Friday, October 30, 2015

grand mal on the G train

I left the office early yesterday afternoon to take care of some errands and work from home for a few hours.  The air was warm.  This autumn has been warmer than usual, which I know makes some people really happy but mostly makes me really upset about the inevitability of climate change.  Just call me Debbie Downer.

I followed my usual path home to Greenpoint, joining the construction workers at the subway station finishing their workdays inside Upper West Side brownstones that never seem to be finished.  I hopped on the downtown 2 express to Times Square.  I really do my best to put myself in the shoes of that tourist holding a map and blocking the stairs and on a good day, the perspective makes me shove a little less.  On a less-good day, I'm another commuter with places to be.

The 7 train platform was more crowded than I expected for a Thursday afternoon but I remembered the construction workers' shift and joined them on the train toward Flushing, where the air is spicy and exotic, especially for Queens.  My crossword app wouldn't download any new puzzles which is incredibly frustrating, but it was only 3:30 after all and I was on my way home.  At Court Square, I surrendered my seat and made my way towards the G train.  Instead of boarding in the usual place, I followed the cars all the way to the opposite end so that the post office would be a short walk from the exit at Nassau Ave.  The seats were all taken, but I was happy to post up by the door, leaning my back against the silvery surface to work on a Tuesday crossword from July.

The train lurched out of the station after a few minutes and somewhere between Queens and Brooklyn, the lady sitting across the train car dropped her red tote bag.  It was one of those reusable bags they used to give out at Falvey Library at Villanova when I had too many books to check out for my thesis research.  She seemed not to notice the bag fall, which was surprising considering the thump of it.  A minute passed, and then I made a move to see if she was okay as the guy leaning against the door next to her did the same.  She wasn't okay.  Her face turned and from the books I've read and the episodes of E.R. I've watched, I knew she was having a seizure.

The train car moved to action.  We consulted each other on the merits of pulling the emergency brake versus waiting for the train to pull into the station, and decided to wait rather than be stuck underground.  In the meantime, the woman had slipped from her chair and we gathered around her to catch her as she slumped to the floor.  When the train halted, we banged on the door of the conductor and ran to the window.  She lifted her walkie-talkie and sent for help.  A young guy chewing gum pulled a bandana from his gym bag and then gently slid the bag under the woman's head.  He held her hand and wiped her mouth where spit had gathered and spilled.  I was struck by his kindness.  An older woman came up beside me to see what was going on and told me it looked like a grand mal seizure, not a petit mal one.

After what seemed like an eternity, paramedics arrived and I moved to give them space.  The woman was responsive and seemed understandably freaked out by her new fetal position on the floor of a G train car.  I could only make out moans, but felt relieved to hear something.  Something is better than nothing.

There was nothing more I could do except get in the way, so I began to walk towards the stairs and outside into the Greenpoint evening.  I gulped at the fresh air and blinked back tears.  I stood for a moment, the image of that woman slumping to the floor fresh in my mind, and willed that memory to come forward next time I am on a delayed subway or waiting endlessly for a train to arrive, rolling my eyes and scoffing at the "sick passenger on a train up ahead".