Empathy — Giving a Fuck

Empathy is the most important skill you, the Designer, will ever have.

We don’t all come out of University a Designer, it’s often a trait that comes to the fore later on in life. I learnt my craft through experiences, with many of them being nothing to do with *pure* design, but were life experiences. When the checks are balanced, I’ll put my portfolio up against any University trained uberGeek with a Masters, because there’s one difference.

Real People.

Many many years ago, in a galaxy far far away (ok South London), there was a fresh faced cop who walked the streets. My recollection of exact times is hazy, so forgive me for any errors, they’re not deliberate.

I was / am a smoker, so you can always guarantee there’ll be smokes tucked away in a pocket. Wearing my dark blue uniform, thick woollen pullover, and the world’s least fashionable waterproof over the top. Plenty of pockets to store things / lose them.

Christmas Day is usually fun; you’ll have a quiet morning. Some amongst us will be occupying the canteen, hoping for the Domestic Violence calls to not happen for another Christmas. Others will be out exploring the ground, and wishing they were home with their family.

It was my first Christmas on the job, you’ll know that the shops are shut. You can usually find a garage open, but there was none near me. On my beat, I could go off and find a crafty place to sneak a smoke. Thankfully those were the days where you wouldn’t be spotted and plastered over social media.

So a call comes out to a man on a roof. Now being London, it could mean anything; someone sunbathing in the middle of winter, fixing the aerial to pick up the Queen’s speech, or the worst one, a jumper.

I knew the place, a hostel for those down on their luck. It wasn’t far from me, so I pegged it round the corner and found a bloke sitting on the edge of the roof, 4 stories up.

I was Superman, I could fix any problem.

That was the day I realised I couldn’t.

I clambered up the stairs onto the roof and approached this guy. London is a big place, and it’s extremely easy to feel lonely. This guy was at the depths of despair. He was alone, depressed, and he had had enough. I’d barely worn in the uniform, and I had no fucking clue what to do.

So I talked to him.

I wanted to keep him engaged long enough till the experts arrived; my mates who had done this job for years and come across every situation. They would know what to do.

How would I connect with him on a personal level, show him that I was real?

I reached into my pocket, and took out my box of cigarettes. No probs, one for him, one for me.

But there was only one left. Shit.

It was quite clear that his need was more than mine,

“There you go mate, you want a light?”

At that moment, there was a connection.

His hands cupped mine as he tried to light the cigarette in the bitching cold.

The meeting of our eyes with a shared grin as she caught alight.

That first exhalation.

He passed it over for me to have a puff. A shared experience.

Suddenly for 30 seconds, everything was good in the world, we could have been mates enjoying the view. Really, at that moment, we were.

Yet as quickly as that moment arrived, it disappeared.

I don’t know what was going through his mind, I tried everything within my power to get through. I had assumed that our shared moment would be enough to kick him out of the funk.

After the smoko, he was talkative, but avoided discussing about what was happening right there.

By this time, the experts had arrived. I was no Superman, I was more than happy to hand this off to someone who could get him the help that he needed. Half the cop shop had turned up, and still being the noob probationer, I was sent off about 20m away to man a cordon tape, to keep the rubberneckers far enough away.

The boss told me to take his car and move it. Yes, warmth for a minute.

So I shifted it over to the cordon, revelling in the warmth for that brief moment.

I got out of the car and was just locking it, when I heard a shout. I turned to see him falling through the air, somersaulting once. I ran towards him as he hit the ground flat on his back, bouncing a good foot off the ground.

Everyone else froze. The paramedics ran to him too, arriving at the same time as me.


Along with the ambo’s, we got him on a stretcher, and I was told to start compressions. I looked around at the boss, and he nodded ‘go’.

We’re taught first aid pretty well in the Police, it’s probably equivalent to advanced first aid training in the commercial world.

But everything they say about doing CPR is true. You will crack ribs, it’s fucking hard, and it drains you.

So the paramedics are trolleying this guy to the ambulance as I’m on top of him bashing away. They get us into the back and one attaches leads, whilst the other gets in the driver’s seat and gets us going.

I have never studied an ECG quite so much before, or since. With every compression, I could see the trace.

I was screaming at this “fucker” to keep going. That paramedic took the corners like she was a F1 driver. In the heart of London, she gave it a great fucking go.

Five minutes isn’t a long time. When you are being pummelled around the back of an ambulance, trying to bash life back into a human being, 5 minutes is an eternity.

We rolled into A&E, I’m still pumping away on this guy’s chest as we cart him into acute care. I step back whilst the experts get him on the hospital bed.

And that’s when I knew I’d lost. The impact had turned him into a bag of jelly, one look at me from the Docs with a shake of the head was enough.

My team had arrived, so I staggered outside for some fresh air, the adrenaline still pumping.

I need a smoke.


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