Thursday, February 03, 2011

internal monologue of the not-quite-good samaritan

There are two left turn lanes off the exit of the highway that I take to work. Usually I get to work so early that traffic of any kind is not a problem, especially on the local roads, but this morning, there seemed to be an awful lot of brake lights and lane changing on this one short span. I was in the right lane, everyone ahead of me seemed to be changing into the left lane to bypass something that was apparently obstructing traffic up ahead. As I got closer, I saw that there was actually a stopped car up ahead. A car that was braked at the intersection, not moving despite the fact that the light was green.

Because of my position in the line, I pulled up right alongside the car. I figured it was probably some kind of breakdown or engine problems, thought I thought it was odd that the car would be stopped in traffic without any hazard light turned on. But there was a guy inside the car, alone, sitting in the driver's seat. He was sitting up, leaning up against the back of the seat with his eyes closed, and he wasn't moving.

Well, shit.

First thing I thought was, cardiac arrest. I craned my neck more. Was he breathing? Hard to say. He definitely wasn't moving in any way that I could make out through my car window. He didn't looked slumped over or anything obviously ominous, but who falls asleep at an intersection, for chrissake? So clearly, he was dead.


I should get out and see if he's OK.

Well obviously he's not OK, just look at him.

He had an MI. No, wait, he had a stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke. No, wait, a ruptured aneurysm.

Could he be sleeping? Who falls asleep off the exit of a highway?

OK, I've got to get out there. Ew, I don't want to touch a dead person. I don't want to do CPR on a dead person. I don't even have any gloves.

Get a grip, woman, you're a doctor.

But...ew, dead people.

I have to go out there. Is that safe? Am I going to get hit by another car? What's going to happen to
my car? Now both lanes of traffic will be blocked. People are going to be mad. There's going to be honking. I hate honking. Why do they honk so much here?

OK, I've got to go see if he's OK. Shit, I'm going to be late for work. What cases do I have this morning? I have to start that CABG, don't I? Oh, and I have that shoulder replacement too, now I'm not going to have time to block that patient before we go back. I have to call the OR front desk. I
hate being late for work.

But who cares if you're a little late for work, there's a
dead guy there! Anyway, we're right around the corner from the hospital. You'll just get in his car, drive him over to the ER...wait, what if I don't know how to drive his car? What if it's a stick shift? I should call 911. Yes, 911. That's what people do.


I put the car in park. Just as I was reaching for my door handle, the guy in the other car, apparently not dead, opened his eyes and drove off. So I would like to say that I was in the process of doing the right thing, but honestly, since he never gave me the chance, I'm not so sure.


  1. CLASSIC! I love this!

  2. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Someone in Minneapolis was recently killed (or at least hurt very very very badly) when he got out of his car on a busy street to help a stranded motorist.

    The state patrol people have done a bunch of announcements telling Potential Good Samaritans, "DON'T GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!!" They want people to call 911 and get to work on time.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Wow, this makes me wonder what was really wrong with him. Narcolepsy? Glad you didn't have to do CPR on a dead person or worse, get hurt when you got out of your car.

  5. Last month, right before a big snowstorm was due, I went to check on my 90 year old neighbor, to see if she needed anything. She didn't answer and her lights were all out. Other neighbors said they hadn't seen her in a few days.

    After some hemming and hawing I called the fire department and asked them to check on her. They came with an ambulance and a fire truck. At that point another neighbor at the very end of the street told us she'd fallen and broken her hip and was at the rehab hospital.

    Luckily the fire dept was super nice and said I did the right thing but I still feel kind of dumb.

  6. This is totally unrelated but there is a $10 for $20 Groupon for Barnes & Noble!

    Go here:

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  7. Anonymous2:12 AM

    I once met a man whose leg was badly disfigured below the knee and had the (insensitivity? ignorance? disrespect?) opportunity to ask him how it got that way.

    He told me that 2 years prior, he was traveling on the highway on a trip with his dad and his brother. The car got a flat tire and they pulled to the shoulder to put on the spare. He was standing near the inside rear fender, on the opposite side of passing traffic.

    His brother and father were both killed when another car struck theirs. He was lucky to escape with his life, let alone his leg.

    If you can't stay inside your car on the side of the highway, get the hell away from it. Go stand in the weeds and take your chances with the cigarette butts and fire ants--far enough that if even someone strikes your car in the sweet spot and sends it ricocheting off the road like a billiard ball, it can't hit you. If you can stay in your car and wait, don't take your seatbelt off either.

    Also, thanks, Michelle, for all you do, and congratulations on the book!

