I yelled and nobody helped

There is a crosswalk outside my front door. Next to the crosswalk stands a sign. Last Sunday, that pole became my everything, and I clung to it for dear life while my dog barked for help.‍

After a horrible night at the hospital, I was allowed to go home on Thursday. I was told to walk out of the hospital. I took an Uber home. I was obviously expected to be okay.

That night, I went for a walk with my husband and our dog, Pepper, and I was fine. Slow, but fine.

I was recovering “on schedule.” I was resting and sleeping a lot, but I was also moving around a bit–doing what I had been told to do.

Saturday night, I walked the dog alone. I didn’t go far, and I asked someone to pick up after Pepper for me, but I walked, and I was fine.

Sunday night, I walked the dog alone again, still completely fine. I took the elevator downstairs, crossed the crosswalk outside, swore a little at the idiot squeezing styrofoam into the paper bin. Not today, I told myself. Let it go. You are sick, I told myself. And like a good girl, I did. I shuffled on for another few steps.

I still can’t pinpoint what it was, but I suddenly knew I wasn’t okay.

There was no new pain, nothing, just a tiny bit of je-ne-sais-quoi. I took my phone out of my pocket, intent to call my husband down to finish the walk with me, or continue while I waited. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk a full round, even a small one, but the idea that I wouldn’t be able to get home hadn’t (yet) crossed my mind. For fuck’s sake, I was fine.

I couldn’t reach him, so I slowly shuffled back. With every step I took, I was less fine. My vision blurred, black at the edges. Just a few steps home. Twenty, maybe thirty. Take it slow, and you’ll be fine, I told myself. And at that point, I still believed it. Another step and I felt dizzy, nauseous, more of my vision blacked out. Another step and the only thing I could see was the fucking sign pole next to the crosswalk. When I reached it, I held on for life. I couldn’t see anything anymore. Everything was black. I was cold, dizzy, nauseous. I tried calling my husband one more time, and while his phone shows I managed, I couldn’t have told you. I couldn’t see the screen, couldn’t hear it ringing. I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear anything.

“Do you need help?” A voice asked me. I nodded. “I’m going to take your hand. Don’t get scared.” A soft and warm hand reached out, took mine. I wasn’t alone anymore.

Someone had finally stopped (or as it turns out, ran from one of the short-term-stay apartments across the street). I don’t know how long I stood there. I remember yelling for help as loudly as I could. Cars passed me. Bicycles passed me. No one stopped. At some point, I stopped yelling. I couldn’t yell any longer. Every single bit of my energy was necessary to keep me upright, clinging to the damn pole. I honestly have no clue how I managed to stay upright through it all. I definitely wasn’t conscious for some of it.

When I couldn’t call out anymore, Pepper barked. My dog barked for help to save me.

Pepper is not the friendliest dog, scared of strangers, but in this moment, he knew what to do, how to help. He barked until someone came, growled once to make sure they knew he was defending me, then let the man approach me, let him help me. How he knew, I don’t know. But he did.

I don’t know what would have happened if Pepper hadn’t gotten help. I don’t know how much longer I would’ve been able to stay conscious. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

Bystander Apathy is a bitch…

The guy stuffing styrofoam into the paper bins didn’t care that I was screaming for help, didn’t care that I was obviously not okay. The bicycles who drove past me, inches from me, cared even less about me than they did about keeping a distance during the pandemic. The cars obviously didn’t check the crosswalk before speeding past me.

It wasn’t until the first person was there to help that others joined. It’s a phenomenon called bystander apathy which essentially means that if there are multiple people to help (or we think so), we don’t take the responsibility upon us to help. If someone looks like they need help, fucking help them. Don’t wait for others to do so. They’ll join as soon as you take the first step.

“I’m here. Everything will be okay,” he said. And then there was a second voice. Another dog. A third voice. I told them to get my husband, ring the doorbell across the street. Minutes later, my husband was there, panic on his face. He was on the phone, calling an ambulance.

The rest of this story is partially supplemented by the people who helped me, as I don’t recall half of it.

One of my neighbors got home the moment my husband was running outside. He brought down a folding chair for me to sit, and I slowly got better. By the time they lowered me into the chair, I could see again and follow some of the conversation around me.

By the time the ambulance came, I was better. I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t well. But I was better. They helped me into the ambulance, checked me out. A blood test on the spot. Temperature 35.2. Blood pressure. Breathing rate. I was still hyperventilating, but with effort able to maintain a normal breathing rate.

My husband got the jacket I was wearing (when did I get that?) back to its owner, thanked everyone for helping me out. He brought our dog upstairs in case I was going to the hospital, then waited while they examined me.

They explained to him that I was okay to stay home. During the pandemic, they only take you to the hospital if your life is in immediate danger. They drove me across the street, helped me out of the ambulance and to the elevator. Then they stood outside for ten minutes in case I needed them while finishing their reports. I don’t know when they left. I was in bed, eyes closed, exhausted. I fell asleep minutes later, too tired and drained to do anything but listen to my 700th round of the Harry Potter audiobooks.

And with that, my recovery had been reset to some point well before I ever went under the knife. It’s now Monday, 12 days after my surgery, and I am still in bed. I spend most of my awake time on the couch or napping in bed. I am not okay.

If we are being honest, I haven’t been okay (at least not for more than a couple of days at a time) in well over a decade. And yet, doctors tell me that I am fine. For fuck’s sake, I am not fine. With every week, my symptoms worsen and I am further from fine, further from an answer.

And yet, people keep telling me that everything is fine.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.