vote? We need far more folks like that cop; far less like that nurse. Human over bureaucrat; response over reaction. Otherwise, we can be replaced with robots.
We must always respond as human beings to that which is in front of us. Again, Chris Huntington had it exactly right.
I miss him deeply.