by Wendy Keller, author, speaker
I am a crew rower – I do sweep rowing in an 8 or a 4, as our boats are known. This morning, my team and I were out on the water as we are every Sunday when the sheriff’s boat came speeding up to our coach’s launch. Turns out, one of our beginner boats had been severed by a runaway power boat!
My team immediately rowed ashore so we could help in whatever way needed. By the time we arrived, a few rescued, wet beginning rowers were huddled together. One of them had been taken to hospital. Of course, they were all shocked and traumatized; their coxswain – whom I’ve known for years – was highly agitated. Rowing is a relatively safe sport and our coxswains are extremely cautious. Turns out the powerboat driver didn’t know his craft – he didn’t know how to steer or how to decelerate! (He should not have been on the water, in my strong opinion.)
The damaged boat’s bow was sheered off, so a few of us went to aid with the salvage effort. The rower in hospital is scheduled to be released today.
Now that the trauma is mostly over, I am reflecting on how people handled it. The survivors was clustered together retelling their story to those of us who had just landed. I noticed one young woman was standing, wrapped in a blanket, shaking, tears rolling out from under her sunglasses. I went and put my arms around her. Immediately, two other teammates of mine came up to her. One of them said, “You should be glad you’re not the one who is hurt! I was in a car accident once and I was shaking and crying for two days. Don’t be embarrassed. You just need a cup of coffee…”
I glared at her but this wasn’t the time to take her on. People just don’t know, so they do the best they can. I offered to drive the young woman home, but someone else said, “You can’t. She lives in the valley.” (That would mean nearly 2 hours round trip.) Before I could reaffirm my willingness to drive her, another person came up and said to her, “Let’s get you sitting down before you fall down.”
Each of us is well-meaning, trying to help this rower get through what must be an extremely traumatic event for her. Each of us acted on what we thought was best. The girl herself said nothing. She was just crying in my arms this whole time.
Right when something bad happens, that’s not the time to toss around platitudes or advice. This brief post is meant to prepare you for when it’s your turn to help. There are usually two issues: dealing with the people and dealing with the objects involved. For example, people in a car accident and then removing the vehicle itself. When humans are in deep shock, their brains record things differently than when they are calm. The following steps will help you be of real service. This applies for the most part to helping people who are dealing with a sudden death as much as it does to being first on the scene of any type of natural disaster, fire, trauma or tragedy.
How To Respond In An Emergency:
1. Quickly assess what needs to be done to prevent further injury to people, then to property.
2. Take the most immediate action within your power. Get involved. If you’re human, it’s your job to help. Period.
3. Steel your emotions for now – you need to be strong since you are not a victim yourself.
4. If you are interacting with injured people, do not move bodies unless they are in imminent danger of greater harm.
5. Be immediately practical. If you’re the only one there, do the best you can – help staunch blood; call 9-1-1; get a blanket or sweater from anywhere and wrap it around the shocked person; give water if someone needs it.
6. Don’t say anything intended to pacify or minimize the situation! No stupid “Cup of coffee…” comments. The shocked people don’t need your words, your story, your take on things, not even your horror at the situation. They need your actions because they cannot think clearly and may not be able to act rationally.
7. Do what you can and leave the rest. When the “cup of coffee” woman took the traumatized woman toward the coffee shop, I went to help salvage the boat. When I arrived, three people were just standing there staring at it. Jump in! Do it! You don’t need permission or supervision. I’m always so dumbfounded when people just standing around in a crisis. It reminds me of how allegedly in some major US city, someone was once calling for help and no one responded. You may think that is an isolated big city incident, but I can assure you from most disasters and crises I’ve witnessed, most people just get in the way by standing around looking. Take responsibility and help to the best of your ability. It IS your job. Do what you can.
Most of us will occasionally be called upon to be there for others in a crisis or emergency, a trauma or a tragedy. Step up when it’s your turn to serve. Anything you can do helps.
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“The Top Ten Tips to Coping with Crisis” today!