Annie Burke picked up dinner and stopped in at the Sheetz on North Arendell Avenue to get drinks on Sunday, Aug. 14, when the unexpected happened.
One man approached a young man who was on his cellphone in the check-out line in front of Burke and her sons, Eddy and Fred. The older man, who Burke said appeared to be in his 50s, asked the younger man to call 911 for him.
“We could tell he was in distress,” said Burke, who lives in Zebulon with her husband and six children. “I think he maybe had an anxiety or panic attack. He wasn’t agitated, he was just flustered. He was all sweating and red and there was a lot of people in there.”
Burke was moved by the way complete strangers came to the aid of the man in distress.
The young man passed his cellphone to Burke so she could call 911 and talk with the dispatcher until emergency responders arrived.
In the meantime, Burke said, a Sheetz employee got a chair and cold paper towels for the man. A woman in the store bought him a bottled water to cool him down.
“The young man whose phone I was using was very patient and waited with us as I was on with the dispatcher waiting for the EMTs,” Burke said. “The manager of the Sheetz took the man’s car keys, went to his car and got his medicine to give to the EMTs, and moved his car to a safe parking space.”
Once the man sat down and began to cool off, Burke said he was able to talk to her clearly.
Eastern Wake EMS responders were quick to get the man out of the store and into the ambulance, “I think probably to get him away from the crowd – it was very busy,” Burke said. Burke didn’t learn the identity of the man who was ill and she didn’t know the others who helped him. Eastern Wake EMS declined to identify the man who was stricken.
While she was thinking only of the man’s well-being in the moment, when Burke returned home she said it set in that she was thankful her sons were there to witness the acts of kindness at the gas station.
“It was a reminder that we all matter,” she said. “You hear about all these shootings and terrible things in the world. This was just nice. I still want my children to be aware at all times, but I still feel like we’re in a nice, safe town.
“We were all complete strangers pulling together to help another complete stranger. Those are the kinds of things we want our children to see now.”
It also impressed Eddy Burke, 13, to see people caring for another person they didn’t even know, but he said that’s how people ought to respond.
“People we’re pretty quick,” he said. “I’d say that would be more what I expect. I’d expect if people fall down and need help, that people would step in and help and say ‘Do you need me to call 911?’ – things like that.”
Eastern Wake EMS Director Garland Tant confirmed that the man was having an anxiety attack and said he was transported to the hospital for further medical attention.
He said his outfit supports the kind of assistance that took place at the Sheetz.
“We encourage bystanders – Good Samaritans – to render any care that they are capable of up to their knowledge of what they are comfortable doing until we get there,” Tant said.
Tant said supportive care can go a long way with a person in distress.
“If we go to your house and something has happened to you, someone in your family is normally doing something for you before we get there,” he said. “Anything is better than nothing.”