Monday, November 27, 2006

The Sick Passenger

For years I've been hearing about the sick passenger. My morning commute has been delayed countless times by this person. Who is he? For some reason I usually conceptualize the anonymous victim as a "he." It’s probably a guy thing. Anyway, who is he, and why doesn't he stay home if he's so sick?

He's never on my train; it's always the one ahead of mine. "We are being held at the station due to a sick passenger on the train in front of us. We hope to be moving shortly. Thank you for your patience."

Of course, nobody is patient. We all want to get to work. Who does this sick passenger think he is, holding us all up? Can't they just kick him off the train and leave him on the platform until medical help arrives?

Do I sound heartless? Perhaps, but for years, during rush hour, I've been hearing the sick passenger story, and frankly it strains credulity. Sometimes I'm convinced that there's no sick passenger at all, that it's just a way to take the blame off the MTA for what is probably a mechanical problem. Call me cynical.

Of course, if there really is a sick passenger each and every time they say there is, I suppose it makes sense it would happen during rush hour. That's the busiest time for the subways, after all. Several million people are traveling through the system during a rather short time span. It's only natural that medical calamity should occur. Death too, I should think.

But I've never witnessed a death on the subway, or even a sick passenger in my car. Now I'm starting to think that's unnatural. You'd think that after riding the subways for something like thirty years, day in and day out, I should have had somebody kick the bucket in front of me. Who knows, maybe they have and I was just too engrossed in my book.

I should probably be more sympathetic when I hear about a sick passenger, but the anonymity stands in the way of sympathy. "Sick passenger" is an abstraction. You can't really sympathize with an abstraction.

Perhaps if they identified the victim, humanized him or her, as it were, we'd all have a bit more compassion.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing delays due to the fact that Mr. Arthur Wilson of 245 West 72nd Street is suffering a massive coronary on the train ahead of us, which is currently being held at Grand Street. Mr. Wilson appears to be in critical condition as we await medical assistance. We thank you for your patience, and we hope to be moving shortly."

Who of us would be so callous as to think of our own need to get to work? Surely we'd all bond together and pull for Arthur.

Yeah, right.


Anonymous Terry B said...

I commute on Chicago's el. We got socked with a snowstorm overnight that drove more people than usual to forsake their cars for public transport, making the trains really jammed. So of course, WE got "the sick passenger"--not on our train, but on one TWO trains ahead. When I heard the announcement, I thought of your post.

In the plus column, someone had made a tiny snowman on one of the el platforms--maybe a foot or so tall--complete with a baby carrot for its nose. Brightened my day to see that.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Dayna said...

last time the morning rush 'sick passenger' announcement came thru, it took some time to realize that she was in my car because it was so crowded. (#4 train, of course). A physical therapist came forward who tried to help the prone, young woman, whose skin had turned really grey. She was dressed for work. The train crept towards Fulton and then we sat w/doors closed for 20 mins waiting for EMS, who when they arrived, seemed pretty incompetent, pumping her arms and pressing her chest. All day I wondered if she was okay, and now i have more sympathy when they announce the 'sick passenger". . .

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete--I remember a piece in the NY Observer (I think it was) over the summer, on the very subject of the "sick passenger" phenomenon. The thesis was that the majority of such incidents were attributable to young women whose idea of breakfast was a shower and a Diet Coke. Perhaps Dayna witnessed one such as reported in her comment.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm talking about the ones that cause delays by needing the conductor to play doctor while holding everyone up. Here's a summary of the petition with link to sign it below:

Dear MTA New York City Transit:

With utmost respect, we recommend a change in policy that allows the safe removal of passengers in need of non-life threatening medical attention from trains in transit that will allow trains to continue on schedule. We do recognize that the MTA has already developed and implemented a rider education campaign to recommend that passengers who are knowingly ill to remain off of trains. We request an open discussion of this issue in a public hearing before the summer months of 2009, during which the MTA would see large support for a solution to this issue.



1:52 PM  

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