I arrived home that evening around 7:30 p.m. I had just come from a two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the college and was really exhausted. The only thing on my mind was to hit the sack and sleep forever and ever, or in this case, until my obnoxious alarm wakes me up in the morning. Just then my cell rang. I quickly grabbed it, hoping that it would be a quick call so that I could resume my previously intended sleep. No such luck.
The voice on the other end said he was Dr. Brown, the college psychologist. He said that he just got a call from a friend of mine who was very upset. His name was Alan and he said that he was going to kill himself.
The word kill immediately frightened me as I could feel my heartbeat beginning to escalate. “Why is he going to do this? Where is he? How does he plan to do it?” I cried. “And why did he mention my name?”
“I don’t know,” said Dr. Brown, “he ended the call before I could even react.”
I took a deep breath, now able to get a better handle on this awful situation.
“Greg,” said Dr. Brown, “you know where he lives, and more importantly, you know him much better than I do. I think you should go over to his place, break in if necessary, and check on him. But be prepared for anything.”
Dr. Brown gave me his cell number and told me to call him as soon as I found out anything. He would be on stand-by until then.
Well here I was in my first real life situation, one that I had trained for over and over as a psychology student, and still I was scared to death. I knew, however, that the key to my success in handling this would depend on how calm I approached it. So, I took another big breath, said a last second prayer, and set out for Alan’s apartment.
As I began sprinting down the street, the temperature appeared to be about 10-degrees below zero. It was freezing, but it didn’t matter, this was about Alan. I kept having this urge to run faster and faster because for all I knew, Alan could be dying right at this moment or possibly even dead.
I finally arrived at his apartment, completely exhausted, barely able to breathe. Lights were on inside, so I knocked as rapidly as I could. There was no answer. I knocked again, but this time on the window where I knew he would hear me if he was conscious. Again, no answer. I then went around to all the windows looking for some way in, but no luck at all.
I contemplated breaking a window, but decided I better try the landlord first for a key. Fortunately, I was able to figure out which apartment was his and sure enough he was home and quickly assisted me without any questions. I then nervously sprinted back to Alan’s door, unaware that I was running on a complete sheet of ice.
Once at the door, I struggled with the key for a couple of minutes before it properly fit in the hole. Immediately I exploded through the door like a rocket. There I found Alan’s coat and books thrown on the floor. The telephone was off the hook, with Dr. Brown’s telephone number out on the table. As I ran past the kitchen, I noticed a large knife on the counter. Before I could put two and two together, I saw Alan lying on the floor in his bedroom. He was alive, breathing, and had his hands over his face, clearly distraught.
“Alan, are you okay? Did you take anything?”
He shook his head, implying no.
“What’s going on? Tell me Alan,” I asked. “Everything is going to be okay, let’s just talk about what is troubling you.”
Alan wouldn’t move, let alone talk. His hands wouldn’t reveal his face. He was breathing normally, so it appeared there had been no suicide attempt. That was a relief.
I got up and went snooping around for any signs of pills, poison, or just anything that he could have possibly taken. I checked the bathroom and found nothing. The kitchen also had no signs of anything. The knife on the counter was enormous. I put it away with a feeling of sudden relief that it had not been used.
I began to feel confident that things were beginning to come under control. I called Dr. Brown and provided an update. He told me to try to get Alan talking and to keep him posted.
I went to the bedroom where Alan still hadn’t moved an inch. His breathing was still normal. I asked again if he took any kind of pill or medicine. He again signaled “no.”
“Alan,” I pleaded, it is okay to feel upset, I’m here to help you. Relax and talk when you feel ready. The best thing to do when you are upset is to talk to someone. Don’t let the problem build up. I won’t leave; I’m going to help you get through this.”
He wouldn’t talk. We have been friends for a long time. In fact, he was the one who got me elected as student body president that year. He was amazing at marketing.
After about an hour of silence, I told Alan that I was going to go watch T.V. in the other room and if he felt like talking, to come out. I thought I had all angles covered and felt comfortable leaving him alone in the bedroom. By then he had stopped covering his face and seemed almost ready to talk.
