6.01.2007

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad 36 Hours with the MTA--warning: some graphic descriptions contained herein

It started at approximately 11:30 pm this past Tuesday night, when I left Kennedy Airport for the AirTrain station, having arrived an hour late and collected my luggage after a pleasant, relaxing, 5.5 hour flight from California. I felt good. I was still on California time so it felt like it was 8:30 pm and so I decided to take the AirTrain home. That's always my default, but sometimes I'm too tired (going home from the airport) or late (going to the airport) and I take a SuperShuttle instead. I only resort to cabs in the most drastic of circumstances.

For some reason, getting to the Terminal 5/6 AirTrain stop from the baggage carousel took a bit more winding back and forth than I would have liked. It looked like this. (Sorry for the very low-tech graphics, that's the best I could do with a mouse and the Windows Paint program.)
Fine, so I get to the AirTrain station with my backpack, bag o' food, and 50-lb suitcase (look, it had some books in it, okay?) and first I get on a train going to Howard Beach instead of Jamaica. I get off before any damage is done and get on the right one. I get to the E train platform. I wait. I wait. I wait. An E train zips by without stopping. Another E train comes and I get on. I forgot how large Queens is--this trip is longer than I would have liked. Oh, well. Soon I'll be in Manhattan and all will be well.

I consider various options for switching from the E train to a train that will take me home. After some deliberation, I remember that switching to the uptown B at the 7th Avenue stop only involves one flight of stairs. Bonus! As the doors close at the 5th Ave/53rd St. stop, the conductor announces that the E is running on the D line, next stop Rockefeller Center. Damn. Fine. I get off at Rock Center, where there is no elevator, and haul my bag up the stairs to the overpass and down the other side. It is now around 12:30 am. I consider getting out and hailing a cab from Rock Center, but the logistics of going up all those stairs and the presumable difficulty of hailing a cab in midtown after midnight on a weeknight dissuade me. So I wait for the uptown B. Oh, it isn't running. They're working on the tracks. I hear someone say that the D is running local. I get on the D. It's not running local. It's express. I get off at 59th St. I wait for whatever's running local. A billion (really, a billion!) D trains pass while I wait. I ask a man wearing an MTA vest if the A is running local, as it often does late at night. He says that it is. Finally, an A comes. It's around 1 am now. I get on. Oh. He was wrong. It is running express. I get off at 125th St on the uptown side. I press the elevator button. Nope, not working. I haul my stuff down the stairs to the underpass and up the other side. A few D trains pass. Finally, a B stops and I get on. Some stops, three more flights up, and several blocks later, it is 1:30 am and I am home. The next day, Wednesday, the elevator in my building breaks. At least it waited until I was home with my suitcase. Now, that's good luck!

What? What's that you say? That's not a 36 hour MTA ordeal--it's a two hour MTA ordeal. And what would you have had them do, anyway?

I'll tell you what I would have had them do. I would have them install digital displays at the airport, before you get to the AirTrain Station, informing you of the various changes in subway service. Then you could decide before being sucked into the seduction of a $7 trip home. The same thing would be on the AirTrain platform and in every subway station. Barring that, I would have them at least make clear announcements in the station, every 2-3 minutes, about which trains are running local and which are running express and in which direction. Also, I would have them announce route changes on the train long before the door closes on the last stop to get off before you're stuck going a way you don't want to go.
* * * * *
Now, about the other part of the 36 hour ordeal--that was more serious and frightening. This is where the somewhat graphic descriptions start. If you're prone to grossing out or having images replay in your head or excessive worrying, don't keep reading. Seriously. Stop here.

Okay then. It's pretty simple. Much simpler than the first story.

I was heading towards the last door of the third car of the shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central yesterday morning at 10 am. I stepped into the car as the bells dinged. Only I didn't step into the car. I stepped into the space between the car and the platform. And straight down I went. Or at least my right leg went, at least past my knee. I caught myself with my right forearm, on the floor of the train. Then the doors closed on me. I was leaning on my forearms on the floor of the train. My right leg was stuck with my foot wedged downward. I'm not sure where my left leg was, but I think I might have sort of been kneeling on it. I looked up to see a train-full of frightened faces rushing towards me.

