New York City is not a cold place

Empire

I had just crossed 34th Street at Park Avenue en route to the subway. Something made me look back to the north side of the street. That’s when I saw her.

The woman was lying on the sidewalk, her body stiff and twitching. I ran back across the street. I don’t remember checking for traffic.

While another woman called 911, I dropped to the sidewalk next to the woman who was still seizing, her lips turning blue.

“We need to turn her on her side so she doesn’t choke,” I said, sticking my knee behind her back to keep her that way.

Her companion looked at me and asked “¿Español? No English.”

“Poquito,” I said. A little.

My Spanish vocabulary is maybe fifty words. I should really take a refresher class.

“¿Tiene…uh…epilepsy?”

“No, no!” the woman proclaimed vehemently. She understood the word epilepsy.

“Está bien,” I said, trying to sound soothing. It’s OK. I must have said that phrase fifty times in an hour.

*   *   *

A crowd had gathered and kind strangers were offering to help. Blessedly, a bilingual man stepped forward. Together we gathered details.

The woman having a seizure was named Amparo. She and her sister were visiting from Colombia. Somehow I never did get the sister’s name.

The sister speculated that the 30 degree day had caused Amparo’s seizure. The man and I were skeptical, but didn’t argue. We aren’t doctors or nurses.

*   *   *

 

Amparo started to come around. I held one of her gloved hands and her sister held the other. We both said está bien a lot.

Amparo’s sister wanted to move her somewhere warm, but the rest of us were worried about moving her. She couldn’t sit up on her own, much less walk. 

Confused, Amparo looked up at the crowd that had gathered, her eyes seeming to search, but she either couldn’t speak or just didn’t.

We waited for the ambulance. Sitting on the cold pavement, it felt like a long wait, but was probably more like fifteen minutes.

A fire truck arrived first and after a few more minutes, the paramedics. Of the ten or so men emerging from the two vehicles, they said none spoke Spanish.

There was a late-breaking rumor of an English-speaking, NYC-dwelling niece coming to the scene. The plan was to load Amparo into the ambulance to warm up, but not to leave just yet.

“We’ll manage,” the paramedics said.

“Just whatever you do, don’t leave her,” I said pointing to Amparo’s sister.

*   *   *

 

I gave the sister my cell phone number and a hug. She started crying. This can’t be what she expected from their trip to the big city.

I wanted to tell her how much I wished this crowd of concerned strangers could take away some of the day’s fear. That we could give her new memories of NYC. But I didn’t have the words.

Instead when she was calm, I just said “está bien,” one last time before making my way to the subway and the warmth of home.

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