The Incident at the Metro

[quote cite=”Mother Theresa”]I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.[/quote]

There were only four of us on the platform today. Myself, a young man, an older man in a black suit, and an even older man in a wheelchair. I had seen the man in the wheelchair come into the metro station. He bumped into the wall a couple of times after he left the elevator, but he navigated his electric chair just fine through the ticket gates and onto the second elevator down to the platform. I thought nothing of it.

Many years ago, mom would take my brother and me out on the town in the evenings (and even some nights) on “patrol.” I don’t know why she did it, but she showed us to go out of our way to help people. Once in a while, we’d pull over and help someone with a flat tire or an overheated car. Mostly, nothing would happen, and we ended up just driving around town. Those were the old days, when Juarez, Mexico, was not the epicenter of the drug wars.

I heard a crashing sound on the metro platform, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I walked around a pillar to see that the man in the wheelchair had fallen off the platform and onto the tracks. The man in the suit and the young man ran to the side of the platform. I ran up the stairs to the station attendant booth, yelling at her that a man had fallen onto the tracks. The attendant and another man from the transit authority came out of the booth and started walking toward the stairs. I then turned around and ran back down the stairs. The young man and the man in the suit were looking off the side of the platform at the man in the wheelchair.

The man in the wheelchair laid on the tracks, bleeding from his head, his baseball cap a couple of feet away.

I’ve only seen one other person bleed so profusely from their head like that. I won’t go into details about that. Not yet. I told my wife that I’m lucky to have worked with blood all my life. Otherwise, I’d be afraid of it by now. As I saw the man in the wheelchair laying on the tracks, I was sucked back to that awful day in April… But only for a few seconds.

The young man and I jumped onto the tracks and grabbed the wheelchair man. The man in the suit helped us drag him back onto the platform. All the while, I kept looking down the tracks, expecting to see a train coming at us. I was thinking of the man who fell into the train tracks in New York and the people around didn’t really try to help him out. They tried to signal the train, but they didn’t really help the man out of the tracks. A reporter even had time to pull out his camera and take a picture of the man just before the train hit him.

Once we had the man on the platform, we jumped onto the platform and dragged him a little further from the edge. The station attendant and the other transit authority employee came around a minute later. A few seconds after that, the transit authority police arrived. They started working on him as I started trying to catch my breath. The run up and down the stairs, the jumping into the track well, and the lifting of the man (and then his wheelchair), had me very out of breath. I just kind of fell back and waited for whatever was going to happen to happen.

I’d like to live in a world where jumping on train tracks to help someone is not the exception but the norm. Of course, people falling on train tracks off metro platforms shouldn’t be the norm. I mean that the norm should be for people to run to the aid of others without thinking twice. People who do these kinds of things should not be celebrated. Thanked, maybe… Not celebrated.

But we don’t live in that world, do we? I got a call from a transit police officer this afternoon. He thanked me for going to the aid of the fallen man. He said that the man was in the hospital. When he thanked me, I said “anytime” in response. I mean it, but my wife and I had a discussion about the Johnny-on-the-spot syndrome that I seem to be suffering as of late. I don’t want these things to be happening around me “anytime.”

Not necessarily “anymore,” because bad things always happen and wishing them away won’t make them away… But, yeah, I need a break from “anytime.”

On the ride home after this whole event, I got to thinking about the utilitarian value of saving that man. As we lifted him onto the platform, he felt like just a bag of bones. He was missing a leg and was wearing a diaper. Why was there such a strong drive within me to save him? Someone explained to me that I did it because we’re all part of “the pack.” When one of us is in danger, it’s up to the rest of us to fight off that danger and help our pack stay strong. Someone else explained to me that I did it because I want someone to come to my aid if I should get in trouble myself.

Both reasons seem plausible, but they also seem so selfish. On the one hand, I want to keep MY pack safe. On the other, I want someone to come to MY aid if something happens to ME. Whatever happened to maybe I’m just holding myself up to a higher standard, to a code of conduct that prescribes that I come to the aid of someone, anyone, if they are in danger?

