The thing about teaching CPR – there’s so much equipment to lug around! Mannequins, face shields, AEDs, and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. It’s a full-body workout by the time I close up shop for the day. This class was for healthcare personnel, so I got to leave everything in the classroom but this backpack.
Wanna know why it’s so heavy? Oxygen cylinder. Gives you appreciation for people who have to tote around oxygen everywhere they go. Now you appreciate that little cart.
So anyway, here I am going down the steps to the subway. Typical rush hour crowd, smell of urine, flaking tiles, intermittent lights. I get on the uptown train and stand for the first three stops until the old lady with her dog clears out of the seats by the back door. I drop myself into the window seat and carefully lower the backpack to the floor.
Next stop, this guy sits down, crosses a Ked sneaker over his corduroy knee and ignores me. Cause that’s what we do here. We are passing Madison when the train starts to shiver and then jerks to a stop. Bump-bump-bump, you know? Not unusual, but then an alarm starts ringing, and everyone looks up. You can see the concern on their faces, you know? Everyone hoping it’s just a little thing that’s gonna clear up in a minute and we can get on home to dinner, right?
The alarm keeps ringing and ringing, and then the lights go out. We’re sitting in a box in the dark three stories underground in a little black tunnel with wires running down the walls. It’s hot. Everyone lights up their phones and start calling, “What’s happening? What’s happening?”
Then the car starts to rock, and we think, earthquake? Here? This is like, the unseismic capital of the world. Then the noise comes. It’s a noise, but it more like a wave of violent sound that shakes the train and spills us on the floor like a bunch of beans in a box.
In the dark, the screams are scary. People frantically lever the doors, force them open, and when they do, the gas comes in.
You can’t smell it, but you sure can taste it. Bitter. Nauseating. Dries the throat instantly, rips at your lungs just for taking a breath. I hear retching.
It must be instinct, like looking down at the scene of a cardiac arrest and finding you’re already doing chest compressions on the guy. I look down, and I’m cranking the regulator on my oxygen bottle and digging in the pack for a tube.
The screaming is over. Now it’s coughing and gagging, but that is dying out. So are the passengers. I’m holding my breath, attaching the tube to the bottle. Now I’m hooking the tube to the mask. I don’t take time to fill the reservoir bag, I just suck in a breath of O2. Then another. The guy in the next seat is kicking me. Not me, I realize as my brain clears. He’s seizing. His brain is hypoxic. He’s dying.
I have to close my eyes because they sting. The smell is coming in through my eyes, into my throat, so I squeeze them shut and ignore the pain. I dig in my pack for another mask. And another tube. I’m about to hook them onto the other port on my tank. I’m about to feel around frantically for the guy on the floor where he’s fallen.
And then I think about my chances if there’s two of us sucking on the same tank.