Compassion Fatigue


Dear Driver of the Honda Van,

honda van webI felt compassion for you when you skidded to a halt on the side of the road, just up the hill from my house. I was worried that you would have to abandon your car and walk 7/10th of a mile to the Home Depot for shelter. It was after 10 p.m. and below 20°F when you came to a stop in front of Mike’s mailbox. I was worried for you, as you stood alongside your van—its headlights trained on the wreckage that was blocking your safe passage—and you considered your options. Clearly, you didn’t have many options.

My compassion turned to irritation when, after several minutes, you got back into your van and attempted to drive down the hill. I recognized that I was experiencing compassion fatigue, like the 911 operator who had refused to send help after another SUV, an enormous Denali, spun several times before slamming into two collided cars on the other side of the street. I was worried about you, but a little less than before, when I thought you were smart enough to accept your fate and abandon your car overnight.

You skidded slowly to a halt on the edge of my front lawn, without hitting the SUV already parked there. Then you got out of your van to survey your situation. My dog went wild. She had been enjoying her front row seat to the drama that occupied our street all afternoon and evening, and her excited barks had definitely contributed to my compassion fatigue. I ushered her to bed in the rear of the house and allowed my frayed nerves to settle.

Compassion soon resurfaced, as I realized that, although I was still worried for you, I was also relieved that your car was parked and undamaged. Now you could safely walk down the hill across the lawns, avoiding the icy road, to the Home Depot.

It was only in the light of day that I saw what you did instead. Somehow, you managed to get enough traction on the icy hill to move your car, in reverse, and back away from the SUV. Then you foolishly attempted to drive across my lawn and my neighbor’s lawn, past the already six cars piled up on the side of the road, to the bottom on the hill. But you lost control of your car on my lawn and, sliding on the icy surface of the powdery snow and soft earth below, you sideswiped the SUV, making yours the seventh in the string of collided cars.

five collided cars webfive collided cars street view web










This is only a theory, of course, because I neither saw nor heard your final attempt to escape my street. I can only assume that your earlier observation of the damage from your vantage point at the top of the hill led you to conclude that you could bypass it; or, perhaps in your desperation to get home, you believed that you could cheat fate.

After photographing the wreckage and recounting the events of last night to a friend, I found myself berating you for poor judgment. But from inside my warm house, where I am now sipping my coffee and composing this letter, I discovered that writing about compassion fatigue may be a better cure than discussing it.

It will likely be another 24 hours before the ice melts and the 12 cars are cleared from my street. The sun is shining, but the thermometer displays a chilling 20°F.  Still, as I write these words, I feel a surge of compassion for the drivers that were stranded here last night. I hope that you all spent the night somewhere safe and warm.


Comments (3)

I’m glad you’re in your warm house. I’ve been thinking of you and my other Atlantan friends.

The First Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, stop digging!

Yes, that is a rule of common sense. It seems that amid panic sechel is lost.

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