What it means to help

Thursday was a beautiful day in Toronto, perfect early summer sun and clear crisp air. The wind from the storm we’d had on Wednesday had finally subsided and I was cycling home from work, sailing along, trying to release some of the energy from the challenging meeting I was coming from.

As I rode across a bridge over a major highway, I looked up and saw a woman lowering another woman to the ground, as if she had caught her fainting.

I stopped to see what they needed.

There were two other cyclists stopped, one on the phone trying to call 911.  The woman who’d caught the other woman was now crouched on the ground holding her tight, urgently saying “I’m not going to let you do that!”

The first woman — I’ll call her Julie — had been teetering on the top of the railing of the bridge.  The second woman — “Rae” — had stopped her car abruptly, leaped out and tackled her to the ground.  I arrived about 30 seconds after this happened.

Over the next ten minutes, everything seemed to happen in patches.  Rae was holding Julie tight, telling her own story.  Two years ago, she was driving on the same highway below us and someone jumped in front of her car.  She’d done compressions on him long past the time the police arrived.  He hadn’t survived.  She spent months in therapy, felt like she had not been there for her kids.  She asked Julie questions, found out she had kids, kept telling her “You can’t leave them for your brother to raise.  You have to raise good boys.”

In middle of this, she kept lifting her head, asking “is someone coming to help??”

When I’d arrived, one of the other cyclists had been on the phone calling 911, but he didn’t seem to be able to convey the urgency.  He kept saying “she keeps asking me for information like my name.”  I asked if someone was coming and he said he didn’t know.

A TTC bus pulled up to ask if we were okay, and I got on board and he and I did a faster call for help.   The other two cyclists left, the guy saying he had to pick up his kids and leaving me his name.

As soon as I knew 911 was coming, I crouched down and rubbed both their shoulders lightly, exchanging names, reassuring that help was coming. Julie was crying, very drunk, and kept saying she just wanted to go home.

Other cyclists kept stopping to ask if we were okay.

We were, just.  Julie was gently crying, Rae was still urgent, trying to get Julie to look into her eyes, asking her where she wanted to go.  She named one hospital, refused another.  For several minutes, the three of us were alone on the bridge, the bus gone, the driver assuring us help was coming.

When the police arrived, they were kind, very humane.  When the paramedics came, they said they couldn’t take her to her preferred place, but the police said they would. Rae walked Julie to the ambulance so the paramedics could assess her physically to make sure she was safe to travel with the police.

When I told the story later, people asked if I was okay.  I said I was — that I’d witnessed a profound act of rescue and a surge of community caring, not an act of despair.  The despair once Julie was on the ground was familiar, not extraordinary.  I’ve seen and experienced deep sadness. What was extraordinary was Rae leaping from her car, her incredible capacity to be completely present, to be completely caring, deeply human.

The police remembered her from the previous incident, remembered that she hadn’t wanted to let go of giving chest compressions.  I said to the first one that she deserves a medal, and he said ‘tell that guy.’  I did.

What does this have to do with fitness, apart from my having been on my bike?  I think it’s two things:  presence and confidence.  I think being on my bike makes me absorb the world around me, makes me of it.  It didn’t escape me that — other than Rae and the bus driver — cyclists were the main people who stopped to see if we needed help.  We are a band of vulnerable humans close to the ground.

The confidence is something different.  I think all of my riding, all of my running and goal setting and solo traveling have made me more confident about unexpected situations, more confident about stepping in.  And last year I did a wilderness first aid course, which taught me how to assess a situation, keep everything calm, give the help I can, and get people the help they need.  I quickly figured out that Julie wasn’t physically in trouble except for being intoxicated, and that she was getting what she needed.  But I was also tracking that Rae was okay, and made sure help came and was connected.

I did the first aid course because I do a lot of things that are a bit dangerous far away from help.  I learned some important techniques, but also learned that assessment and order are as important a part of first aid as splints and stopping bleeding.




This is a pitch for all fit feminists to get some first aid training.  The world is full of extraordinary moments, some of them with people with wounds of all kinds. It’s empowering to feel confident about being able to support in the way that’s needed.  And I think that’s a really important part of feeling strong and connected to the most vulnerable moments we encounter in this complicated terrible beautiful world.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and rides in Toronto.  She writes here twice a month for sure and more when she’s inspired.

7 thoughts on “What it means to help

  1. Wow, Cate, what an experience. I hope “Julie” will be OK. “Rae” and you are amazing humans.

  2. This reminds me of my daughter Mallory, fully first aid trained and person I’d want nearby in case of emergency.

  3. It’s really good that you were there. I’ve taken a 10-hour sports injury first aid course, and one of the two big points they hammer away at is this one: call 911 and make sure help is coming. It sounds like the other cyclist was too timid to make that happen, but you did. (the other main point they emphasized was “don’t rush in and end up a victim yourself; stay out of danger”, which is also pretty important).

    You’re so right about how as cyclists we do experience the dangers of the world much more up close and personal. Thank you for being there, helping, and writing about it.

  4. Thanks for sharing this experience in greater detail, Cate. I’ve been thinking about it ever since you posted the short version on FB right after it happened. Your link between fitness, presence and confidence got my attention. It fits with my own experience of so many of our activities–life in general–requiring a state or readiness, in both mindset and body. And how the community of people showed up so fully to “Julie” and each other. This is where we can find hope.

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