As I made my way out of the Archdiocese office in Perth at around 2.00pm on a Friday afternoon some years ago and I stepped on to the front verandah and as I looked up I saw a car speeding along the road, veering off sharply onto the opposite side facing oncoming traffic. It all happened in just an instant, I heard screeching tyres, a thud and saw a man being hurled high into the air like some kind of rubber doll. The force of the impact threw him at least three to four metres high before hitting the back of the vehicle fracturing the rear glass window and landing on to the bitumen. His bicycle was left some 50 meters behind.
My immediate response was “My God, My God”. Without even time to think I ran inside the office and immediately telephoned the ambulance. For some strange reason the office phones started to ring continuously without pause as if sounding an alarm. I then rushed out to see what condition the man was in. Given the force of the impact I was convinced that he was dead. As I approached the scene of the accident I saw that the man was in his early thirties. Thankfully he was breathing, in pain but lying quietly on the bitumen. The ambulance took just a few minutes to arrive. A crowd began to gather. I realised there was not much that I could do other than to say a brief prayer as the ambulance officers carefully placed him on to the stretcher. As I made moves to depart from the scene I noticed a woman identify herself to the ambulance officers as the driver of the vehicle that ran into the cyclist.
Then something strange and unexpected happened to me which I had never experienced before. I now realise that I was going through some kind of after shock. I was becoming increasingly teary and having difficulty concentrating. Evidence of the shock was apparent to me later when I got into my car to travel along a familiar route and back again to the office. In the space of just 20 minutes I took three wrong turns including driving past the office on my return. The teary symptoms continued all day and night recovering somewhat the following day, though still feeling emotionally vulnerable.
A few days later I rang the local hospital to find out how the accident victim was coming along. Without a name, the hospital was not prepared to divulge any information. The hospital’s telephonist explained that a similar request was received the previous day from a woman who witnessed a motor cyclist who was injured in a collision with a car. She was not keen to engage in any discussion about the issue and I could sense her frustration in having to deal with my call. Before hanging up I suggested to her and the Chief Executive Officer’s secretary that one method by which people like myself could establish contact with victims was to pass the information on to the individual or the next of kin in order to offer them the opportunity to make contact at a later time if they so wished.
Would it not help people who have been injured to hear what happened to them? Would it not help people to know that there are others who are concerned about them? Fix the body but forget the mind is the approach of our health system. The irony is that Hospitals these days are under considerable pressure dealing with the public and the media either on matters relating to litigation or the delivery of services. It would appear to me that an opportunity to link with the community regarding trauma would be advantageous in promoting a good profile for the hospital and the people it serves. It seems to me that the human dimension tends to be forgotten. Precedence seems to be given to the technology and the system that delivers health services to patients. But the human dimension, the dimension which considers the importance of the whole person, not just the physical condition is often neglected.
Is it so strange for someone who has witnessed an accident to express a concern about the wellbeing of the victim? The public is increasingly adopting a negative and litigious attitude to hospitals and hospital care. The human dimension is being overshadowed by an emphasis on the impersonal aspects of treatment.
This kind of system encourages disassociation between people as it isolates the tremendous potential for caring in the community. The irony is that in other sectors of health service delivery the primary goal is to establish better links with the community. If I ended up in a hospital bed as a result of a traffic accident I would dearly love to hear an eye witness account of what happened to me. I believe that this kind of caring between people helps not only the injured but also those who witness such horrific events.
Caring in our community has become sterile and lifeless because many of us have bought the lie that the ‘experts’ can do it alone.
But it is a fundamental human quality for people to care for other people. The systems that deliver services to our community today are primarily driven by budgets, systems, objectives, performance measures and strict operational guidelines which ironically extract out this essential human caring dimension which many of the services believe is really a core aspect of their service delivery. But there is something disengaging and non-human about these systems. The lie is that ‘the system’ will take care of you, all the good words and the cliches are there. But the truth is that real care is about love for another person. This is seriously lacking in today’s society no matter what spectrum of life you may wish to examine. The relationships between people have seriously diminished, as has the sense of responsibility and purpose because we no longer include Christ in our thinking, in our actions, in our conversations, in our very lives. Caring for one another without the love of Christ inevitably falls flat and ends up hollow and counterfeit.
Love requires a triangular relationship involving God, ourselves and other people. For Christ instructed “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” And “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31)
Today’s community wants to be served and not to serve, but where people do serve they do so without Christ.
Fr Emmanuel Stamatiou