The subway comes to a sudden halt in the middle of the dark tunnel. Audible groans come from the commuters packed on the train at rush hour. This unexpected stop could well be the difference between on time and tardy. For those with time card to punch in, this delay may quite literally cost them. The conductor comes over the loud speaker. Crackling or muffled speech is the norm which New Yorkers can decode because we know the script:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us. We should be moving shortly. We apologize for any inconvenience. Thank you for your patience.”
This is the most common refrain. More often than not the train does in fact begin moving again within five minutes.
“Ladies and gentleman we are delayed due to a sick passenger on the train directly ahead of us. We hope to be moving shortly. Thank you for your patience.”
This variation on the script is not one heard often. But when you hear it you know you’re going to be late. Make yourself comfortable in that tunnel, because the paramedics have to be called, then arrive, and the whole thing is a huge mess. You’ll sit in the tunnel hating the sick person for making you late. And feeling like a jerk for hating this poor person who you hope is okay.
No one wants to be that sick person. Ever. It’s one of the average New Yorkers’ biggest fears. Right up there with bed bug infestations.
It is one of my New York goals that a subway announcement is never made about me. Yesterday on the morning commute I got way to close for comfort.
I’ve been temping in midtown all week at a 9-5 reception job. Which means when I board the train at 8:30 and off at 8:55, the crowds are peak. It’s how I imagine Times Square is on New Year’s Eve, but fortunately it only lasts half an hour. There is no personal space on these trains, you’re smooshed up against everyone, there’s hardly any room to me. But it’s nothing new, I’ve been on the train at rush hour countless times before. Which makes my experience yesterday all the more unnerving.
I’m on the D train, approaching 59th Street. It’s been a smooth ride, sailing express from 125th to 59th without a hitch. We’re in the final stretch, I know, I take this train several times a day.
Suddenly, with no warning, my vision becomes fuzzy. Stars start to twinkle in my peripheral vision. What the hell is happening? This is what it’s like when a person faints! This is what it was like the one time I fainted before! There’s no boyfriend to catch me now! I’m on a crowded subway! Could I be in a worse place? Why is this happening?
I start taking deep breaths, hoping that will help. Lack of oxygen is why ladies in corsets used to faint, right? But the stars are closing in, my whole view of the subway is sparkling and quickly fading into a tunnel of black. I sink to the floor.
On my own accord. I’m still conscious and now I’m squatting on the floor of the subway. I haven’t made a sound. I haven’t asked for help. I haven’t even asked for a seat. There was no time? I didn’t want people freaking out? I’m not sure, but right now I’m squatting with my head between my knees, struggling to remain conscious.
I realize my body is drenched in sweat, the kind of sweat pours out of you from fear. This sweat is primal, and uh, pungent. Oh my God, I’m the stinky person on the train! Every subway fear is being realized!
It’s funny to be surrounded by people and feel so alone. Subway commutes are so cold, eye contact is avoided, personal touch is inevitable and completely void of humanity. I’m an independent woman, I hate asking for help. But not asking for help in this scenario was likely to end in the blackest of black places. Still crouched on the floor I wondered what the hell I was going to do.
“Are you okay?” Asks a nice woman and she offers me her seat. I gladly accept.
“I feel faint. I don’t know why. Thank you.”
Suddenly everyone is offering me things. Suddenly it felt like everyone is on my side. Like the subway car was a community rather than individuals minding their own business. I don’t have to ask for help. I’m offered it.
“Here, maybe sugar will help?” One woman offers me a cough drop. Another woman offers me gum. It’s like everyone looks into their purse, realizes they don’t have anything helpful, but wants to try any way. “I have some water.” says a third woman, digging around in her giant handbag.
I refuse it all. Before I left the house I’d had tea with milk and honey. There was no reason for me to be dehydrated. No reason to blame blood sugar. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, but I do that all the time. Plus I’d had dinner around 9:30PM the night before. This fainting spell was bizarre, I can’t account for it.
Sitting down helped immeasurably and when we finally arrive at 59th Street, I feel strong enough to get off the train. “Feel better, hun!” Says still another woman. I’m off the train. The danger of being the sick person on the loud speaker is over. The relief is palpable. As is my love for New Yorkers. All those woman wanted to make sure I was okay. Can a moral boost make you feel physically stronger? I’d say so. I feel okay walking the few blocks to work. I grab a huge blueberry muffin on the way, sugar and carbs seem like a good idea.
And that was it. I felt fine the rest of the day. So. Weird.
I’m tempted to look up “Fainting” on WebMD, but I don’t really want to be convinced I have a brain tumor.
I did google “Fainting Spells” and this handy wikihow article told me what to do if I have one and what might have caused mine. “Stress” and “Low Blood Pressure” are on that list, two things I suppose I’m prone to. While this spell remains a bizarre one-time-only event, those are the causes I choose to blame. Should it happen again, I’ll seek true medical advice.
Now the morning commute doesn’t look bad at all any more. Delays and shoving people and armpits in my face and cranky conductors are all fine by me. I’m just grateful to be conscious and standing up.