Collapsed Confusion

A short story that brings up more questions than answers.


I wrote this email up Dec. 4th, but didn't post until about a month later (along with revisions to my barely readable stream of consciousness, and a minor addendum at the end). I wasn't sure when to date the post, but figured to settle on the first time it hit the internet/people in its basic form. Logistical dating considerations aside, this isn't a typical long post. It's more like a strange story that brings up more questions than answers.

Lying on the Floor

I write this post this one the train back home. Yet another odd experience. Albeit this one is rather anticlimatic and short.

I was just walking down the stairs in the subway, and I came across someone lying on the floor who seemed to be spazzing unconstrollably with a slight whimper.

I don’t know how long she was on the floor, but no one was around her. I went over to her, originally thinking it was a drug issue. But the whimper/sob seemed especially out of place.

Not knowing what was going on, I started asking her—did she need emergency assistance? Should I call 911? She shook her head no.

I thought maybe she found out about some tragic family issue, and collapsed in utter anguish. I asked her if something happened back home, or if she heard bad news, but she again nodded no.

I offered her my hand to help her up, but she wouldn’t take my hand.

At this point, a few people started gathering around. One bystander thought maybe she needed just fresh air. I again tried to help her up, but she just shook her head.

A Bizarre Twist

After about a minute, she (the person on the floor) must have realized the F-train was coming because as the sound of the train filled the stairwell, she immediately got up. She walked down the steps and straight to the train, without saying anything. Something super strange to see, as you can imagine.

I would have been taking the same F-train, and so I got on to the train, sitting right across from her (coincidentally those were the two spots open). At this point she looked like any other train goer, albeit a bit sad. The last thing someone would assume would be that 30 seconds before this person was sobbing/spazzing on the floor in a stairwell.

As the train started moving, I went over to her, asking her if she was ok, if she needed help, or if there was anything I could do. Like before, continuously deferred my offers. The same resigned demeaner, showing no more or less emotion in her reply.

One or two stops after, she calmly got off, and at this point I asked a last time if there was anything I could do, to no avail. It didn’t seem like she didn’t hear me, nor that she ignored me. She just seems to be occupied in a different world, the words processing on some other level.

As she walked off the train, I gotta say, my initial reaction to go after her to make sure nothing else would happen, and to make sure she was all right. But at that point, she seemed to be (at least temporarily) in stable condition, and I wouldn’t want her to get freaked out. I didn't want to walk on her autonomy either. And heck, it almost gets to the point where I could see a 'third party me' calling the cops on myself for stalking someone.

Remaining Thoughts

In my mind, I had already told myself when I saw her on the floor that I would probably be spending the next hour or so helping. While at the moment I didn't think I was reliving the past experiences, I just figured these kinds of things take a long time. Yet, such assumed induction was plainly wrong.

I thought about the difference between her, and Lorraine who passed out by Greeley Square. Lorraine clearly had a medical issue, and had made an outward gesture for help (initially for food and then ice), and her condition did not appear to get better. In this case, the unnamed lady wasn’t clearly injured, deferred repeated offers to help, and whatever happened she got her composure back very quickly.

Yet both Lorraine and her were lying on the floor for an unkown reason, both seemed to be a bad situation, and both said not to call 911.

Yet in this case it all ended so anti-climatically.

[This end of the post was added at time of posting.]

I'm left wondering about the whole autonomy question when it comes to helping people. Dignity, autonomy, respect, are all in the domain of things that can be negatively affected when offering someone help. And to what extent do the reasons why someone might reject help matter? There's a strongly paternalistic feel to: "I think you need help even though you might not want," something that I have a viscerally negative reaction to. Yet on the flipside, there's the side of me that finds it hard to stomach people in pain. (And does it matter if the pain is physiological or 'psychological'?)

I suspect there isn't an answer. This might just be one of those 'go through life and learn how to balance competing values/approaches' kind of deal. Thought it might less important to find a balance, and instead live with the idea that there isn't a clear one.

If you enjoy this kind of stuff, click here to stay in the loop.