Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SPIROCHETE—After Words: Train Delays

I sat on the wet floor of the train, rubbing my hands down the length of my legs over my jeans. It was calming in a way, checking myself for twists and protrusions, stealing time, catching my breath, wondering what was injured.

The train was delayed. Its operator appeared and crouched beside me, asking if I needed an ambulance. I told him I thought I could get up on my own, and while he went off to check something further down the car I hoisted myself up, inhaled deeply, grimaced, and grasped a shiny yellow pole to my left. I paused, exhaled and grabbed the overhead rail and hobbled a couple of steps to the seat I’d spotted earlier, still empty, waiting for me. 

As I slowly, carefully set myself down I knew something was wrong—broken, torn, twisted. My blood drained, my ears hissed, pain trickled then boiled, searing the back of my thigh. When the operator returned I told him I needed an ambulance and went to place the call. I spotted the concerned faces of my friends across the isle and felt a brief wave of pleasure that they’d found seats. And then my world narrowed again as I focused on calm breathing and mentally suppressing the intensifying pain. My years of first aid, safety training, and emergency response had kicked in.

The operator came back to tell me an ambulance had been dispatched and would meet us somewhere down the line. He couldn’t delay the crowed train any longer. I thanked him, told him I understood and assured him I could manage, though I suspected he had doubts. I told him I was with friends, pointed them out, they nodded in confirmation. I knew the protocol, knew what info would satisfy his checklist that it was safe to proceed. 

With a tug the train pulled away from the station. I applied pressure to the back of my leg, tightened my lips in determination, and hoped the ambulance would meet us two stops south at Sunnyside station, before the wide turn east into the downtown core. I got my wish. The train operator returned to speak with me after he'd stopped at Sunnyside, accompanied by a transit police officer who would stand by for the arrival of the ambulance. I forced myself up and staggerhopped using overhead rails and poles along the car to rear exit doors, to the platform and to wait for the ambulance. I could hear it approaching.

My friends stood quietly beside me as we watched the train slowly move forward, blank passenger faces staring to see what and who had delayed them twice. I felt protected by my friends’ presence, assured somehow, while we wondered together what next, not knowing enough to make a plan until we'd spoken with the medics. 

I leaned heavily on the paramedic and medical technician, both smiling young women as we cautiously navigated stairs from the platform down to the sidewalk, then across to the ambulance. Climbing into the vehicle was challenging and slow going. I was thankful for well-placed grips and rails within easy reach. Sitting was the painful part. I produced the requisite government ID, provided contact numbers. I called one of my sons who was working a block from the station and asked if he could walk over and stay with me. Within minutes he ducked into the ambulance and I straightaway admonished my friends to continue on to the Stampede, enjoy their day. I smiled and waved as they climbed the stairs back to the platform.

All that existed for me next was a small circle with four of us in the ambulance, where the focus was on my well-being. I struggled to the stretcher, felt the press of a sphygmomanometer tightening around my arm, refused painkillers, listed my allergies and surgeries, talked a bit about Lyme disease and watched the paramedic smile when she learned I was pharmaceutical-free, that I worked out and did yoga regularly, that we were neighbours, and that I described the mechanics of my injury in comprehensive terms.

And then we were mobile to Rockyview Hospital. I’d been by hundreds of times, but had never been in. My first ride in an ambulance, strapped in a stretcher, backward in a windowless box that tilted and lurched with each turn and stop. I have no measure of time for that period. I was wheeled into a hallway and lined up for triage, then tagged and moved to the emergency room. As we rolled through the waiting room, I saw my son was already there. He'd raced back to work, checked in with his boss and then out for the day. It was around 11 AM as far as I remember.