Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Illustration by Sofia Bews.

Most of us have, at some point, gone from feeling fine to terrible in the span of a few short minutes. You have probably experienced the onset of Sudden Illness: unmistakeable nausea, cold sweat, racing heart, weakness or faintness, shaky limbs, a general urge to lie down on a cold floor forever, panicky I’m gonna barf thoughts, and then…you are puking, for all the world to see.

Barfing is awful, and I think we can all agree that it is ten times worse when it happens in public, like at school or on the bus. (P.S. Having experienced both, I can confidently state that getting sick on a bus full of strangers is the WORST.) When it happens to you, you don’t want anyone to even look at you, but you also might need help. So when you see someone who is suddenly throwing up, and you want to assist that poor soul, what can you do?

Well. It depends.

If the person is getting sick in an enclosed place like school or a store: Try to help them get to the closest garbage can. If there’s a trash can around that you can easily lift, bring it to them. If you and the person who is getting sick are outside: Ask them if they want help walking to a more “private” place, like behind a big tree across the street. Regardless of where you are: Tell the person it’s OK. Ask them if they need help getting to the nearest bathroom. Ask them if they want you to call a doctor, or one of their family members, or a friend, or all of the above.

If a person is throwing up because they’ve had too much to drink—especially if it’s a female-identified person: Don’t leave them alone. (Important caveat here! Don’t leave them alone as long as YOU feel safe to be there. Your safety is key <3). If they’re a stranger: Help them find their friends. If their friends are nowhere to be found or don’t seem to care that their friend is hurling, offer to help the person get a cab. If the person doesn’t seem to know who or where they are, or can’t stop puking, call 9-1-1.

If the person throwing up near you is on a bus or a train or another form of public transit: I am so sorry for them; and, have you got a bag? Any kind of bag will do—paper, plastic, whatever. Hand that bag to the barfing person. Ask them if they want to get off the bus or train. (I guarantee they will want to get off the bus or train.) Help this person get off at the next stop, and wait with them while they throw up in a garbage can or on the street. Ask if you can call anyone for them. Ask if they want to go to the hospital. They will probably say no to both, and try to get you to leave. If they seem fine enough to call someone themselves, then your work is done! If they can’t stop puking, or can’t walk, call 9-1-1.

None of those scenarios are what I’d call a good time, but you just helped someone who was feeling like the absolute worst. Yay, you! ♦