When people die on our streets without help, humanity dies

By Tran Van Phuc   July 15, 2019 | 05:03 pm PT
Whatever the reason, not helping people injured in traffic accidents reflects badly on us as individuals and as a society.
Tran Van Phuc

Tran Van Phuc

My head went blank for a moment. 

A few seconds later, I realized I had a broken arm and felt warm blood oozing down my face. 

I had been cycling down a steep slope and tumbled into a bush. 

It was the summer of 1985. I was delivering some handicraft products my family made to a village a few kilometers away from our home, after a not very successful day at the local market. I was riding down the slope when a truck suddenly appeared towards the bottom. My knee-jerk reaction was to make a sharp turn, as my bicycle unfortunately lacked a brake. Before I knew it, I woke up in a bush, surrounded by pebbles and gravel, with a large, bloody gash on my right temple.

I was in panic mode. I called out to passersby for help, but no one bothered. A minute, then two, then five, the blood started to soak my shirt in crimson after I took it off to cover the wound. In the end, I had to help myself up, broken arm and all, and take my bike to a shop to have its burst tires replaced. I rode all the way home with one arm.

That was 35 years ago. 

Sadly, today, I still see and hear stories of people getting injured in accidents without anyone lending a helping hand.

Over the last few days, I have watched over and over again an 11-minute clip showing a couple on a motorbike getting hit by a taxi going in the same direction in Saigon.

The crash sends the couple flying towards a pavement. The taxi driver gets out of his car to check on the couple. He looks at them for about 13 seconds before driving away.

Of course, I am upset that the driver did not stay back to help the couple get medical treatment, or at least stay there till the police came. But what shocks me much more is the fact that throughout the 11 minutes of the clip, not a single person stopped by to help the couple on the pavement.

I counted. 42 motorbikes, seven cars, a bicycle and seven pedestrians. At least 58 people saw the victims, but only one person stopped to make a phone call and discuss the matter with some people who passed by. I couldn’t believe that almost everyone who saw the accident failed to do anything, even when they saw how the woman was still moving and the man, still concussed, staggering his way towards the middle of the road to get help.

It brings to mind another accident, which happened in 2016, involving a Camry and three people in Hanoi. Hundreds of pedestrians and drivers saw the car crash into all three of them, but they simply walked or drove around the scene of the accident without doing anything. They did not cast a glance towards the victims, even when there was a six-year-old child lying on the road, already at death’s door.

It was not until 20 minutes later that a woman, upon discovering the child was still breathing, picked him up and ran into the middle of the road, trying to get help from cars and taxis. But none of them stopped for her. Some even sped up deliberately to avoid the woman and the dying child. Some took out their phones, not to make calls but to take photos and clips of the grim scene. It took another 20 minutes before an ambulance finally showed up.

Both the woman in the first accident and the child in the second one died.

I wonder how all those people sleep at night. I wonder if they felt regret and remorse for their inaction. While I acknowledge that some people may faint at the sight of blood and not even dare to look at the victims, but what about the rest? Why did everyone keep watching from the sidelines without doing anything?

A screenshot from CCTV camera footage shows a taxi driver looking at a man and a woman he crashed into in HCMC, June 25, 2019. As he left them there and the no one stopped to help, the woman died later.

A screenshot from CCTV camera footage shows a taxi driver looking at a man and a woman he crashed into in HCMC, June 25, 2019. As he left them there and no one stopped to help, the woman died later.

In the age of smartphones and social media, it’s not hard to understand why people are quick to record unusual events and post them for the world to see. It’s plain old curiosity and a crowd mentality, something we are all familiar with. But the indifference to another’s suffering? Sadly, we seem to be getting familiar with that too.

One explanation given for people’s indifference is the fear of being blamed by the victim or the victim’s family. That’s especially relevant when an accident happens in a remote area with few witnesses. They say it is why many vehicles wouldn’t stop to help an injured person on the road. Even my colleagues and I, as doctors, have had to face the wrath of our patients’ families for no fault of ours.

However, while fear of retribution can be an excuse, how is it that not a single person even bothered to pick up the phone and call emergency services? I cannot condone this. 

But there is one thing however, that people who do want and are willing to help need to remember when they come across someone needing medical attention. They should remember to ask themselves if they really know what to do. As a doctor of 20 years, I’ve seen cases where people have died of a destabilized broken bone, of improperly placed pressure on a wound or of a misaligned spinal cord. 

Proper first-aid and delivery of the injured to a hospital means the difference between life and death. People who have little to no experience in medical treatment should just call emergency numbers for help, instead of trying to help the patients themselves. Though the goodwill is appreciated, expertise comes first.

So I believe that the key to encourage people to help one another in public is through proper first-aid education, right from the earliest stages of schooling. Then, we teach, promote and encourage compassion so that our children do not grow up into apathetic, cynical adults.

Eventually, we could also penalize people’s inaction in crisis, as is done in Russia, Germany and France.

That way, maybe another woman or another little boy could still live to see the next day.

*Tran Van Phuc is a doctor at the St. Paul Hospital in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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