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I wrote this as therapy
I usually bring my own sparse lunch of salad and fruit and eat it in the atrium of the neighboring office building. It is a pleasant, airy space with glass walls on two sides, palm trees and a view over the lake. Normally, I walk over with some co-workers but sometimes I go on my own. On this day I came alone and joined some friends who were already eating. My friends had to leave just before 1:00 pm for meetings. I was expecting a phone call from the bank about a new mortgage. It took about 25 minutes for the broker to talk me through each of the 50 pages in the mortgage package. I ended the call, decided that nobody would notice if I took a few minutes longer than the allotted hour and started to read my newspaper.

No longer than 10 seconds
My reading was interrupted by an unfamiliar sound, a raised voice and then an explosion from behind me. I stood up and turned to see what was happening. The first thing to catch my eye was a cloud of dust and debris, illuminated by the sunlight coming into the atrium. Then, I saw a man lying on the ground about 15 feet away. There were at least 30 people in the atrium or the adjoining sandwich shop, panicked voices, screams and cries rose up. I heard some people saying, “call 911.” I turned to a group on my right pointed at them and shouted “Call 911! I know CPR” and ran towards the man. I gulped, I knew this was going to be very bad, but I also knew that somebody had to do something. As I approached the man on the ground, nothing about his body seemed to make sense, he wore grey pants and a blue shirt but I could not tell if he was on his front, back or side. I kneeled next to him putting my left hand on what might have been his shoulder. My first thought was to check for breathing. I looked for his mouth but saw only black hair, his open skull and one hemisphere of his brain which was still pulsating with blood. Instantly, I knew what the explosion had been, that he must have jumped from the balcony and that first aid was not going to help. I stood and turned back to the people in the atrium and said “He’s dead!” before repeating the euphemism “First Aid is not going to help him.”

“Not really but I’m going to keep going”
My concern now became to stop others from seeing what I had just seen and to minimize the panic and chaos. It took little effort to persuade most people to move back and leave the atrium although some people were frozen to the spot and just stared, others in the cafeteria didn’t know exactly what had happened and remained in line to pay for their sandwiches. I quickly saw that there was a more pressing problem; the man had landed directly in front of the elevators. A group had descended in the elevator and as the doors opened there was a wave of gasps and screams. I approached, told them to get back in the elevator and return to their offices. Another elevator arrived and I sent them back, too. By watching the floor indicator lights I could tell where the next elevator would arrive and attempt to shield the body from the elevator passengers’ view. This was not always successful but at least some people were spared the sight of the body. Interestingly, nobody argued with me.

Another man was attempting to control the stream of people trying to enter the atrium. He called out for a sheet to cover the body – nobody managed to find one - and for the security guard who remained at his post at the entrance to the building to shut down the elevators – he didn’t. I helped him to close the large double doors leading into the atrium from the building’s front lobby. This stopped the flow of people coming into the atrium. I stayed behind the doors with the body trying to intercept people as they came down in the elevators. One man who arrived on his own in an elevator calmly asked what was happening. I told him that a man had jumped from the balcony and that his body was behind me, he leaned over to look, I told him to go back upstairs, he asked if he could just go out of the front of the building and I let him go through. A group of women arrived; one woman was screaming, talking to somebody on her cellphone and demanded to see my ID badge. I don’t remember clearly but I either pushed her, or her friends pulled her, back into the elevator and she left.

The man who had closed the atrium doors put his head through them and asked if I was OK. I replied “No, not really but I’m going to keep going until the cops get here.” The stream of people arriving in the elevators had slowed and this gave me time to think. Perhaps I should take off my shirt to cover the man’s body? Perhaps I should jam the elevators to stop more people coming down? I began to wonder how much longer I would have to stay. I noticed one man standing immobile in the cafeteria staring through the window at the body. I gesticulated and shouted for him to leave through the back of the atrium but he stood mute and paralyzed. I knew he needed help but I dared not leave my post in front of the elevators.

Perhaps bizarrely, my thoughts also turned to how I was going to cope with the mental effect this was having on me. I remembered hearing that after witnessing something horrific it is important to expose yourself to something natural and beautiful. I really wanted the situation to come to an end.

Relief arrives
My best guess is that the first City Police officer came through the door about five minutes after the incident started. But, in truth, my perception of the passage of time can hardly have been accurate so it could have been a much shorter or much longer period of time. The officer was carrying yellow cordon tape. Another group descended in an elevator and I sent them back upstairs. I reported the facts I knew to the cop. One of the office park’s security guards arrived about 10-15 seconds after the police officer. His first words were to me, asking if he could leave. I was angry, wondering why he had not arrived sooner but I restricted myself to saying that it didn’t look like he could be much help and that he should go. Two paramedics arrived and it was only then that I realized that the policeman had encircled the area with yellow crime scene tape and that I was inside the crime scene. The paramedics had a body bag and a “DOA certificate.” The policeman told me to go and wait “over there.”
I returned to my lunch table. My phone, newspaper, lunchbox, mortgage documents, pen and notepad were all still there. I wanted to cry. Instead, I started to write my name, address and phone number on the notepad. The pen did not write well; perhaps the sweat from my hands had moistened the paper. The police officer came over, asked for my name, I handed him the sheet of notepaper and showed him my driver’s license. He said I was free to go and I left.

Getting out of the office
I walked out of the back of the atrium around the lake, across the road, through the smokers at the back of my building, who were talking about the incident. I was trembling. I found my supervisor who was categorical that I should go home. I told him that I was in no state to drive and that I needed to go for a walk to calm my nerves.
(Sat 3rd Aug 2013, 2:55, More)

» Petty Officials

US Immigration
I was woken by a 5:00 am call from our London Office. "We have a dangerously ill crew member on a ship 150 miles offshore from you. Arrange a helicopter to get him ashore and into a hospital!" This was not a normal part of my job, but after a few phone calls we were able to make it happen and the crew member was flown directly to the roof of a hospital.

On arrival he was declared dead. Since he was dying, the man had neglected to bring his passport - a reckless oversight it would later emerge. The next step was getting his body back to his home country and family. Unfortunately, US Immigration determined that since he was declared dead immediately after landing at the hospital he must have been alive at the time he entered the US and would have to have his passport stamped before the body could be released. The ship and his passport were now out of helicopter range on their way to North Africa. Even though we got the diplomats involved, Immigration would not budge. So, three weeks later when the ship reached its next port, his passport was sent back to Immigration who then released his body.

And this was before 9/11 so I probably avoided arrest for something like "felony conspiracy to violate immigration law."
(Fri 28th Mar 2014, 17:13, More)

» Dates Gone Wrong

Bad dates on the radio
This radio station is capable of stretching out a QOTW answer into 10 minutes of primedrivetime radio.

(Tue 9th Sep 2014, 1:42, More)