I was hurrying down Van Ness, on my way to the Civic Center BART station. I was taking care of two orphaned kittens and I was anxious to get home and feed them. Cutting down a side street, I noticed a man sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe. He was wearing a pair of shorts and a nylon windbreaker, strange attire for a chilly San Francisco afternoon. However, what struck me most about the man was not his unsuitable clothing; it was the fact that he was dead.
There were other people sitting outside the cafe, eating pizza, drinking coffee, talking on their cell phones. They didn't register that the man was dead, but they knew something was amiss and they were starting to grow restless. His head was tilted back and his eyes were open and staring fixedly. What is the last thing a dying man sees? What is the last thing he hears?
There was no need for preamble. "This man is dead," I said. Just to make sure, I put two fingers on his carotid artery, the way I was trained so many years ago. Some things you never forget. His skin was still faintly warm, but he had no pulse. "Call 911," I said. And then what did I do? I started to walk away.
"Wait," one of the onlookers said, "Aren't you going to -- I mean, don't you have to...?" A couple of other people were fumbling with their phones.
There was nothing else to be done. "I have to go," I said. "I have kittens to feed."
I felt bad leaving the dead man alone with those people, but his life was over and the kittens were hungry. As I trotted toward the train station, I heard the ambulance, siren howling, hurrying toward a man who wouldn't be hurrying anywhere, ever again.