Anyone familiar with the Washington, D.C. metro rail system (or subways in general) understands the value of a newspaper, iPod, book, crossword puzzle or anything else that offers a decent excuse to stare into your hands. Unlike a bus where time can be spent observing passersby through the window, a metro car offers limited visual entertainment. Along the above-ground outer limits of each line, you might catch a glimpse of something interesting but the deeper you go into the city, the more limited your visual options become.
Even then, you still have some choices: Shut your eyes and try to sleep; attentively observe the dark tunnel you are rumbling through (or—even better—the reflection of the eyes of others looking at the dark tunnel); or lastly, be brave and casually scan your fellow passengers.
Recently, I found myself choosing the latter option; I only had a few stops to go so I opted to observe the people around me. Everyone was mostly reading newspapers and Kindles, fiddling with iPods and playing on their phones. Some stood and sat with their eyes closed. The group of people who had just rushed in was cramming into each other at the stop, heading the “Step back; doors closing” warning.
No sooner than the crowd relaxed and train started moving did I hear gasps. A woman from the crowd had passed out and was now being held up by those who had crowded into the metro around her.
“Oh my God,” the passenger next to her gasped. “Oh my God!” She yelled this time. Looking up around the car she shouted, “Is anyone a doctor or a nurse?! This woman needs help!”
As people began to realize what was going on, they moved into action.
“Somebody pull the emergency alarm!”
“Sit her down! Try to loosen her sweatshirt!”
“I’m a registered nurse! Excuse me! Let me through!”
The dark tunnel passing by became too dark and too long as people scrambled somehow alert the driver and care for the woman now spread on the floor near the doors. When the train finally arrived at the next stop, the people waiting to board were met with a crowd of concerned onlookers and nurse with her head bend over the fainted woman.
Having been alerted by the emergency mechanism, the metro driver rushed to the open doorway and assessed the scene. “Fan her off! Does anyone have something to fan her off with?!” Suddenly, there was a new value for the riders’ reading materials. Out of nowhere about twenty newspapers, magazines, crossword puzzles and folders materialized, all from people trying to lend a hand as the distressed passenger began to come to.
There was an audible sigh of relief as someone who appeared to be a coworker on the same train accompanied her as she was carried off by two men and the metro driver. Another person carried her backpack and placed it next to where she now sat under the escalators on the platform. She was being taken care off and someone was calling an ambulance.
“I apologize for the delay,” said the driver minutes later. “There was a sick passenger on the train. There was a sick passenger on the train” he repeated. The metro train started moving back into the dark tunnel.
After a bit of static he came back on: “I want to thank all of the concerned riders who helped their fellow passenger in distress. Thank you for taking care of her and making sure that she was OK.”
The train was rumbling once again through the dark tunnel. But this time, passengers were chatting and chuckling with each other, relived that the unexpected ordeal they all had just experienced was over.
“Next stop, Union Station.”
Photo credit: hispictures flickr