Tuesday was a weird day.
A few friends reached their tipping points, unable to take the stress they were under. I had an unusual schedule at work, out of my routine, so I felt a little “off” all day.
And then, I missed my usual shuttle by about 30 seconds. I learned later that the clock on my computer is off by a few minutes, wreaking havoc on my evening. How rude!
By now, you all know how I feel about my schedule being turned around. It throws off everything. I took the next shuttle and then, unabashedly sprinting through the station, caught a train with about 30 seconds to spare. Panting and smiling, I slowly shuffled down the length of the crowded train to the final car, where I plopped into a seat. Sweating by this point, I took a deep breath, unraveled my heavy scarf, hit ‘play’ on a podcast (the TED Radio Hour by NPR), and settled in for the ride.
After a few stops, some of the passengers around me started to turn around. They were looking at something. Eventually catching on, I turned to see what they were looking at. A man, sitting two rows behind me, was having a seizure.
I froze. I didn’t know what to do – watch or look away? Call for help? Offer advice or sit quietly? Go to him or move away and make space for medical professionals? I know nothing about medicine, but felt awful sitting idly while he suffered.
Luckily, several passengers quickly kicked into gear. Before I knew what was going on, someone had alerted the conductors, and another was on the phone with the paramedics. A few people recognized the man as a passenger who had had a similar medical problem on the same train, another earlier day. They offered advice, explaining how they helped the last time. One man sat next to him, holding his head so he didn’t injure himself.
After a conductor explained the situation over the train intercom, one passenger ran into our car and explained that she was a physician. She could help until the paramedics arrived. At about this time, the man stopped seizing. While this was certainly good news, he was instead laying quietly with his head resting on the window. The physician, the passenger, the Good Samaritan, checked to see if he was breathing. I found myself holding my own breath until she confirmed that he was, indeed, breathing.
A few minutes later, the Chicago Fire Department arrived. About five men, equipped with medical equipment and a wheelchair, walked straight to the suffering man. Clearly well trained, they got to work. Two of them assembled the wheel chair, another affixed an oxygen mask and yet another provided instruction and spoke with the man, amazingly able to elicit a quiet response.
I watched in silence, feeling a swell of concern, gratitude, awe and pride. TV shows like Chicago Fire and Chicago PD, along with medical dramas like Grey’s Anatomy and ER, have romanticized what these medical professionals do. Watching them help a real, suffering human being in such an efficient, effective and humble way was an amazing experience. Seeing the word “Chicago” on their jackets while they quietly commanded the attention of the entire car confirmed what I already knew – that this is the most amazing city in the world.
After they left, I turned to the girl sitting next to me. She looked to be about my age, and had been as concerned – if not more – as me during the crisis. “I am so happy that he was responsive to the paramedics,” I said, sighing. “That was so scary.” She smiled a little, nodding. She went on to explain that she is in P.A. school and had begun studying seizures in class that very afternoon.
Like I said. Weird day.