Thursday, December 13, 2007

I saw a man die tonight

In the subway tunnel.

Or maybe he was already dead when I happened upon the scene. How do you know when someone's last breath escapes their body?

The story from early onlookers is that this man sat down on one of those locker type things in a corner just inside the entrance to the 2/3 at Chambers Street. He carried a bouquet of flowers, and setting them down, he reached into his pocket and pulled out an inhaler.

But he waited too long, and before he could inhale, he passed out and hit his head -- hard -- on the edge of the locker on his way to meet the pavement.

People were afraid to touch him in case he'd damaged his neck in the fall, so at first, no one did anything but just watch him and tell metro staff to call 911.

Twenty minutes or more went by, and no emergency personnel arrived, so people began CPR. One doing chest compressions, one breathing, and one holding his head/neck as still as possible.

That's when I came down, saw the crowd, got the story, and asked if the woman doing compressions needed a break. I figured I could take over for her if she were tired. But they'd just started really, so she was fine. So I did the next best thing and backed off and out of their way.

And I watched them keep up the CPR for another ten minutes or so, waiting for emergency personnel. Two cops finally arrived, and that's when we discovered that either someone called the location in wrong, or dispatch got it wrong. Cause they were at Chambers Street, but on the J line. Right street, wrong subway. When they couldn't find the emergency, they had called off the search.

Then the EMTs arrived and took over. While the cops busied themselves putting up police tape to keep the subway goers from stumbling into the way, the EMTs pulled out and used a portable shocker, I believe. The IV followed. Intubation. And compressions all the while. They worked on him for a good half hour, and the whole time I kept hearing 'check his pulse.'

But no one ever said 'I've got a pulse.'

It wasn't all clean and white and antiseptic like on the telly. It was a dark corner in a dank, wet subway tunnel. He lay on cold, hard concrete, with ice water from the freezing rain trickling down through the ceiling and under his body. His body had remained perfectly still the entire time, other than the manipulations of the emergency personnel. He lay there dying among complete strangers. He wasn't an old man, perhaps mid-50s.

I think they were just keeping it going until the ambulance got there for transport. I know they prefer to pronounce DOA at the hospital as opposed to at the scene.

They finally slid him onto the backboard to carry him up to the waiting ambulance. And I looked over at the empty spot that had just been occupied by one dying man and a dozen various police and emergency people. Over at the big, beautiful bouquet of red roses still lying on top of that locker box he had used as a bench.

He wouldn't be bringing that bunch of roses to anyone now. He wouldn't be coming home at all. Eleven days till christmas. And he would never come home again.

And then I headed down the stairs to catch the subway. People bustling from the local to the express crowded the platform, none with any idea what had just happened above them. None but me.

One could ask why, if it bothered me so much, did I stand there watching through it all.

Good question.

I suppose I stood there because I so badly wanted to see things turn out better. I wanted to know that when they took him away, it was because he would make it home to give those flowers to the one they were meant for.

I wanted to hear someone say

I've got a pulse!

Like on tv. The christmas miracle and all.

I waited for it. But it never came.

And then I remembered.

This wasn't tv.

It was life.

Or more accurately, death.


Ladyk73 said...

It makes me think how is...

Years ago I was exhausted driving with my ex from a canoeing trip. In the country, at night, on a busy U.S. Road we saw "something" by the side of the road. It was a man who was just been hit by a pickup truck going 55. I stood there...inched really, thinking I should start CPR I should start CPR. But I couldn't...There was just something holding me back. I almost sensed that he had just died. There was a man (another guy who stopped)and the hysterical women who hit him. The man looked like he saw a ghost. I made a judgement call to let someone have peace. I felt much better when the paramedics arrived and they were not so quick to treat him. However, I just felt that there was a certain energy that told me he had died.

jenny14 said...


As you say, this is not like TV! and is not exciting

I once stopped at a motor vehicle accident where an old man had been run over! He had no hope of survival

At least you offered assistance! Many wouldn't