The night air smelled like spring mixed with a city waking up, but all I could think about was bed. Rehearsal was physically grueling as we finished and then drilled choreograpahy for the closing number and I had a 7am shift with my name on it. It was midnight when I got off the train.
Like a straight shot I careened past other commuters, only to be stopped dead in my tracks by a man laying on his side, mostly empty bottle rolling by his feet. His eyes were glassy and he had been incontinent. A man standing in the stairwell nearby waved at me to go on, "they already called the police," he said. But I couldn't leave. I'm a healthcare professional. Until there were more appropriate responders on the scene there was no way I was going to walk by.
I saw that he was breathing, and knelt by his head to see if he was responsive. His eyes followed me, but he didn't speak. I asked him questions, and got only syllables as answers, but he was at least awake. I didn't like the angle at which his left arm was draped, and he seemed to be nodding out a bit. I began to dig for my cell phone. "Did you hit your head?" I asked. He moved his neck in response. "I'm going to just move around behind you now," I warned him, "I want to see if your head is bleeding." As I moved to touch his hair, the doors to the train stations swung open:
"Don't touch him. He could be seriously injured!"
"I'm a nurse, it's alright." Although the words were true and slipped out easily, I hadn't been planning to say them. I stood up and faced the MBTA worker.
"Oh thank God, me too," she said. "What do you think? Besides drunk. I think he's hypoglycemic."
"I'm afraid of an OD," I admitted.
We kept an eye on the man and kept him awake while we waited for a truck. The man couldn't tell us whether he as a diabetic or whether he had taken anything. When I knelt to ask him he perked up and began to swear. I backed away, maintaining the unexpected eye contact but he didn't get up. "Least we know he's alert now," chuckled the former RN.
We chatted about our work. Another nurse came by, fresh off a ten hour shift in an ortho surigcal unit, and she stayed too. " I feel like I have to."
"I know what you mean," said the MBTA worker, "I quit that job for this one, but every night something like this happens I'm a nurse again."
"I'm exhausted," the ortho nurse said, "but you can't help staying. You're always a nurse, even when you're off."