Yeah, that’s still a little selfish, isn’t it?

Anyway, that’s what happened today, and I just wanted to get it down in writing and out to the world for those of you who saw the tweets and didn’t put two and two together and maybe “digest” it all a little more. Thanks for reading.

Featured image credit: nolifebeforecoffee / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

4 thoughts on “The Incident at the Metro

  1. I don’t know about “my pack” mentality for many of us.
    For me, it’s always something that brings back an old recruiting poster:
    “If not you, then WHO?”
    As well as the worthy motto, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” -Wheverinhell said it (much debate, zero substantiation or documentation).

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  2. Lilady, to be honest, I’m mystified, as I suspect Ren is, as to *why* someone doing that which must be done is now a hero.
    You are/were a nurse, you’re a hero 10000 times over due to the nature of your duties.
    I’m mystified as to why I got medals for doing my damned job.
    Or why both Ren and I are apparently mystified as being heroes.

    We share similar experiences in life, at that, civilian life. Something bad happened, we helped out.
    How is that heroic?
    It’s simply a failure of our society to support others to do that which was needed to be done.

    I see it as myself sitting there on the tracks. I would want the situation to be better. Others should see that situation to be better and make it better. Lacking others, I’ll lead and make the situation better.
    The only way that I am different is due to training. I’d pick someone and a backup quickly and send *them* up and down the stairs, while I go help and recruit rescuers.

    How in hell is it heroic to just simply *want* to do better, *be* better, want *everything and everyone* to *try* to do better?
    Hell, I even gave out my own acquired plastic to cover the windows broken by others, due to the action of the home occupant, just to keep the children from being cold in the freezing temperatures. Is that heroic?
    Or simply trying to let those children feel warm after mom hanged out with lousy friends who were criminals (and were chased off by another gang and also sent off by a sniper that was illuminated by his own desire to avoid firing?

    Yes, it was a drug gang thing. The high ground types quit when my light went on and I had them dead to rights.
    *That* was the neighborhood I could afford to raise my family in.
    The guys on the ground were discouraged from being further bad, such as throwing a bottle of volatiles into the home by one “click” near the device. And said illumination.

    I’m a *really* nice guy. People come to love me, even if my humor is a bit off color in an ED kind of way.
    I’m also quite capable of arousing a populace, deterring miscreants by various means.
    My last choice is violence.
    In short, I’m a rather good dad. And now, granddad.
    All I’m interested in is peace and quiet.
    And elder fallen upon train tracks does not qualify. That is a rescue situation.
    Be damned his capability for productive work, he may or is a father and probably a grandfather. I’ll add in his life experience. His body may be failing, his mind is worthy of consideration, even if demented.

    30 years ago, I’d jump in and rescue. Shortly after, I’d recruit someone to run to the steps by tasking them, in their frozen state. And an alternate.
    I’d then jump in.
    Today, I’d do the same. Recruiting as I go along for a few, the rest would be warned back.
    If they didn’t obey, they earned the train in the face when it did come along as I tossed the elder, the assistant, then jumped onto the tracks, those who were warned be damned, it’s time to pay for not listening.
    I’m a nice guy, but to lead, sometimes, on rare occasions, you *do* have to be a dick.
    Sometimes, one *must* take charge.
    Something lacking today in the US, to our greater shame.

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    • I think the same. We should live in a society where acting is not heroic or so rare that it is worthy of admiration. Praise? Sure. It felt good to be thanked. But it felt better to know that I would not be one of the gawking bystanders.

      So what is heroic? I once heard that the true measure of a hero can be seen when someone lays down their life with the knowledge that those they save will never know. The nameless, faceless farm boy that left town back in ’42 to fight in Europe and never came home is my hero. His place in the farm was eventually filled by my grandparents and here I am today.

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