Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Someone Else's Jesse

This morning as I was heading down into the subway, I noticed a man hunched over on the sidewalk, on other side of the metal banister, peering in at me through the bars. The man was in pretty good shape, tight t-shirt to show off the muscle, decently handsome in a boyish way. And too sick to move.

He was dripping with sweat (it was 70 degrees out), and pale under his light-black skin (not quite ginger but light enough that you could tell the blood wasn't in his face). His lips were quivering. I asked him if he needed a doctor. He said, "N-no?"

I didn't believe him. Back up on the street. I asked him if it was ok to feel his forehead. By now a crowd was gathering. His MacDonalds breakfast was still neatly balanced on the top of the banister rail, but he was looking worse with every second. He nodded about his forehead. Clammy. His arm was cold, but I felt the need to comfort him somehow as I told him, "I think you do need a doctor, I'm calling 911." "Ok," he said. He looked so young and lost, his whole body shivering now. A MacDonald's manager had come out, and wanted him to come sit inside until he felt better. But the guy could not stand up, even with all his effort. "Don't try to stand up," said a Caribbean sounding lady behind him. "I know you want to but it's better if you don't."

She gave me a look of relief and then approval when she realized I was calling for him. Waiting for the 911 operator to pick up (luckily no elevator music on the hold button), I asked his name. "Damien." The operator wanted to know what color he was: black; how old he was (I asked him)


Astonished, I asked him again, thinking he'd said "twenty-one" and I'd just misheard. I stifled that crazy ADD instinct to blurt out some clumsy compliment, and tried to relay the information about where we were and his symptoms. I wasn't putting it together. He's, he's talking, he's lucid, but..."Park Avenue? Park?" She kept asking. Finally she said, Ohhh, Park Avenue South. And in saying yes I managed to make that one syllable sound like "yes I am an idiot," maybe telepathically. She patched me through to EMS but by now I was talking too much. He's sweating, he's clammy, he's shivering, he can answer questions, he's lucid...Slow down, she kept saying. There was something about his symptoms I couldn't quite put my finger on (all you medical geniuses out there, shut up). I knew this. But all I could tell her was that he looked like he was having some kind of "reaction." Finally she confessed she was sending an ambulance, and I realized I was going to be late for work.

The Caribbean lady was still there, talking to Damien gently, more or less on the same lines as before. She had that grandmotherly, schoolteachery look with the long skirt and neatly pressed blouse. The kind of person you'd hire to watch your kids without even calling all her references. "Can you stay with him if I leave?" I asked her and she nodded. I couldn't tell if she was smiling, but she kinda was. Like she knew what was happening to him, and he was going to be ok. I couldn't bring myself to believe her. Down in the station, I fumbled for my card for a few minutes before I realized I was holding it in one hand already. The train was coming, but as soon as I passed the turnstile I wanted to run back up and stay with Damien until the ambulance arrived. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Nothing could convince me I was doing the right thing by moving on. I even prayed to God to keep an eye on Damien, then I realized God's pretty spotty in that business. Thy will be done.

I'd given EMS my phone number, and I hoped they'd call me, but they didn't. It was hard not to clog up 911 trying to get news of Damien, but I managed. It wasn't till I got to my desk that I realized he was showing every sign of insulin shock, and what I should have done (I'm an idiot) was send the MacDonald's manager back in for some orange juice or a coke. Then I had a flash of his mom not even knowing her son was on his knees on a filthy sidewalk in the middle of rush hour. I'm an idiot. I should have stayed and called whatever number he could give me, and whoever in his family picked up, they could have told me he was diabetic and to get him something sweet. They could have had a chance to come get him, and protect him till the ambulance came. Luckily, there was this Caribbean lady who looked like she knew how to take care of someone else's child.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.