The Kindness of Strangers

My father recently moved to an apartment in an assisted living facility. As with any move, some things went missing. A few days ago, we discovered that his passport was missing. We were looking for the passport because my father was set to fly Saturday night to Miami and board an international cruise Sunday morning. No passport, no cruise with my sister Karen and her son Altay.

So Olivia, one of the women who work for my parents, turned over every paper in my father’s apartment and in his former bedroom at my parents’ house. No passport. On Thursday, we started to prepare the application for an emergency passport, one key element of which is an original birth certificate. Dad and Olivia then started searching for a metal box in which he keeps his birth certificate, marriage certificate and other important papers. No metal box so no birth certificate.

On Friday morning, I picked my father up at about 7:00 am and we drove to downtown San Diego. We knew that the passport office might or might not grant his application.  We had a 10:30 appointment at the passport agency there, but when we arrived at about 9:30 they were happy to speak with Dad. He had long conversations, first with one officer and then with another, and they agreed to issue a passport. They were the first of many kind people that day.

We could not get the passport right away; the San Diego office processes applications in the morning and early afternoon and issues passports from 3:00 to 4:00 pm. I suggested that we go to the San Diego Zoo for a few hours and Dad readily agreed.

Our first few hours at the zoo were great. We walked slowly, for he has a walker and not much energy, first to see the koala bears, then down through the new Africa Rocks section of the zoo. When we reached the bottom, we had lunch at the Chinese café there. We then headed up a set of escalators towards the upper level of the zoo.

When he reached the top of the first escalator, my father stumbled and fell. I think he had too much weight on the walker and it toppled when it hit the ridge at the top of the escalator. He fell on the walker, and I fell on top of him, propelled by the escalator. Then other people fell on top of us, also pushed up by the escalator. It took us a while to get my father up, and when we did, the lower part of the right leg of his pants was dark. At first, I thought it was the coffee, that I had somehow spilled that on him, but it was red, it was blood.

We got ourselves away from the top of one escalator, on the platform between the lower and upper escalators, and got my father seated on his walker. A woman and I rolled up the leg of his pants and there was a large cut on his shin. Blood was pouring out. The woman pulled some paper towels out of her bag and pressed them onto Dad’s leg to stem the bleeding. I used baby wipes that someone else handed us to clean up the blood, look to see if there were other cuts on that leg or his other leg.

Several people stayed with us there on the platform, and my father was his typical talkative gracious self. When we learned that the woman Joanne and her husband were from Quebec, Canada, my father asked why they were not speaking French. We learned that another family was from Hawaii—the boy had on a Punahou t-shirt—and my father was saying over and over “a very fine school. Someone handed me a pair of gloves, which I put on, but Joanne did not have gloves, and her hand was getting soaked in my father’s blood. At one point I assured her that he did not have AIDS.

Soon enough two men from park security arrived, and they summoned the park’s paramedic, Brian. When he arrived Joanna at last took her hand off my father’s leg, to allow Brian to examine the wound, to put a bandage on it. The security team arranged for a car to meet us at the bottom of the escalator. My father was able to walk down the escalator and get in to the car. The security officer then drove us to our car in the parking lot and transferred us into our car, along with directions to the nearest hospital emergency room.

When we arrived at the hospital, appropriately named Scripps Mercy, at about 2:00 pm, the emergency room was pretty full. Many of the patients were homeless but they were receiving, as best I could tell, the same careful patient care as everyone else. We waited a while, during which time I took the photo of his blood-soaked pants.

At about three I said “I think we should go get the passport.” After all, no passport no trip. Dad agreed and I went to get the car. When I returned to the waiting room he was not there, they had taken him back into a room, taken off his clothes to see the wound.

At about 3:30, as the doctor were preparing to sew Dad up with stitches, I asked Dad whether I could go get the passport myself. “Of course,” he said, “but I thought it would be easier to go together, so you would not have to park.” We did not have a long conversation; I took the receipt for his passport and his California ID card.

I arrived at the passport office at about 3:50 pm, ten minutes before closing time. As I waited in the line I read the receipt more carefully; it said that if someone other than the passport holder was to pick up the passport, the receipt had to be signed. Dad had not signed the receipt. So once more we were depending on the kindness of strangers, the two government officials to whom I explained the situation. They had me write on the back of the receipt that I was picking up on my father’s behalf, and they gave me the passport.

I then returned to the hospital, where my father was still in the room, on the hospital bed, having been sewn up with fifteen large stitches. Both he and I talked with the doctor about whether he could fly in this condition; the doctor said yes, as long as he saw another doctor in about two days, which would conveniently be about the time he was set to get on the ship, with a shipboard doctor. They cleaned him up and sent us on our way, about 5:00 pm. I got him back to his apartment at about 6:50 pm, just in time so that he could eat dinner in the dining hall, where the kitchen closes at 7:00 pm.

A difficult and remarkable and memorable day, filled with the kindness of strangers. Indeed, at one point my father told Joanne, as she pressed her towels to his bleeding leg, that she was his guardian angel. He was right; she and others were angels of mercy.