Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hard Decisions and Limited Options

One of the hardest decisions I ever was called to make, I made just the day before Christmas. We were picking up some final things we needed for Christmas dinner. After getting all we needed, we headed to the deli to pick up a few things for that night's dinner. We'd realized that we had focused so much on THAT dinner that we had forgotten that the was other meals we had to think about. As we picked out a few things, a woman came into the store sputtering and raging. Tis the season to be out of sorts so I didn't think much about it.


She headed towards the deli and I could hear her more clearly. She was cussing and swearing loudly and under her breath at the same time. Some of the things, that she said, which accompanied the cursing, led me to believe that this wasn't someone just having a rough day, but this was someone who was dealing with mental health issues. She got in line up behind me and continued cursing and exploding in anger, at the world not at any one in specific. I noticed the people at the deli notice her and they looked tense and concerned but not frightened.


She started talking about weapons. About taking a gun and shooting people.

The store was crowded. A panic would end up in several people being trampled. Our order was handed to us and we headed off towards the till. I spotted a manager. I made the decision. I rolled over to him and mentioned that there was a woman at the deli counter who was cussing and swearing and exploding into short bouts of anger, all that was fine, I said, but my concern was that she'd started talking about weapons. I wanted to explain more but the manager burst into action. It was like at the mention of the word 'weapon' he just vapourised.

On our way out of the store I told Joe that I'd found it a difficult decision to make, I didn't think she was a danger but I am not a psychic nor am I always well able to read the danger in situations. I thought it best. Maybe my actions will help her.

Joe said, grimly, "Yeah, and maybe the cops will shoot her."

That brought me up short.

Oh, my, god. The police haven't been showing a lot of cool or a lot of compassion for people with mental health concerns - several shootings have really brought that to the fore.

What have I done? I wondered.

I still don't know if I did the right thing.


Anonymous said...

I don't know, either.

You did the possible thing. Living a willingness to act and make mistakes beats living an unwillingness to act.

Most policemen I've met are pretty compassionate towards mentally ill people.

Anonymous said...

I think you did the right thing. If you didnt tell the manager and people ended up getting hurt you would have felt resposible because you heard her mention weapons. Letting the manager know may also have led to her getting may have saved lives that day not just physically but also mentally. Good for you dave!

clairesmum said...

We have to make decisions based on what we know at the time, and if you don't have the possibility of more time to gather more information, then you have to make your best decision and then take action. So, yes, I would say you did the right thing. Sounds like she was both frightened and frightening, and not fully in control of what she was expressing....adding talk of weapons does increase risk for everyone,including her.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

What a tough situation. I do think you did the right thing. It is necessary to keep her safe and other people safe. You cannot predict what other people will do once you have expressed your concern. Joe's point is well taken too. However, I think that an intervention before she ever appears to have a weapon is the best thing and least likely to end in a shoot out with police. I hope the poor woman got the help she needed but she certainly would get no help and perhaps would escalate without it, if no one had spoken up.


Liz said...

In a situation where all the possible choices feel wrong, I think you picked the right one. I'm sorry you were faced with the choice. I'm glad you picked the one you did.

Eunice Gordon said...

Dear Dave, I think you made the only possible truly responsible decision. Just because the police might not react the best way is not a good reason to stay silent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Colleen. You fulfilled your responsibility to keep the other shoppers safe by informing the manager. But you are NOT responsible for the actions of those further up the chain of responsibility--the manager and the police.


Maggie said...

One of my favorite teachers points out that we should evaluate (not 'judge') our actions based on our best understanding at the time we acted, and NOT on results, whatever they may be.

I think you did well. One of the biggest tragedies of our time is the moment that someone turns away from danger and fails to warn while it's early enough to do something.

If she turns out to have been planning a shooting spree, or to have had a weapon in her pocket, your wise and appropriate action will have turned out to be actually life-saving.

Anonymous said...

You don't know what will make someone go on a shooting spree - but the one required thing IS a gun.

