Week 17: Life, Death and the CTA

April 27, 2010 at 7:16 (Uncategorized)


I am skipping the two weeks prior because this one’s worth telling now. Yesterday after work I left my friend S at Belmont and hopped on the brown line home. I wrapped my arms around the vertical post and dazed out, swaying with the pull of the train. Who knows where my head was when I heard several people yell “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

As I turned around, a man my age fell like a tree cut down — sort of curling up as he fell over and past me — and landed supine on the floor of the CTA. I heard commotion as people both rushed to his side and cleared out to give him room. I heard or saw people coming toward me and backed away to let them through. I looked over at the man, shocked, intent on helping, curious. He was alone. In the seconds I was in shock, everyone else had peeled away, afraid, many commenting out loud, but no one actually reacting. I looked closer to assess the situation, my eyes squeezing like an aperture as I focused in and decided what I could do.  Was he alive? I felt myself kneeling down to give him CPR. He was twitching. “He’s having a seizure!” I heard a couple people yell. Then his head went back, his eyes went back and he started making an ugly choking and buzzing sound. I looked away and back and away and back to make sure he was breathing but to truly avoid seeing someone die.

“Put him on his side,” a disembodied voice cried. I don’t know if anyone did.  I saw them do it but by the time I looked back, other things were happening. I heard someone else yell, “Push the button!” Hardly anybody moved. People right next to the emergency call button moved away from the thing. I stared at it and waited for it to be pushed. I moved but someone moved faster toward it. It was exactly like the hidden camera scenarios you see on 20/20 of emergency situations: I kept talking myself out of waiting for someone else to help, but I felt certain someone else must know more what to do than I. So I did nothing. Someone rushed past me, I thought he was a doctor, but he didn’t get down on the ground. When the supine man started spitting and calling up white fluids from his mouth and onto his beard, seemingly choking on his tongue as it darted back and forth in his mouth somewhere, I talked myself out of getting down on the ground and giving him mouth to mouth. I was watching and waiting to see if he would truly need me. I had no idea what to do.

Seconds passed, and some random person stuttered nothing of use into the intercom beneath the call button. “There’s a guy here, in the first car, he’s on the ground…” Fifteen seconds passed, I stared at the button too, wanting this fixed, depending on the CTA to emergency-stop the train. “I’m sorry, what?” came back the response. The CTA employee did nothing, stopped nothing…  When I wasn’t looking, the supine man suddenly popped up from the floor, spitting into his beard. “It’s OK,” he muttered as the doors opened at Southport. “Oh, it’s OK, he’s OK,” the button pusher stumbled. Now people got up from their seats and left the train. Not before. Strangely, now they could react.

“There’s a seat here if you want it,” I said, gesturing toward him, but the man I had just watched having a seizure walked off the train into the crowd. My reaction was too late, too.

I sank into the seat, sweating and hyperventilating for the 10 minutes left in my ride. No one talked or looked at each other. I stared out the window and tried to calm down, but all I could think was “My God,” and how miserably I had failed that man. Quite honestly, I had failed myself pretty miserably too. If that man had been dying, I would have watched him die because my brain kept telling me he would be OK and that no one would die in front of me as long as they were still breathing. I surprised myself with how weak and cowardly I am. I surprised myself by disconnecting from what was happening before me. Shock is one thing but shit – I didn’t even react. I watched. I watched someone have a seizure. And although I was pretty certain that’s what he was having and I explained it to myself as epilepsy, it didn’t mean it was OK to stand by. It was completely disgusting that I stood by. It was inhuman that I stood by. What made me do it? What made me think I should be doing that?

I spend a lot of time on this blog picking on other people’s choices and other people’s inactions, but this one’s for me. This one’s a rag on me. Yesterday was totally a departure from how I see myself and how I think of myself. It’s time to learn some emergency preparedness and grow a set of balls. The next time I’m in a situation like this it could be someone I know, someone I love. It’s time to wake the fuck up and do something.

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