When Customers Bleed


Josie Leavitt - June 22, 2009

Let’s face it, bookselling is fairly routine. We restock books, we order books, we take special orders, we have story hour and sometimes we staunch the flow of blood on a customer’s head. Admittedly, the staunching happens only very rarely, but when it does, it reminds you that our customers can get injured at the store.

I feel I need to explain about the blood. A very fit woman in her early thirties tried to leap over the flower bed onto our deck rather than walk around to the stairs. Well, she didn’t quite make it and wound up clipping her head on the toy store’s metal sign.  She came into our store with blood flowing down her face from a gash in her head that was apparently spurting blood. (Why she didn’t go the toy store is beyond me — they were two feet away.) Ironically, I was not at work yet; as a former EMT who ran the local rescue squad for five years, I could have helped her out. As it was one of our staffers has been a doctor’s wife for over thirty years, and she leapt in to help the ultimately fine, but very shaken woman. Our other staffer, a truly wonderful bookseller, was outside getting air, as the sight and smell of blood make her sick. All the right things were done. The bleeding slowed with the help of Darrilyn applying pressure to the wound. The woman’s husband came to take her the to doctor for the stitches I’m certain she needed. Darrilyn cleaned up and went about her day.

Now, it’s not every day that people gush blood in the store. Usually the injuries revolve around a small child who gets an eentsy paper cut (you know, the ones we all pretend we can see) that feels instantly better with a Snoopy Band-Aid.  We’ve had some other injuries: once a toddler gashed his eyebrow after falling on the corner of a very sharp wooden spinner. This winter we had a thirteen-year-old girl faint dead away from a stomach bug. Her mother was with her and took her home. The girl was fine and literally bounded into the store every day for a week to let us know she was doing all right.

Sometimes other things happen that are gross, but must be dealt with. A potty-training accident in picture books. Not the worst thing, but it’s got to get cleaned up. Oftentimes the parents are embarrassed and just flee the area, leaving me running for paper towels and cleanser. Once we had a little boy who was mad at his mother’s (a really good customer) leaving to go to the car for her wallet, decide right now, on the floor, would be a great time to move his bowels. She was mortified, but she cleaned it up and sadly we never saw her again. Little kids spit up, have whoopsies, amazingly smelly diapers and go boom practically once a week. These things happen and our ease as booksellers at their occurrence makes everything go smoothly and helps to put the customers at ease.

These few more serious injuries make me realize that not everyone on staff is comfortable, or willing, to really help in an emergency. This got me pondering: what should I, as the owner, do about this? Well, I’ve decided to work with our local rescue squad on offering a free CPR/First Aid training for all the local merchants. (The businesses would pay for their staffers to go.) I mentioned this to two staffers and one said she wasn’t really interested and the other asked if it was mandatory. I was stunned.

But the more I think about it, the more it seems that this training needs to be mandatory. I don’t want a customer to have a heart attack, or for a baby to choke and have the staff just stand there after calling 911.  Basic first aid and CPR seem like smart things for every frontlne bookseller to know.

There are liability issues to consider. They are covered under the Good Samaritan Doctrine, which according to Black’s Law 7th edition is: "A statute that exempts from liability a person (such as an off-duty physician) who voluntairly renders aid to another in imminent danger but negligently causes injury while rendering the aid. Some form of good-samaritan legislation has been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia." Every state has a different view of this, so please know the law before you rush out to help the car accident victim in front of your store. Because if you pull someone from a car who is not in imminent danger and you paralyze them, you can be sued. Be careful, be smart and talk to the folks who trained you on CPR and First Aid.

I’m very curious what other folks do in their stores. Please let me know what your policy is about First Aid/CPR training for your staff.

6 thoughts on “When Customers Bleed

  1. Deborah Sloan

    I don’t know about making CPR/first aid training a must-do for employees, but I will say that I learned both when my eldest was born (and went back for a refresher when baby #2 came along) and I’m so glad I did. In fact, your post reminded me it’s time for another refresher. I took the class out of what felt like motherly obligation, but wound up finding it really interesting — and I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I have some general knowledge about how to handle the basics. That said, no emergencies near me, please!

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  2. Kenny Brechner

    Two months ago a customer waiting for the opening of the head shop next door passed out right on the sidewalk and was laying comatose in a pool of his own vomit. The downtown Jeweler and the Downtown gift shop owner conferred as to what to do and ended up calling 911. When the ambulance arrived the sirens woke the fellow up and he staggered to his feet and then ran for it, leaving everyone, including the emts standing around slack jawed. I’m not sure that there’s a moral here but it does make one ponder what could happen at any moment in a rural commercial district.

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  3. shelftalker elizabeth

    I don’t think Josie means to imply that our staff should feel like they have to save lives — but as people working in retail stores in smaller towns, there is a very real possibility that we will be called upon to deal with medical situations now and again. Staff members should know what NOT to do as well as what they can do to help someone who has collapsed, seized, or otherwise injured herself. We deal with the public all day long, which increases our exposure to potential medical situations, and—unlike staff members in a big-city store—the chances that we will happen to have a doctor in the store or on the street nearby at a crucial moment are relatively slim. Knowing CPR doesn’t obligate you to use it, but a basic knowledge of what to expect and how to prevent further injury can only help. One of our staff members has a seizure disorder, and I’d much rather have her fellow employees learn not to try to stuff something in her mouth and possibly break her jaw if a seizure ever occurred than hazily follow what they’ve seen on outdated TV shows.

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  4. Spellbound

    Luckily, the one time we had an actual bleeding incident that required more than a band-aid there happened to be a customer/dad/off-duty physician on hand to step in. I have considered taking some form of CPR/emergency training, just for my own peace of mind. I really don’t think it’s something we should feel obligated to do unless we are hosting an event where the parents drop off the kids. For instance, I have hosted a Parents Night Out; if I do it again, I would like to make sure that at least one adult on hand has had training. But we also make parents sign a form giving us permission to call an ambulance, etc. if needed. It does seem like a good idea to talk to staff about how to respond in an emergency, what you expect of them, etc. Food for thought.

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  5. Lynn Kaplanian-Buller

    Dutch law requires that a trained person be on site during store opening hours. Training takes one to two days with annual updates, paid for by employer. It’s been a load off my mind to know there is a group of trained folks on staff because I’m not here 7 days a week…and of course, accidents happen just when one’s back is turned. American Book Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands

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  6. Joel

    I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here and say no, you can’t mandate that an employee be responsible for saving customer’s lives. It’s noble and generous of you to offer this training to your staff, but they’re there to sell books not perform cpr. You can certainly be upset that the employee who stepped out failed to do her duty as a human being, but your real basis of complaint is that she wasn’t there to attend the other customers. The best thing to do is to let people know what your policies are. Can they call 911 without first notifying a supervisor? What are their responsibilities to the sick customer? e.g. follow the instructions of the 911 operators. What are their responsibilities to other customers who may be in the store at the same time? You might hope that inside everyone is a hero, but only they can decide if and when to let that hero out.

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