You did the responsible thing, probably at the cost to yourself of delaying your exit - a difficult thing - long enough to inform the manager.

Another option would be to leave the store - personal safety first - and call the police/emergency number from a safe place. IF there were a problem, it was best to let the manager know because the manager is already on the scene, and, we hope, trained to do SOMETHING.

Every step is a possible delay in final action - but i bet nobody else reacted as quickly as you did - and actually thought about other people, as you did.

Anonymous said...

You cannot control the behaviour of others; you can only control your response to it. I think you did the right thing- regardless of this woman's mental status.

Deb said...

I agree with everyone else Dave, you did the only thing you could do, responsibly. The manager then has to be responsible, to do his part, and if the police become involved, it is their responsibility to behave appropriately. But no one else's actions are your responsibility, no matter what happened.

How often have we heard people say, "The killer was talking about shooting people, but I just shrugged it off..."

Shan said...

Totally agree with Deb. Lots of warning signs get ignored because people assume there is no real danger. And often the police, acting on tips like that, are able to intervene in time. Better safe than sorry.

jayne Wales said...

You made the right one. That store manager was acting on the advice he has been given. If you start to threaten people, mentally ill or not, then danger is about. you put yourself sadly in danger too.
i made a decision to tell on someone once. She called me Judas, liar, betrayer. I was all of those things but six months later she told me I had saved her life. I hated myself for letting her down but turned out I didn't. Sometimes its hard. The positive may be that in fact you have saved her life. She sounds like she could do with some good help, support and immediate attention. Have faith that it might be in fact h right kind.

Anonymous said...

If it's any consolation - there are no news stories in Toronto about a police shooting. You made a good call - and it's normal to "second guess" yourself when you have time to consider all the possible outcomes!

Anonymous said...

The police should be the last resort.
Trust me - i got taken to jail and then a psych ward because i have CP and the cops didn't understand.
Sorry, but I think you put her in danger -they really could have shot.

Anonymous said...

Did you try speaking to her or did you stick around to try and help with the cops? Who knows if they had a clue about dealing with someone who has mental illness. Or did you just react in a way you probably wouldn't want to be react to?
Hate to say but I am very disapointed.

Deb said...

I don't feel it's reasonable to expect Dave, who is disabled and unable to defend himself, to confront a mentally ill person who by all accounts appears to have been having a psychotic episode.

I've not seen signs of cowardice in him when confronting *rational* people, but this woman was obviously not rational, and she was threatening violent action. For all he knew she may have had a gun or knife in her pocket or bag and confronting her might have triggered her to use it.

His concern was not only for her but for all the other people in the shop.
People with visible disabilities and medical conditions are sometimes mistakenly identified as drunk or on drugs. That's why it's vital to wear a medical ID necklace or wristband when we go out.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks Deb, I'm sorry but I am a large man in a large chair in narrow aisles with little room to move. I have limited options for self defense, very limited options. This woman mentioned weapons and shooting people I felt that I had a responsibility to both her and to the others in the store and I tried to exercise that responsibility the best way that I could. My smile or wit or empathy seemed inadequate to the situation. I do not feel that my act was one of cowardace and the accusation stung me deeply. I wonder if these suggestions are sexist in nature, a subtle suggestion that what I did wasn't 'manly.' Maybe others would have done something more effective and more power to them. I did what I thought I could and what I thought was best ... acknowledging that there was no perfect decision to be made.

Alison Cummins said...

Dave, I didn’t read Deb’s last comment as being directed at you but as a defense of you directed to the last anonymous.

Anonymous expressed disappointment in you for not attempting to deal with the situation yourself, implying cowardice. I thought Deb was refuting that.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Alison, I wrote my response quickly, before going to bed, so wasn't clear. First I thanked Deb for her comment and then went on to comment about what the other two anons had said. I was really and truly thankful that Deb saw that it would have been too much to expect that I directly intervene.

Rickismom said...

Unfortunately, people often ignore potential danger to others saying it is because they wouldn't want the possible aggressor to be detained/hurt.SORRY. You were 100% right.