The train doors opened (they do whenever they hit an obstruction). One or two men put their arms under my armpits and tried to haul me up out of my stuck position, but my foot was wedged pretty tightly and I knew I could unstick myself if they would just let go of me. I asked them to let go. They let go. With some maneuvering, I got out and stood up. I sat down on a seat in the subway car, sort of in shock but assuring everyone that I was okay. The conductor came back and asked me if I needed medical assistance. I said, "No, no, I'm fine. Really." Then she asked if I wanted to file a report when we got to Grand Central. I said no, but one of the nice men in the subway told me I should, I so I said I would. Two men were particularly kind. One picked up my lunch and handed it to me--it had flown when I fell. The other sat next to me to make sure I was okay. I lifted up my pants leg and saw some abrasions. (Good thing I was wearing pants--could have had some truly nasty scrapes if I was wearing a skirt.) Someone else noticed that my right big toe was bleeding. (I was wearing sandals.) Nothing really hurt me, though. Adrenaline does amazing stuff. Seriously. Someone should market it as a painkiller/memory eraser.

After the train started and I was safely in my seat, I started crying and couldn't stop. Kind of like when kids or toddlers fall and they're fine but they cry anyway because they're surprised? It felt that way. Also, I kept thinking about what would have happened if, God forbid, the train had somehow started moving with me stuck there. I would be, like, dead or severely injured. Another part of my brain reasoned that since I was between the doors, and they therefore couldn't close, and the train doesn't move unless all of the doors are closed, there was no way I could have ended up, like, dead. One of the guys kept talking to me to distract me, which was helpful. He told me a story about losing a toenail. (He was the one who noticed that my right toe was bleeding under the nail. It would have been a really weird story otherwise.) Then he went with me to find the person with whom I was to file a report.

I hobbled into the MTA office that's right on the shuttle platform at Grand Central. There I sat. Then my leg/foot/toe started to hurt. A lot. I held it up in the air since that seemed to help and there was no extra chair on which to elevate it. Finally an MTA guy came and took my information. I somehow remembered exactly which door of which car it was, although when the police later asked me what my work phone number was I had no idea, and when they asked me for my age I had to think about it for a minute. (I didn't hit my head at all, so it was probably just the effect of stress.) The MTA police came and took a report. Meanwhile, I was pressing my leg against the cold metal of a nearby filing cabinet, which helped with the pain, which was rapidly increasing in severity. The woman who was waiting with me found me a frozen bottle of water, which felt marvelous. Finally, a little after 11 am, the fire department paramedics came. They took my blood pressure (fine) and gave me two ice packs.

I hobbled away. It hurt a lot, but I could walk on it so I didn't think my leg or foot was broken. I sort of group pain into three categories:
  1. pain so bad I curse (at least under my breath)
  2. pain that causes wincing and other face-making and no amount of money could prevent that from happening
  3. pain that hurts when I think about it but otherwise not really
This was definitely in the first category.

As it turns out, I had an appointment with an orthopedist at 12:30 pm that day. I had made the appointment more than a month before, because I finally decided that I should see someone about my right toe. I tripped and fell (on nothing) in late January, and it still hurt (wincing pain at times) in mid-April. I couldn't wear any shoes except for sneakers. I had gone to see my primary care physician in early February, but she said that even if it was broken, there wasn't much that they could do and it would heal on its own. No one took x-rays or offered me any kind of foot support. A few weeks ago, the toe moved from the third category of pain to not hurting at all, and I was thinking of canceling the appointment. I decided to keep it, though, since it took me so long to get it and I thought they might take x-rays, which would at least let me know if it had broken in January.

After purchasing two ice packs at Rite-Aid in Grand Central, I went to work to check my e-mail and freeze the ice packs. The bus ride there was okay, although the vibrations hurt so I had to keep the injured leg in the air again. It was a bit awkward and exhausting. I decided to take a cab to the orthopedist. The combination of low air-conditioning, start-and-stop driving, and pain made me sort of feel like I might pass out, but I didn't. Yay!

