Walking along Pico, a busy street, I passed a man lying face down on the sidewalk. His head lay on the curb; one leg remained on a bus bench, so he had clearly toppled off. Even prosperous Los Angeles neighborhoods possess a few resident homeless, and this was probably one. He looked disheveled.
Naturally, I continued past. After a dozen paces I stopped because my conscience was hectoring me. “You have to help this fellow,” it pointed out.
“I’d rather not,” I replied. “Someone else will notice…”
“You’re a doctor. You have to help.”
“I do fine with patients,” I pointed out. “But this is not a professional situation.”
“Not good enough!” said my conscience. “Doctors have a moral obligation to help.”
“That’s flattering, but many doctors disagree. You should read the physician forums on the internet. Most are very conservative.”
“Why are you wasting my time?”
“….They hate Obamacare. They think welfare patients are deadbeats. They don’t even like patients with private insurance. Their idea of heaven is a cash-only practice.”
“Are you finished?...” asked my conscience. “Do you think I’m going to let you walk away?”
While I paced in a circle, debating this irritating voice, a hundred cars and dozens of pedestrians passed by. Finally, I gave up. The 911 dispatcher listened to my report and then transferred me to the fire department. The fire department dispatcher listened and then transferred me to the paramedics.
“How old is he?” asked a paramedic.
“What do you mean ‘middle-aged’?” he snapped. “Forty… Fifty… Sixty?”
“Fifty,” I guessed.
After several more questions designed to show that I was bothering him, he told me to wait until the ambulance arrived. As I waited, the man stirred.
“That’s all I need!” I thought. “For him to get up and walk away.”
But he didn’t. The ambulance arrived within five minutes, and the paramedics went to work. When they ignored me, I walked off.
This story demonstrates that I may not be the humanitarian that comes across in elsewhere in this blog. When I pick up the check at a restaurant or declare all my income to the IRS or stop my car at a stop sign at 3 a.m. on a deserted intersection, or don’t insult a telemarketer, I tell myself that I’ve done the right thing, but it’s surprisingly unsatisfying. I wish someone would express approval.
Of course, my wife praised my compassion when I told her the story, but I knew I had cheated by skipping the dialogue with my conscience.
Being liberal may be contrary to human nature, but I’m stuck with it.