  8. Rachie2:37 AM

    I spun out on ice once on the way home from skiing and a group of five or so guys stopped and flagged down traffic until they found a guy with a truck to pull my car off the edge of a very steep ravine. By the time they got there I wasn't in any serious danger, but I had no idea what I was going to do until they showed up. Every time I see a stranded person I think about how I thought I was going to die that day and those guys showed up to help me out. It was honestly a pretty minor event, but I felt like it was one of those moments that proved people in general are still good. I try to pay it forward when I can.

  9. The nurses I work with tell me that they have a basic first aid kit in each car (one for their car, one for the husband's car)...I think mainly they have gloves, gauze/bandages and a cpr mask. They can at least stop minor bleeding and safely perform emergency cpr if needed...

    it seems handy and i've been thinking of getting myself a set too (not a medical professional, only first aid/aed/cpr certified). although if it was in an area with lots of traffic, i might take the state patrol's advice and just call 911 =/

  10. Anonymous6:06 AM

    you horrid, selfish people who are advocating doing nothing in situations where a physician has the opportunity to help someone should wish very fervently that you are never the ones who find themselves needing the kindness of a good samaritan.

  11. Anonymous6:36 AM

    Michelle - your post made me really laugh. That Internal Monologue is exactly what goes through my mind when I'm on a plane and they say, "Is there a doctor on board", except it's much worse, because I'm a ;psychiatrist (though a med-psych with current CPR, etc) but still...add to the monologue the additional sentence, "God I hope that person doesn't need a tracheotomy. I really hope he doesn't need a tracheotomy. What if he needs a tracheotomy?" etc. For some reason, this is what all psychiatrists fear.

  12. Anonymous at 6:06, no, people are advocating calling 911 instead of possibly creating a bigger problem.

  13. Anonymous4:58 PM

    I'm a medical student and here was my inner monologue for a rapid response called in a men's bathroom (somewhat similar to Michelle's).

    Cool I'm the first one here!
    Hey wait there's no intern or resident around shit!
    Okay Okay airway airway!
    He had a tracheostomy and threw up in the bathroom. So he probably aspirated.
    Shit! What do I do about his airway? He already had a trach! Shit! What do I do about his airway!?!?!
    Why did I get here first? I should've walked slower.

    A resident came 5 seconds later and calmly determined he was stable enough to transport to ED to fully evaluate him.
    I'm only a 3rd year medical student, but I'd like to think that everyone has these kinds of inner monologues no matter where in training you are.

  14. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Send some F.O.E. Code 3 to Washington, DC. They need it.

  15. Bizarre situation, funny post.

  16. Anonymous7:52 PM

    I live in Quebec, Canada. Here, giving first aid is mandatory, by law. The law (Charter of Rights) imposes an obligation to render aid unless you can prove there was serious risks to your own life or a third person's. Failure to do so amounts to legal fault.

    When I was in college, I drove by a group of young kids. They seemed to care for one of their friends. I stopped anyway. Turns out one of the girl had a serious concussion, altered mental state and I had to keep her in and out of conciousness. No one had bothered to call 911 until I got there and took charge. I didn't do much, but would they have called 911 if I hadn't gotten there?

    That motivated me to get certified for first aid. I've yet to use it. But still, everytime I see someone, I wonder "Should I go there". If there's already someone I go: "Well, someone's got her. Oh wait, maybe they've got no idea what they're doing".

  17. Christine9:16 PM

    I had pulled off the road during my 3rd year Peds rotation to check directions and in my side mirror could see an older middle-aged guy in running clothes stretching. I looked down and when I looked back up, he was lying flat on the ground with his arms at a weird angle. He was like an exam question on risk factors for sudden cardiac death --older, male, just finished strenuous physical activity -- so as a not-so-experienced 3rd year med student, my first thought was that he'd collapsed. I had no idea what street I was on, what street I had just pulled off of or what any stores were around me. Plus, did I mention I was a 3rd year med student? I finally decided to call 911 and let them find me (and help me remember my CPR!). I opened my car door with 9-1 already dialed and the guy sat up and resumed stretching. I got back in my car, turned off my phone and drove away. He never saw me.

  18. Anonymous9:37 PM

    Ha ha ha, loved this post!

  19. Anonymous1:36 AM

    Michelle, you can always use your horn as a triage tool in these instances. Then you'll know if you need to get out of your car to tend to the unresponsive driver.

  20. Great post! I have no idea what I would have done in a situation like that. I have been thinking about getting a first aid kit to carry in my car, you never know when it would come in handy. I hear they are pretty easy to make yourself, you could probably save a lot of money too. I already have most of the basics, like gauze bandages and alcohol wipes.