Canadian Officers, Not Medics, Treated Woman with Dignity
Narges Joharchi works with people on the margins. She had a cup of coffee with a colleague on a recent morning, in a Tim's on the corner of College and Spadina.
She said, "After coffee, we saw a commotion. A woman was sitting on the step in front of the 7-Eleven. Her top was off. Her back was naked, but she was covered - her jacket was on backwards.
"She was around 30 years old; short, chubby. I found out later she is diabetic. She was wearing pyjama pants."
On the sidewalk, along with the passersby and rubberneckers, were five or six police officers, and four or five paramedics.
Narges said, "The police were amazing, the way they were talking to her; there was respect, dignity, caring."
There was also some confusion about what to do; the woman was distressed.
The paramedics didn't seem engaged.
Narges said, "I told the police I could help. I said work with people who are marginalized. The police said sure, go ahead.
"I went to the woman. 'Are you cold? Do you need a blanket?' She said yes. I asked the paramedics for a blanket. The paramedics said, 'No, we don't have a blanket.'
"I said, 'Really?'
"They said, 'No.'"
One of the paramedics pulled Narges aside and said, "If we give her a blanket, she'll ask for something else."
Narges does not suffer fools. "I said, 'What else? A car? A plane?'" A blanket was produced.
"I asked the woman if she wanted a warm drink. I got her a French vanilla. The woman paramedic said, 'Get that drink off her. She can't take it with her in the ambulance.'
"I said, "Give her a minute.' The paramedic said no, and then she asked for my name - she was writing my name on her glove, as if she thought she was intimidating me. And she was misspelling my name. I corrected her spelling. I said, 'You're not scaring me.'"
Let us review:
Woman in trouble on the street, cops being nice, passerby lending a hand, paramedics being difficult.
Let us move on:
"The homeless woman - her name was Christine - started yelling; the paramedics wanted to take her drink. I turned to see, and it was spilled on the sidewalk.
"By now the woman was agitated again, she started taking off the blanket. She was back to where we started.
"The police asked me to help. I said, 'I can only help if the paramedics step aside.'"
They stepped aside.
"I went to Christine. I said I was so sorry about the drink. I said what they did is not the way to treat a person. I asked what I could do.
"She wanted the blanket again. She was shivering. I covered her. She said she had pain in her chest, and her left leg.
Her leg was asleep. I started giving her a massage.
"The male police officer, honestly, nothing but amazing. He helped her up. He asked if I would ride in the ambulance. He said they would give me a ride back to work."
At one point, Christine had asked for a female police officer; one finally arrived.
Narges helped Christine onto a stretcher, and the female officer rode with them to the hospital.
But, Narges said, "The female officer was no better than the paramedics. There was no conversation, the way she sat, she was indifferent."
Narges can't abide indifference.
"In the emergency room, the female officer was giving orders to Christine. 'Do this, or else.' The way she said it was degrading. I wouldn't talk to my child that way. I whispered to Christine, 'Well, you wanted a female officer.'
"She smiled at me. I was stroking her hair. I asked when she last had a shower. She couldn't remember. I said she should take one here.
"Then someone, a head paramedic, came up to me. I said his staff had treated her disgustingly, worse than an animal. I told him about the blanket, the drink.
"He said, 'Oh, you don't give them drinks.'"
This head paramedic also said that Christine had made a previous complaint about sexual harassment.
Narges was not impressed: "You start fresh every day."
She bought Christine a hot lunch from the cafeteria, and Christine finished it all but she spilled some of her food.
Now get this: "The nurse told Christine she had to clean the floor."
I am astonished.
Eventually, Christine said it would be OK if Narges went back to work, and Narges gave Christine her phone number.
I now leave it to you to parse this story for all the points of indifference and cruelty, of kindness and understanding.
And I request you to do one thing, no matter your profession, if your job is to help: Start fresh every day.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2012 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited