True Story: Not in public, please: Behold the unkindness of strangers

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The Independent Online
Last week, as I stood on a No 4 bus going from Islington to Tufnell Park, an old woman beside me had a heart attack and fell, face down, on to the bus steps.

I've never seen anybody collapse before. It was a frightening experience but my initial feelings of shock changed to anger as I realised that no one was going to help me and another passenger to move her. The old lady was a lot heavier than she looked and the bus was still moving, making it difficult for just two women to put her in the recovery position.

While we struggled, the other passengers seemed to have been struck by a form of temporary paralysis. All they could do was stare out of the window or, worse still, at us. They must have lost their voices too, because I had to shout and tell the bus driver to stop.

To my relief, although the old woman was unconscious, she was still breathing. The bus was silent, apart from the sound of the lady's rasping breath and my voice, doing my best to reassure her.

As we waited for the ambulance, several passengers got off. Some of them did not even look at the woman as they stepped over her. It was as if by acknowledging her they would be forced to help. I covered her with my jacket in an effort to preserve some of her dignity. The remaining passengers, determined to complete their journey, heart attack or not, did their best to avoid making eye contact with me. A crowd had gathered by the time the ambulance arrived. People were desperate to find out what was happening.

When the paramedics got on the bus the paralysis seemed to disappear as mysteriously as it had appeared. Passengers were tripping over themselves to tell what had happened. Stories varied from 'She fell and hit her head,' to 'She tripped over that suitcase'.

It was turning into a circus. There was no need for me to stay, people who genuinely could were helping her. As I walked away I felt sad. Is this the price you pay for living in London? People simply don't care, too wrapped up in their lives to bother about one another. I do not blame people for not getting involved in every situation. It can be dangerous.

But that day, there were no excuses. She was a helpless old lady who suffered the humiliation of having a heart attack in public.

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