The scanner in the newsroom is always on.
We hear fire departments dispatched and ambulances dispatched and mostly it’s the same.
Automatic fire alarm. Chest pain. Apparent stroke at the nursing home. Car into a utility pole, negative entrapment, unknown injuries.
You hear the dispatcher call out the address, the responding entity’s answer. Sometimes you hear the patient’s medical condition as they are en-route to the hospital, how much oxygen they’re on, whether or not they’re conscious.
Sometimes the details leave you squeamish, and reminded that your day could certainly be worse.
I heard the call go out sometime last week, for an older man in a car on the side of the road, possibly having a stroke.
“I’ve had several calls, no one stopped,” the dispatcher said over the radio and I scrawled the words across a scrap of paper.
No one stopped.
We live in a small town and really, if the man had been somewhere other than on the side of a busy road, someone would have helped him.
But traffic moves quickly there and though they saw him, they made the call and kept moving, their duty done.
* * *
Days before a man was pushed onto the subway tracks in front of an oncoming train and someone snapped the picture, him turned to face the headlights, hands reaching up. He’s alone, though the platform in New York City was occupied.
No one reached out their own hand. The photographer who immortalized his death claimed he was trying to warn the train driver by lighting up his flash, though one wonders if he’s being honest.
* * *
I don’t know what happened with the old man having a stroke in the car on the side of the road. I never know the ends of the dramas I hear played out on the scratchy sound waves from the old speakers on the newsroom wall. And I don’t know whether someone stopping would have made any sort of difference, just like I don’t know if someone making a split-second decision to reach out a hand to the man on the subway tracks would have made a difference.
But I hope that I would try.