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Polymerase chain reaction is a cornerstone of molecular biology research. Using short pieces of single-stranded DNA called primers the previously invisible becomes tangible.

Friday, June 24, 2005


This is a very long post that involves Thursday's commute. I've held it as a draft for a day because I wasn't sure if I wanted to post it. What is it with me and trains lately? Guess you could say I've got some issues and since blogs are cheaper than therapy, I'm going to have at it. If you're prone to the expression, "Ah, a little too much information," please skip this post. Details below the fold.

I took an earlier train to catch a bus and avoid the 7-mile walk home. We were running on time until Hicksville (not a pseudonym). The train halted and lingered just before the platform. When it finally pulled into the station, I could see my intended connection loading passengers.

The train arrived on the north side of the platform. It usually arrives on the south side. The platform was more crowded than usual. I ran into a friend on the train who said I might be able to catch a ride with her if I missed my bus. My friend’s ride fell through, so I started after the bus. Hmm, what’s the deal with all the policemen? The bus had left the station, but if I cut across the parking lot, I might be able to catch it at the fourth stop. No dice.

I returned to the station to wait for the next bus due in about 40 minutes. I walked into the ticket office, grabbed a seat and took a book out of my pack to read. Compared to the crowd outside, the 10 to 15 people in the ticket office was sparse.

Reading, reading, reading. I look at my watch. 35 minutes to go. In my peripheral attention I hear a young woman say, “Someone should help her.” Again, this time more stressed, “Someone should help her.”

I look up and see that the young woman is referring to another woman seated a row behind and seven seats to my right. About 5’2”, 180-190 pounds, mid to late 50’s. She has an object in her right hand but her head is tilted back, as if she were asleep. The object falls from her hand. She does not flinch.

I run over trying to remember a course taken in 10th grade. Shaking her I ask three times, “ARE YOU OK?” No response from the woman and more distressingly no response from the others in the room. Most have eyes averted pretending not to notice. I remember the policemen just outside the ticket office. For some reason, I think to hit two buttons on my watch as I run towards the cops, the first to switch to chronograph mode, the second to start (mark).

“Officers help. Medical emergency.” I turned and raced back to the door expecting the cops to be right behind me. I reached the door, looked backed and saw that the officers hadn’t moved from their position.

One yelled to me, “What’s the matter?”

I was totally flustered. I think my response was, “Woman not breathing, not responding.”

Now engaged, the cops followed me into the ticket office. I pointed to the woman and began to feel relieved that perhaps someone qualified was there to help. Cop 1 took control. (02:36)

Cop 1 - “Mam, are you all right? Mam? Mam?”
Cop 2 - “Did anyone see what happened?”
Young Woman - “She was just sitting there and then her head fell back.”
Cop 1 to Cop 2 - “Get the kit. (other instructions I could not hear)”

At that point I was useless, frozen in place praying that these cops would know what to do. Oh please let the cops have a more direct line to an ambulance. Cop 1 moved the woman off the seat onto the floor. She was heavy and unconscious. She slipped from Cop 1’s grasp only inches from the floor. An audible thud nonetheless. Cop 2 returned with latex gloves. (05:11) That’s their kit? Cop 1 continued to search for a pulse and listen for breathing. The woman would gasp, short and shallow, about once every 15 seconds.

Bystander – “I’m an off-duty EMT can I help?”

What the fuck? Where were you 7 minutes and 44 seconds ago? I can’t make out what they were saying, but nobody started compressions or mouth to mouth. I think Cop 1 did sweep the woman’s mouth with his finger. They seem to be running through options. Blocked airway? Seizure? Cardiac Arrest? There are now 6 policemen here. Someone please do something. Cop 1 and Cop 2’s radio goes off:

“ … are you responding to the train station assault that was called in?”
Cop 2 – “Negative, that was outside. We’re in the ticket office now.”

That explains a lot. An ambulance arrived, a uniformed EMT ripped the woman dress and placed electrodes on her chest. I turned away and joined the cops in their ad hoc privacy shield. The bystanders who couldn’t be bothered at first were now all focused on the scene. 18 minutes, 47 seconds after I went to get help, the woman received her first CPR.

“V’ fib’.”

Two of the cops moved away from the woman and asked me to join the bystanders on the other side of the room. I don’t know why I hadn’t moved away before. The EMT used a defibrillator twice and gave her an injection (epinephrine?) apparently to no effect. It took four cops and two EMTs to roll the woman onto a backboard and lift her onto a gurney. The woman had no pulse and was not breathing as she was placed into the ambulance. (32:06)

I waited to see if either the police or an EMT would come back for what little information we had, but they all cleared out. They left behind the respiration bag and mask, assorted equipment wrappers, the woman’s dress that they had completely torn off and one of her shoes. Mullet, one of the bystanders who made it a point of avoiding eye contact with me earlier, stood over the pile probing the dress with his foot. A young woman, now seated to my left, yelled at him.

“Why don’t you show some respect. That lady might die.”
“Who are you?” retorted Mullet.
“That’s disgusting, just looking through her stuff like that. You’re disgusting.”
“Eh, what about you. Look at you. Why don’t you lose some weight?” Mullet sneered as he approached the young woman.

So much adrenaline, in such a short time. Short, out of shape and having a face that gets me carded even when I buy a lottery ticket, I resolutely took off my pack and made a move to get in between the two. Incredible. 33 minutes 14 seconds ago, for no apparent reason, I put my book back into my pack and put it on as I was getting up to check on the woman. I had been wearing it this whole time. Was it that hesitation or my mistake in going for the cops and not starting CPR and ordering someone to call 911 immediately that wasted the slim chance that this woman might live? Did I even remember how to do CPR? Why did I feel so isolated, so impotent? All this and more was running through my head as Mullet and I converged. Fortunately, we caught each others stares before we could exchange blows. I'm a nerd, for godsakes, not a fighter. For whatever reason, he turned and exited the station.

Silence. A couple came in and sat down to my right. The guy removed his shoes and started putting on inline skates. As he was lacing up he looked around. Nobody was moving or talking.

“Are we on candid camera?”

The regular commuting traffic resumed only slightly altered by the detour some would make around the displaced seating row and pile of trash on the floor. The woman whose distress call that got things going was reassuring the woman who had the brief confrontation with Mullet. My bus arrived. I left. (stop, 35:22)

1 comment:

braine said...

Seems to me like you did everything you could.