Tuesday, March 09, 2004

We had some medical drama here yesterday at the branch. A young man who has been in here for the past few days, scruffy but certainly presentable by the low bar established by the kind of people who wander into this branch, fainted quietly on the little set of stairs leading up to the landing where the copy machine resides.

He had been making himself at home earlier that day, eating a sandwich and reading the paper at one of our tables in the back. When my manager told him that he couldn’t eat in the library he left but returned a short while later, queued up for the 15 minute express internet terminal, and then passed out. Maybe it was something he ate. When my manager couldn’t revive him we called 911. He was breathing and seemed like he was sleeping peacefully or had fallen into some state of suspended animation. Occasionally his hands and feet would twitch, like a dreaming dog. Or a pithed frog.

It made an interesting sociological study to observe how the other patrons reacted. One man seemed very put out that he had to squeeze by the unconscious man to get to the copy machine, like we were all inconveniencing him intentionally. The woman who was in line for the internet terminal seemed pleased that there was now one less person in front of her. Other people disappeared behind newspapers. One young man, probably a tourist, said excitedly,

“If he’s not breathing someone should give him mouth to mouth!”

Not to be insensitive to the man’s plight, but that sounded like a good way to get a mouthful of diseased vomit to me, and no one rushed forward to volunteer to give "the breath of life." Fortunately the man was breathing just fine so mouth to mouth was not necessary, and the EMTs arrived quickly to deal with the situation.

The man’s comment reminded me of the scene in Midnight Cowboy when innocent rube Joe Buck, fresh off the bus from small town Texas, is standing over the unconscious bum on the sidewalk of New York. He is absolutely dumbfounded that no one is rushing to the man’s aid and that people are callously stepping around the body. Unfortunately, Punky, Loretta, and their ilk have hardened most big city residents, destroying their Samaritan impulses and any willingness to get involved. Anyway, the EMTs could not revive him and wheeled him out on a stretcher to the awaiting ambulance. Unless the man returns we’ll never hear what was wrong with him or get any sort of closure, but I'm going to go ahead and dust off the plastic mouth shield from the first aid kit in case anything like this happens again soon.

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