Unexpected Tragedy

July 5, 2014

I was at work at my building on Thursday, anticipating having Friday, the holiday, off. That’s a rarity for me, and the thought of the three day weekend was really helping to get me through the day. The principle company in my building was closed already, and there were perhaps half a dozen people in the building, though the maintenance staff was there, the building engineer, and my other usual coworkers. There were also two window cleaners, there to finish a job I believe they started the previous day. Shortly before noon, I was getting ready to go take my lunch break, when I heard a noise from outside. I didn’t think anything of it, but moments later, a pedestrian stuck his head in the door and said we had better call 911, there had been an accident outside. I opened the door, and saw, lying on the sidewalk about twenty feet away, one of the window cleaners. His body was contorted in an unnatural angle; one of his legs was twisted underneath him, looking like it was possibly broken. A pool of blood was forming behind his head, and though his eyes were open, he didn’t appear conscious. I immediately pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911, speaking to the dispatcher and identifying myself, telling her where I was, trying to describe what I had seen. She said help was on the way, and I hung up. Meanwhile, a crowd was gathering outside. I was standing with the door open, while the porter, the freight operator, the other guard, and the building’s chief engineer had all appeared, as well as the other window cleaner. Pedestrians were forming a semicircle around the fallen man, who, I could tell with a sickening certainty, was not going to live. You could see that his head had been the point of impact, and with that amount of blood, it seemed clear his skull was cracked. His eyes remained open, but he wasn’t moving, other than twitching slightly, like an injured insect. I saw some asshole with his phone out, snapping pictures. When he saw me looking at him he looked guilty, but he didn’t stop.

Within five minutes, EMS, police, and fire department all arrived. A minute or two before, a young Asian woman, who must have had some sort of medical training, had knelt down by the man and had begun to compress his chest. Only seconds before the first responders got there, the man started to seize. His body shook, and it appeared that he stopped breathing. His movement ceased, and a stream of blood ran down the side of his mouth. His eyes were looking toward me where I stood in the doorway, but they were staring at nothing. I felt fairly certain, at that moment, that I was seeing this man die. EMS, when they arrived, got him onto a stretcher in short order and took him away. It was general tumult and chaos at that point. Flashing lights, sirens, people running around. I called my boss, the account manager for the building, and told him what had happened. I began to fill out an incident report. I think I was sort of in a state of shock…I had this sense of unreality, of being outside of myself, doing the things that were required of me, answering questions, saying “no comment” to two reporters who had showed up, like the vultures that they are. But I think my mind had sort of checked out a little bit. It’s what we do to cope with sudden, stressful situations, I guess. All the higher ups from the realty company that leases the building showed up, basically a who’s who of my superiors. They all stood around answering questions; OSHA showed up, and other safety organizations, trying to get to the bottom of what had happened. What was revealed, eventually, was that this guy was wearing a safety harness, but for reasons that probably never will be understood, it wasn’t attached to anything. I doubt the building can be held liable for the man’s accident; he should have known to take proper precautions, as I’m sure he had been trained to do. We’ll never know why he decided not to.

Soon enough, everything quieted down. The reporters, cops, firefighters left. The maintenance crew power-washed the huge bloodstain off the sidewalk. Within a couple of hours, news of the accident was posted online. The man was only twenty-nine years old. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital in cardiac arrest, and had died there. He was married, with children. The building’s chief engineer let us leave a bit early. He could tell we were shaken up; how could we not be? Back at home, and now, two days later, there is still that feeling of unreality for me. I can’t believe it happened. Despite the reports online saying he wasn’t actually dead when he got to the hospital, I feel sure I saw him expire, there on the sidewalk, right in front of me, and in front of a crowd of the curious and the concerned. It was so sudden. One moment I was getting ready to eat lunch, and the next minute I was seeing a life being taken out of the world, a light extinguished. Likely we’ll never know why this man decided not to attach his safety harness the way he should have, a mistake which cost him his life. I suspect this experience will be with me, as long as I live. You could say this has taught me that life is precious, that I should never take any moment for granted. But it hasn’t. I already knew that. I don’t take the gift of life for granted, ever. I would never need to be faced with something so sudden, so tragic, to be reminded of it.

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