Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, June 11, 1999

Dizzy spells lead
to ugly clarity

THE lesson came courtesy of my favorite supermarket at the busiest time of day. I had just pushed my grocery cart into the brightly lit store when I began to feel woozy.

Drats, it was that darn vertigo again, the dizziness from an inner ear infection that makes the world spin.

I closed my eyes and held onto the cart. Maybe if I just stand here for a while, I'll regain my equilibrium, I thought.

So I made like a statue, just inside the well-traveled entrance to the supermarket, with one hand covering my eyes and the other clutching the shopping cart handle in a death grip.

I maintained this position for a good, oh, two to three minutes. And, all the while, I could hear and sense a regular stream of shoppers walking right past me.

Nobody stopped to ask if I was OK. Can you believe it? I couldn't, not in the good, old, alleged Aloha ("Lucky You Live Hawaii") State.

Finally, worried that I would fall or faint, I called out tentatively, "Excuse me, but can you get a store employee? I feel dizzy and need to sit down."

A voice replied, "OK, I'll be right back!" followed by the sound of receding footsteps, then a pair of urgent footsteps, and finally the clank of a metal folding chair. Soon I felt fine -- in the sense that I wasn't dizzy anymore.

But I didn't feel totally well. I'm worried about Hawaii.

This is troubling. What has this place come to when folks can walk by a person, in public, in obvious distress, yet do or say nothing?

I've tried to analyze this traumatizing event in a rational manner. Let's say you went into the supermarket and saw a woman standing in the middle of the aisle, hands covering her eyes, head bowed, holding onto an empty cart. Why would you ignore her? Because:

Bullet She could be deep in thought and you don't want to bother her.
Bullet She might be on drugs.
Bullet You're afraid she'll tell you to mind your own business.
Bullet You figure that, hey, if something is wrong, somebody else will deal with it.
Bullet You're too busy to care.

I don't get it. To me, none of these possibilities are convincing enough to ignore a possible neighbor in need. Am I wrong?

APPARENTLY not. On the suggestion of a doctor friend, I called a physician who supposedly specializes in treating vertigo patients. I explained to his receptionist that my dizzy spells were so bad, I was unable to drive and that my poor sister had been relegated to chauffeur status.

In other words, I needed to see the doc right away. Real bad. Please?

The receptionist was unmoved. She said his only opening was in three weeks.

"But shouldn't he see me now, when I'm actually suffering from this ailment, instead of a month later, when I'm not?" I asked.

It didn't work that way, she explained: If he could see me, swell. If not, too bad.

That's when I realized that something has indeed happened to those of us who live in the city. (This doesn't seem to be the case in the country or on the neighbor islands, since "progress" hasn't yet poisoned the well of civility there.)

Honolulu has become so fast-paced and impersonalized that there's a good chance a person in need won't be asked if she requires help, when she actually does. And then, when she herself asks for assistance, from someone in the so-called helping profession, she is very likely to be rebuffed.

Hey, I'm no dizzy dame. For the first time in a long time, I can see all too clearly. And it's an ugly sight.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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