Moments later he got up and entered the bathroom. After about five minutes, I began to worry that maybe I might have failed to check the bathroom accurately enough for drugs. He was still in there after ten minutes. It then occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t have ever left him alone. If he did anything now, it would surely be my responsibility. He could even lock the bathroom door and I couldn’t do a thing to prevent it.
Suddenly the door creeped open and out came Alan. I was relieved to see my almost mistake of leaving him alone turn out okay. But was it?
Alan came towards me with his hands behind his back. He stopped just shy of where I was sitting and began staring at me. I asked him what was wrong and pleaded with him to tell me. He said nothing but continued to stare right at me.
His eyes began to scare me. They looked like they wanted to kill me. What if he was holding a knife? He was plainly concealing something in his hands. His stare wouldn’t let up, and for the first time I began to fear for my own safety.
I asked Alan if he wanted me to leave. Again, no response, just his spooky eyes concentrating on me as if he were an eagle and I his prey.
Just then he began to get weak and something dropped from his hands. Alan quickly put his foot over it, not letting his eyes change from their target. I got enough of a glimpse of the object to know that it was some type of a small bottle.
Alan started getting weaker and weaker and fell to the floor, revealing the label on the bottle with a skull and cross bones. It was poison! He must have taken it while he was in the bathroom. I shouldn’t have left him alone, bit it was too late to reflect on my mistake.
Alan was lying on the floor. I quickly checked his breathing, which appeared regular. I then grabbed the poison, took out my phone and called 911. Alan began to groan and toss and turn. I clutched him and yelled, “It is going to be alright; help is on the way.”
He cried out, “No, no, let me die,” and began crawling towards the bathroom.
I wouldn’t let him out of my sight this time and blocked the entrance to the bathroom. I was prepared to do whatever I needed to do to keep him alive. The most important thing was to keep him conscious. I tried everything I could possibly do to keep him awake.
Within ten minutes the police and ambulance arrived. They quickly took control of the situation. I called Dr. Brown again with the update. He said that he would meet me at the hospital.
The ambulance crew worked on Alan for about five minutes before loading him in the ambulance and we were on our way to the hospital. Alan was still conscious but appeared to be in great pain. His breathing had increased dramatically since we had been in the apartment.
We arrived at the hospital in minutes and fluently entered the emergency room. As I was ushered out of the area, I heard the nurse suddenly cry out for more help. Alan had stopped breathing. A group of doctors and nurses arrived and slammed the door behind them.
Tears quickly took over as I realized that Alan might die. I started thinking that If would have never left him alone, he would be okay right at this moment. Instead, he is probably on his death bed. My body was trembling all over with fear and guilt.
In the background I could hear some type of heart machine coming from the emergency room, as they frantically tried to save Alan.
Soon Dr. Brown came running in. “Is he okay? What’s the story?”
I couldn’t even answer his question because I was crying so hard. All I could manage to force out were the words, “I tried. I tried.”
He immediately understood what I meant as he sat down next to me and put his arm around me. “Greg, you can’t blame yourself for doing you best. There is no way you can take on the responsibility of watching him like a baby twenty-four hours a day. You couldn’t be expected to do any more than you did.”
I took a big breath and started thinking about Alan. He was such a bright and creative guy and seemed to have everything going for him. We had talked a lot about his problems, but they were just like anyone else’s. Now we might never talk again.
Two hours had passed, and no one came or left the emergency room. Dr. Brown and I just sat there in suspense, praying that Alan might get another chance.
Just then the emergency room door opened, and the doctor slowly approached us with a very relieved face. He told us that although it was a very rough battle, they had managed to save Alan’s life. He was going to be okay.
Dr. Brown and I hugged each other in joy, not only for Alan’s sake, but for the sake of all those who knew him. It was touching to see another grown man cry.
*This story is based on an actual first-hand account of a suicide attempt at my undergraduate college my senior year. The names, places, and few facts were changed in order to provide anonymity.