Bystander Effect in Action

Sparky and I were driving home last Friday. In our little hamlet is a bus/tram zone where at least a hundred people were waiting for various buses/trams.  As we were driving in this 100 meter bus zone we noticed a man laying in the street as if he were listening to the asphalt to see when the next tram would arrive.

Only he wasn’t.  He was having a seizure.

He was also not being helped.  He was alone, lying in the street, shaking and beating his head on the ground with at least 100 people in the immediate area, some staring, others not noticing.

Sparky pulled over and we ran to him, screaming for help.  This man, who I’ll call Bob, seized for about five or six minutes.  He stopped seizing and fell into a deep sleep. He woke gradually with absolutely no comprehension. or ability to speak.  He badly injured his head, his ear being ripped from his scalp a bit.  There was blood everywhere.

We stayed with Bob until the ambulance got there and took him away.

A couple of things stuck with me for the next few days.

First and foremost, why wasn’t anyone else helping this man before we showed up?  There were a ton of people on the street and, uh, not in a car.  There was an apotheke 10 feet from the man, but the apotheker couldn’t help? The ambulance was called from the apotheke, so it wasn’t like they didn’t know.  Why was it only when Sparky and I started screaming for help did anyone do more than stare at this man?

I understand it from a psychological perspective, but I can’t viscerally. Don’t make me go here.

It makes me so angry which on one hand is good because it relieved some of the nausea I felt at the actual injury to this man and the sight of all that blood.  Bob was in dire need of help and NO ONE did a thing.  Someone eventually went for a doctor and that doctor took his sweet time getting downstairs.  He literally sauntered, Sauntered! over to Bob as the ambulance got there and he was a flight of stairs away. That was at least 15 minutes into the whole thing.  What the fuck?

And all those people?  What were they doing?  A musician came up before I had a towel from my car and I grabbed his music folder to put under the man’s head.  And the musician grabbed it back from me.  Bob was grievously injuring himself on the asphalt.  Is a folder that important?  Take out your music then and give me the folder?  I was about to pull off my tee-shirt that’s how much damage was being done to the man, he was ripping his ear off his head.

I kept playing the scene over in my mind wondering if there was anything else I could have done because all my first aid training flew from my brain.  I came home and googled.  We did what we were supposed to which made me feel a bit better.  I hope Bob is okay.

I have included some links below so if anyone else encounters this, you’ll know what to do.

Basically it is this:

  • Try to prevent them from injuring themselves further – move objects, furniture.
  • Put a pillow/towel under their head to prevent head injuries.
  • DO NOT put anything in their mouths, they won’t swallow their tongues.
  • After it is over, roll them on to their side to drain any liquid in their mouths.

Seizure First Aid

2nd Link, same info as above


9 thoughts on “Bystander Effect in Action

  1. Can’t say what they teach people now, but in my EMT courses, they went into detail about picking out specific people to accomplish tasks – you in the blue shirt do X – because people often don’t respond to a general request. Same thing, I think.

    A few years back, someone had a siezure in the S-bahn. His friends had his head, but I couldn’t find the call button or remember the German word for siezure and noone else really paid much attention. They got help at the next station. There was some difficulty getting train personel to assist, but ultimately it was ok.

  2. There are quite a few interesting psychological studies about how people react in the proximity of an emergency. There’s a thing that if no one does anything, no one will do anything. The advice is to do something, anything, and then most people will suddenly react. It also went into that comment above, that people have to be given tasks.

    It’s lucky you guys came along.

  3. Oh my God!! I am so glad you helped that man! I saw an older woman fall in the street from her walker. I raced over to help her up, but three people stopped their cars to help. Maybe they are just nicer up here?

  4. Well done to you both, firstly for stopping and secondly for doing the practical stuff. I have worked with kids with special needs for years and have seen seizures in many shapes and forms. They can be shocking for people around to witness and frightening/draining/ embarassing/dangerous experiences, for the epilepsy sufferer themselves.
    Thank goodness there are caring people like you both around.

  5. I agree with you that the complete lack of human decency in this sorryexcuseforacountry is appalling and am glad that you and Sparky were there to help Bob.

  6. That’s ridiculous that no one did anything! It’s almost as bad as the man who got hit by a car and people kept on walking. Too many people have become so self-absorbed that they can’t even fathom the compassion and decency to help a stranger. I say shame on them and a big high five to you and Sparky for helping him out!

  7. People in crowds are dumber than dirt. The group mind meld turns off their humanity and ability to think. Glad you both obviously are in full possession of yours. ‘Bob’ was a lucky guy. I hope that good karma pays off when you need it.

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