Coffee, snow, and blood.

That’s a rather dramatic title, isn’t it? Today I helped a young barista who fell in the snow and cracked her head on the concrete. We called paramedics, and she was taken to the hospital. My guess is she has a minor concussion and probably needs some stitches. But she walked from the coffee shop to the ambulance of her own accord, so I suspect she’ll be okay. Here’s the story, in full:

After exercising this morning, I decided to work from a coffee shop (I’m not going to name the place). When I walked in, I was disappointed because the only open table was a high top facing the drive-thru. I mean I was not happy. But so it goes, as Bill Pilgrim says. I sat down, put my big North Face coat on a chair, pulled out my laptop, and went to work.

Yesterday, I’d checked the weather, which said we had clear skies through the weekend, so I got a car wash. That’s how little I knew about the impending snow. Jennifer woke up early this morning to walk the husky, and she said it was 17 degrees outside. So before I left the house today, I elected to take my heavy puffer.

I was banging away on my keyboard, listening to Max Richter’s Sleep, when I looked up and saw first flurries and then heavy snow raining down. I even Tweeted about it. Back to work I went. A few minutes later I looked up again, still shocked at the speed and density of falling snow.

Because of the direction in which I sat, I saw out into a parking lot. Now, the human mind is a miraculous thing. For the most part, it predicts or anticipates—perhaps it might be accurate to say it creates in advance—what you think you’re going to see right before you see it. You don’t do this on purpose; it’s an automated action produced by System 1. When what you see deviates from your anticipatory model, System 1 notifies System 2, your deep-thinking self. But sometimes what you see is so extraordinary that instead of System 2, System 1 enables its split-decision fight-or-flight action.

Picture I snapped of the fast-falling snow before the incident.

Picture I snapped of the fast-falling snow before the incident.

Out the window I saw in the snow—just to the right of that white car—a body lying in the snow. This was outside what I thought I would see. I ripped my earpods out, snagged my coat, and sprinted out of the coffee shop. By the time I got there, an employee from the shop had reached the body too. It struck me this was a young barista I had noticed walking out the door maybe five or 10 minutes earlier. I asked the fellow if he knew what had happened, and he said it looked like she had slipped and cracked her head on the parking lot curb. She was facedown. We gently lifted her up, and the snow had gone red. I asked if she could walk and she mumbled. We decided we needed emergency services.

I ran inside, and a woman sitting near where I had been sitting said she was calling for help. I ran back outside and wrapped the young woman in my coat. (I don’t know why I didn’t do that sooner—panic I guess.) Someone, a manager I think, came out and lifted her up. I was unsure if we should move her; but at the same time, leaving her in the snow was inadvisable. The barista was mumbling but not making sense. We helped her inside, and they took her to a backroom.

I sat down and began speaking with the woman who called the ambulance. We speculated about what had happened, but of course we didn’t know. Another coffee shop employee came out and said the young barista had gone outside to flip up the windshield wipers on everyone’s cars. Paramedics arrived and after about 20 minutes she walked out to the ambulance of her own accord, head bandaged. They took her to the hospital. My guess is not only did the liability of the coffee shop require she go to the hospital, but she probably needed stitches as well as a concussion test. I do hope she’s okay. I’m sure she’ll be embarrassed, but she shouldn’t be. It was freak lightning snow and anyone could have taken such a tumble. And while she may not know it, her fall gave a small group of people a chance to work together to provide help. Those people, me included, feel better because they found themselves in positions to help one of their fellows today.

The woman who called for help and I talked for about 30 minutes. She was incredibly kind, and I’m glad I had someone to talk to. It occurred to me during the conversation that the woman and I were now bound through a shared experience which made it easy for us to share and open up about our personal lives. I ended up talking about how my wife is pregnant and about how we liked to climb mountains. She talked about someone she knew—a physician—who bought a mountaineering helmet for walking when it’s icy out to protect against brain injury.

I was no hero. The barista would have been discovered—in fact was discovered—about the same time I saw her lying in the snow. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. And as I think about it, so many particulars of my morning led to that incident: My wife walking the dog led me to take my coat which I later used to wrap the injured barista; my decision to shower at my gym after my workout placed me at the coffee shop within the time horizon of the fall; the only open seat was a high top which led to my decision to sit at the high top such that my zone of view spread into the adjacent parking lot. I tend to use causal stories to explain unrelated phenomena, and this is no different. But. Still. What a thing.

So that’s my unexpected morning. I go to this coffee shop regularly, so if I hear anything about her condition, I’ll update it here.

Parker McConachieComment