X-rays were taken. My toe did have a healed fracture from January. It hurt a lot when the x-ray technician turned my foot. My whole leg was starting to get bruised and definitely swollen. The orthopedist checked it out, said I had no breaks, but that I should wear an aircast for about a week. The aircast was painful at first, but enables me to walk with a medium limp rather than a major one. The good doc also told me to elevate it and ice it until the swelling went away completely. I did that at work yesterday and then I also slept with my leg elevated and iced last night.

So, how am I today? The aircast is a bit heavy and hot and lugging it around is exhausting. I can't really go up or down stairs, and can barely flex or extend my right foot. I have bruises up my right leg past my knee and my toe is a battered and bruised mess. It hurts to move my other toes because the tendons that control them got bruised. My ankle is disturbingly swollen right next to the outside ankle bone. My shoulders/arms/back hurt from where the guys tried to lift me up out of my stuckness. My right forearm is bruised from where it hit the train floor when I caught myself. I can't turn quickly, which I am discovering is quite a liability in New York. You'll never guess how many times people rush towards you, expecting you to turn a little, but then you don't and they get disconcerted and half bump into you. I had my aunt take me to Fairway yesterday because I was scared I would get trampled if I went alone. It's also sort of hard to balance a basket of groceries. I'm not sure what happens with the aircast if it rains, but I think I'd better cover it in a plastic bag. Last night, on the way home from work, I asked someone to move over so I could take one of the front seats (and the very last seat) on a crowded bus for the first time in my life. And I hate asking for help.

Part of me wonders if it wasn't some sort of cosmic retribution for my bitching about the MTA's lousy service on Tuesday night (well, mostly early Wednesday morning). Another part of me wonders how large the gap is between the platform and the train at the last door of the third car of the shuttle on track three in Times Square. A third part of me wonders why they don't install those little ledges that pop out and prevent this sort of thing, such as exist on track one at the same platform.

Mostly, today, I am profoundly grateful that yesterday didn't end much worse, as it could have. I am profoundly grateful that I have health insurance. I am grateful that I have an aunt who was able to help me with my grocery shopping. I am grateful for my flexible employer. I am profoundly grateful for my active, healthy body that saved me from any broken bones. (I will continue to take my multi-vitamin, eat yogurt, and walk 2-3 miles a day--as soon as my foot heals.) I am grateful for my fellow commuters who stepped up to help and especially to the guy who spent the 2-minute train ride distracting me from my brush with catastrophe.

Josh suggested that I sponsor a kiddush in honor of my bronze JIB award for best personal blog. I pooh poohed him--maybe when I win a gold, I said. Well, now I want to sponsor a kiddush in honor of God, who presented himself to me in many forms yesterday. Logistics remain to be worked out.

7 comments:

David said...

Wow - I'm glad you're okay.

Passionate Life said...

ALG,

That is one of the scariest moments that I could imagine happening to anybody! Thank G-d that you escaped a much worse fate. That must have been really traumatizing to live through and then think about afterwards.

A Kiddush sounds like a great idea!

My thoughts and prayers are with you and may you have a Refuah Shalaimo!

Anonymous said...

You definitely have a good attitude about a bad turn of events. I look forward to cheering you up in person when I get to the City in a week or so! -MUL

miriam said...

oh my! glad you are ok(ish), and hope you feel better quick! (and let me know if you need errand-running or any such...)

Anonymous said...

Gosh!

What a rediculously scary thing!

Is there recourse to be taken against the MTA for your physical pain and mental anguish?

Feel good!

Oh! Does this mean you'll have more time to blog? :)

--HDS

smoo said...

I'm feel for you that you went through that ordeal. Your perspective and positive attitude will carry you far in life. Feel better!

Esther Kustanowitz said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this subway trauma. I literally think about this happening all the time, and knew it was going to be a matter of time before I knew someone (or knew someone who knew someone) was involved in something like that. I'm glad that you weren't seriously hurt, that New Yorkers responded nobly, and that your faith is stronger than ever. Mazal tov on the redemption and the kiddush, and also on the award! I'm proud of you!