On my way to work, I limp to the 68th Street subway station, the result of a basketball injury to my leg the night before. There I board the number 6 local Lexington Avenue downtown train. Being the morning rush hour, the subway car is jammed with people. At the 51st Street station I feel unwell. As the subway nears Grand Central, I faint.
Never before have I had an impact on the lives of so many people, for by the simple act of fainting, I bring the downtown East Side subway system to a standstill. On account of me, tens of thousands of New Yorkers arrive late for work, some making use of my frailty to justify their chronic lateness.
There is one advantage to being packed in a subway car like a sardine in a can: When you faint, you land on your fellow passengers, not the hard floor of a subway car. (I wish at this time to convey my deep thanks to the passengers who broke my fall, whether voluntarily or not, who then, after performing this good deed, went silently on their way, with no expectation of reward or recognition.)
When I regain consciousness, I am flat on my back surrounded by helpers: Two police officers, each with a large German shepherd looking down on me, more attuned to seeking out explosives than assisting passengers in distress; two Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials, and an Emergency Medical Services team from the Fire Department who move me from the now empty subway car to the platform and place an oxygen mask on my face. (In addition to disrupting subway service, I am costing the city and state a bundle of money, with personnel from two city and one state agency tending to me.)
The platform teems with unhappy people caught up in the massive delay. The EMS officers place me in a wheelchair and carry me up a jam-packed flight of stairs, through a gate by the turnstiles, and into an elevator that takes us to a 42nd street entrance to Grand Central Terminal.
I know every inch of this area through my devotion to the terminal, one of the finest interior spaces in the world. A place where the spirit soars. A place of many memories for me, from where, as a child, I began my first journey by train across the United States to San Francisco. Where, 125 feet above the main concourse, the winged horse Pegasus, inspirer of poets, dwells as a constellation, an inspiration to every writer, poet or not, who passes beneath. (On my key ring, I carry a metal tag with this depiction of Pegasus.)
The EMS team wheel me along busy 42nd Street to a waiting ambulance. We travel down Park Avenue. Through the window of the ambulance door, I see the southern façade of Grand Central, with its clock and arched windows, crowned by the messenger Mercury, with his broad brim travelling hat, staff received from Apollo, and winged sandals.
I have always wanted to travel in a vehicle with a siren. To my surprise, the siren sound inside the ambulance is muted. People on the street, not hospital-bound patients, are the ones who go into acoustic shock when ambulances, sirens blaring, speed by.
In the emergency room at New York University Medical Center I receive prompt and considerate care from the medical team. Tests are performed: Heart, blood pressure, x-rays. The tests establish that I have not suffered a heart attack, but the doctor wants me to remain at the hospital overnight. I decline. Four hours is long enough.
The hospital doctor telephones my internist. From the hospital I go by cab to my doctor’s office at East 71st Street. More tests. Everything seems fine. The doctors think my fainting is “a fluke.” I believe it to be linked to trauma from the basketball injury where I badly bruised my right leg going for a rebound, tearing both a hamstring and calf muscle.
After leaving the doctor’s office in mid-afternoon, I return to the 68th Street station and board the subway in my second attempt of the day to get to my office. At Grand Central, the subway door opens at the exact spot where I had lain six hours earlier. I resolve that I will never again complain about delays—indeed, I will even offer assistance—when next I am on a subway and the conductor announces, “We are delayed because of a sick passenger.”
Postscript: As a result of physical therapy and more stretching these past few weeks than I have done in a lifetime, I am making my way back to the basketball court.
William J. Dean is executive director of Volunteers of Legal Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.