Last Friday, a regular collapsed in the coffee shop I frequent a couple of times a week.
He sat at his table with his newspaper like usual, and I sat where I normally do if I can—an armchair by the wall tucked out of the way. I had a section of my latest novel project printed out, and I was furiously scribbling away in the margins. It was going to be a good writing day, I could feel it.
That’s when the man collapsed out of his chair and onto the floor. Not an I’ve-fallen-and-can’t-get-up fall, but something worse.
The shop went eerily silent for a second, then I sprung to my feet along with some of the other customers. More seconds burned by as we hovered in a circle around the man in a what-do-we-do stupor. But he wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t conscious.
I tried to use mental telepathy on the barista behind the counter. What should we do? What happens next? Why isn’t anyone calling 911? The barista has the presence of mind to take a sandwich off the grill before getting the manager. For some reason, this impressed me.
If felt like an eternity—though again, it was just seconds—when a strong voice announced: “Everyone, stay calm. I’m a paramedic. If could have a volunteer pair of hands?”
Turns out an off-duty paramedic decided to come to the coffee shop that day, thank goodness. Two people who weren’t me snapped to attention and helped him get the old man into a sitting position to evaluate his condition.
Meanwhile I was shaking. I gathered up my printouts that were scattered all over the floor and collapsed back in my seat. I am no stranger to sickbeds. I’ve had more than my share of death and dying, but still my palms were sweaty and my heart raced as the paramedic and his volunteers tried to get the man to respond to his questions.
It was touch and go for ten minutes. Ten minutes of me thinking this man is going to die here, in this coffee shop, and I will never be able to work here again. Even as these thoughts went through me, I was sickened that that’s all I cared about. Better than thinking about the last time I was in a hospital with a loved one. But still. This was someone I “knew,” someone linked to the fabric of my daily life.
Thankfully, the man came out of it—there was talk it was a stroke, a “cardiac event,” or even a bad reaction to his medicine, but they didn’t know for sure. An ambulance came along with a team of paramedics who were on the clock, and they bundled the man onto a gurney and took him to the ER.
All told, about an hour-long saga where I and the other customers were trapped in the coffee shop as the man was seen to. I just sat there and stared down blindly at my printouts, feeling guilty and scared and upset all for a stranger. Needless to say, I didn't write that day.
He wasn’t there when I went to the coffee shop on Tuesday, and I didn’t ask the baristas if they knew anything.
I just hope the next time I go, he’ll be there, at his table with his paper, and I’ll be in my chair, with my printouts, and all will be right in the world.