January 25, 2009

Vulnerable Below Street Level

Caffeine, you were my friend. I started my day with you and recently began seeing you on an ongoing basis in the late afternoon. When I realized you had no effect on my regular bedtime I relied on you to give me that extra push from my day job to my evening job as a dad and husband. Suddenly I had energy to do the dishes without being asked and to cheerfully help my girls with their homework. But no more. From now on I will do my evening work without your help. I’ve learned my lesson.

Last Wednesday, as I sat in the train commuting home I suddenly realized I was a bit queasy. This wasn’t anything new. A late-day coffee sometimes upset my stomach just a bit. Forgoing any subway reading usually calmed it down. I had control over it. But Wednesday was different. The coffee in concert with an overheated subway car did me in. It came on suddenly and wouldn’t let go. I closed my eyes as I broke out in a cold sweat. I shed first my winter coat and eventually my shirt. I wasn’t sure I could make it to my stop. By the time I got there I was sitting in a drenched t-shirt. It was all I could do to get out of the car and sit on the platform bench nearby.

As I sat on there with my head down I knew I was dehydrated. I couldn’t lift my head without becoming lightheaded and I knew I’d need help getting out of the subway. When a janitor passed me by I asked him for some water and to use his cell to call my wife. It’s hard to ask a stranger for help. As I waited I laid down with my eyes closed. I relished the quiet of the abandoned platform, only to hear the oncoming trains. The wind that preceded their arrival felt good on my face. But with their appearance came homeward bound commuters: a constant reminder of my vulnerability.

I was sick and unable to take care of myself in such a public place. I closed my eyes to hide the looks of people passing me by. Suddenly, a man’s voice asked if I needed help. “I’ve called my wife. Thanks,” I said, just barely opening my eyes to see his shadow in the subdued light of the platform. I simultaneously wanted his help and wanted to be left alone. “I’ll stay with you until your wife arrives,” he said. When she came he quietly left. I wanted to get his name but he was already gone.

She brought me water and I drank it as quickly as I could. In the end that was a big mistake. “That was too much of a shock to your system,” the paramedics later told me. I tossed it all right on the platform. That’s the “thanks” I left for that nice janitor. While we waited for the ambulance (for a gurney was the only way I’d get out of there) two other commuters asked if they could help. I am thankful for the kindness of these strangers. But then a train operator got out and asked if I was drunk. Vulnerable and misunderstood. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

When the paramedics finally arrived they took my vitals (all fine) and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. “Absolutely not,” I replied. I knew an all-night visit to the Emergency Room, waiting hours in a garishly lighted waiting room would not be my best medicine. I’d be fine if I could just get into bed and relax. They carefully lowered the gurney to the bench level and moved me to the elevator while my wife got the car. As we waited for her I asked if they needed my medical insurance. “It’s all free,” she said.

I was thankful, but none of this was free.

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What a wonderful, wonderful post, Jeff. Thank you. I hope you’ve recovered fully —¬†and that the chance to serve you warmed the hearts of those that did.

Posted by: Silus Grok on January 25, 2009 3:00 PM

“Vulnerable and misunderstood” — wow, that’s the horror story punchline. Gives one an idea what it might be like for a diabetic or an epileptic, or someone without English.

Glad things turned out for you.

Posted by: Sassenach on January 31, 2009 9:13 AM

Comments are now closed for this post. But there are a few other entries which might provoke an opinion or two.

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