How do you help…?

This morning on the subway, I was scribbling away in my notebook — scrunched up, as usual, between a 300-pound man and a delicate old woman who looked like she’d crumble if one of my headphone jacks fell on her.

And a man collapsed.

His body started quaking, the whole thing rigid, like someone invisible was bodyslamming him. I jumped out of my seat. People were already surrounding him — one person already down on the floor, checking his pulse and whether he’d swallowed his tongue; a few other people ringed around. One woman’s version of helping was to scream “THAT’S A SEIZURE! YEAH, THAT’S A SEIZURE!” over and over again. Luckily, we were right by the station. So, in a matter of minutes, MTA workers and a policeman had helped the man to his feet (he was conscious again), and he ambled off the train shakily, supported by the policeman’s arm.

In the space between the clunk of his body falling and his regaining consciousness, I didn’t know what to do. I could have run to his help, but my CPR is not up to par and there was no way I could have gotten to him. I didn’t know what to do.

I started saying Psalms.

There are only two psalms I know by heart — or, at least, only two that I remember I know: Ashrei and the last one. There’s a custom to say psalms at moments of travail, or joy, or when you’re beseeching G-d to do something right then. I don’t know if it made a difference. But it beats pushing through a capable crowd when they know the correct thing to do more than you do.

(Although it’s no substitute for getting certified myself.

Posted on September 8, 2008

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