Subway CPR



Neighborhood: Times Square

I was a drunk.

A 29 year-old out degenerate by night, a hung over school teacher by day, at a prestigious upper west side school, no less.

I’d had another all-nighter and wound up on my friend Doug’s veranda in the East Village at six o’clock in the morning with derelicts like myself. Sunk into a torn leather couch, a joint hung out of my mouth, while traces of cocaine dripped out of my nostrils. Cigarette smoke hung in the stale air. Nonsense conversation and vodka flowed freely. Debauchery was an understatement.

Glancing at myself in the mirror, I looked like a walking skeleton: purple blotches under my red eyes, dilated pupils, pale skin and drawn face. How the hell am I going to get through this day? I could barely get dressed in last night’s grungy party clothes to make my way to teach. I did my best to make myself presentable.

I jumped on the N and R train and ran for my connection to the shuttle to Times Square feeling like a zombie. The train smelled like dead rats. While I waited for the shuttle to move, I noticed how packed the car was and the depth of people crowding the platform. I thought to myself, maybe something is wrong. The conductor instructed everyone to get off the train. To my right a few hundred feet away, there was a man lying unconscious on the floor in the car. Crowds of people surrounded him looking down.

“Does anyone know CPR?” a man shouted.

I did—thank God I had taken a CPR class offered by the gym teacher a while back. I never thought I’d use it. I figured it would look good on my resume. I began to run toward the scene. My thoughts were spinning, my vision blurry.

Tearing off my jacket, I threw it to the ground along with my purse and a plastic bag with my lunch in it I’d just bought at the deli. Beads of sweat ran down my face and neck. My armpits were soaked. The stench of alcohol hung around me like a toxic cloud, wafting into the car. I felt like a pollutant and was sure everyone noticed. Yet I didn’t hesitate to help, maybe because I was still drunk, and got down and knelt beside the man while everyone looked on.

His face was a pale green, his eyes rolled in the back of his sockets. Probably in his forties, he was, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase—an ordinary man on an ordinary day. Until now, lying on a subway floor, surrounded by gapers.

Maybe a stroke or heart attack.

“Is he breathing?” I asked the man kneeling across from me, young, in his thirties.

“No. Is there a doctor here?” he cried. Desperation in the air.

“Someone call 911, please, call 911,” I yelled.

“You do the breaths and I’ll do the compressions,” he said.


“Tilt his head up. Clog his nose.”

“One, two, three…”

“Blow deep breaths. Look for his chest rising.”

“One, two, three…”


“One, two, three…”

I was running out of breaths, becoming light-headed, yet my determination was persistent. The young man’s hands thrust into the lifeless man’s chest.

“Did someone call 911? Call 911. What the fuck?”

“One, two, three…”

I started to see double. I felt like I was going to faint.

“Wait, there’s liquid coming out of his mouth,” I said.

“Push him onto his side. Clear the air passage.”

Together, we rolled his body over. I dipped my fingers in and pulled out saliva.

“He’s still not breathing.”

“One, two, three…”

“Here’s a mouthpiece,” one of the MTA employers said, handing it to me.

I placed the device over the man’s mouth and continued. It looked like his face was turning pink. I was hopeful.

“Can anyone else help us?” I pleaded.

No one spoke up. I continued to press my lips on the man’s because the mouthpiece wasn’t helping, hoping that air was getting into his lungs. His lips were much larger than mine. The scent of his cologne mixed with the taste of vodka and cigarettes on my breath was disgusting. I gagged in between the endless cycles of compressions but I didn’t care. I was determined to save his life. As if saving his, might save mine.

The thrusts increased in intensity. The two of us attacked this man’s body. The young man pushing down on the man’s sternum so deeply you could hear his ribs cracking under the compressions. His neck was tilted so far back that his forehead nearly touched the floor. I pinched his nose, covered my mouth with his and exhaled two of my breaths into his lungs watching as his chest rose to make sure I was doing it properly. Finally, I saw paramedics run towards us. I was never so happy to see men in uniform. Usually, I was paranoid at the sight of officials because I was often breaking the law, but this time I was relieved.

“Please step aside, Miss,” the first EMT’s said.

“How long has he been unconscious?” asked the other.

“I don’t know. We’ve been preforming CPR until you arrived,” I said.

“Maybe eight, ten minutes,” the young man across from me said, disappointment in his voice.

The EMT’s came armed with a stretcher, defibrillator and years of experience in trauma situations. I stood up and stepped back. They tore the man’s shirt off and performed CPR. With no luck, they whipped out the defibrillator, placed the pads on his torso and shocked him once. Please, God, please let this man wake up. Then they shocked him again. And again. Repeatedly. I looked around. Hundreds of people stood on the platforms checking their watches, phones, reading newspapers, looking annoyed and inconvenienced that their trains weren’t running.

Please, please let him wake up.

Then, it happened.

The machines went silent.

The men started packing up their equipment.

They lifted his body onto the stretcher.

Another EMT reached into the dead man’s pocket, rifled through his wallet and pulled out his license. This can’t be happening. It all became so real. The wedding band on his hand glistened. I looked at him lying there. The poor guy died on the filthy subway floor. He’s dead. My heart broke for him. It was all too much to take and I started to sob uncontrollably.

Out of nowhere, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A guy around my age hugged me. He’d been standing behind me the entire time holding my belongings for me.

“Here are your things. I’m so sorry,” he said.

“Thanks so much,” I said.

“I feel terrible. He was probably not breathing for a while before you guys got to him. You did the best you could.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. We tried. There wasn’t much more we could do,” my CPR partner said.

“Sometimes, it’s just our time,” he continued, “God works in mysterious ways.”

I reached out and embraced him. Seconds later, he turned and walked away.

I stood there, holding my belongings, watching the EMT’s carry his body away.

I turned to see the conductor standing a few feet away.

“You did a great job. I’m CPR certified, but I didn’t help because if something went wrong, I’d risk losing my job. The Union sucks that way.”

Afraid of losing his job? I was speechless. I looked at him with disgust. As I stepped onto the train, I said to him:

“Don’t ever say hello to me again. And go fuck yourself.”

I wished I had gotten the dead man’s name so I could call his family to let them know what had happened, that he wasn’t alone, that there were people—at least a few—not worried about covering their assess, who tried to save him. Even a drunk.

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