As I stepped off the Tube and headed for the exit I saw him. A fifty or sixty-something man in a suit, carefully placing his belongings in a pile and then lying down beside them on the ground. By the time I reached him there were only a handful of other people on the platform. Plenty more had already walked past him, oblivious to this man sprawled on the floor, with his arms over his head, clearly in some pain and distress.
Two young women were hovering near the man, asking tentatively if he was ok. This was a question that did not need an answer. 'Should I call an ambulance?' one asked him. He nodded weakly, his face white and sweaty. I returned to the platform where a station attendant was changing the posters along the platform; 'Excuse me, there's a gentleman here who needs some medical help.' He finished struggling with his papery task and headed over to join our little huddle on the now empty platform. The two women dashed off to dial up the emergency services, whilst the attendant adopted a facial expression which indicated he had clearly seen this all before. Getting down on the ground next to the man he established the man's name and the fact he had a heart condition, rearranged him into the recovery position, and radio-ed upstairs to alert the rest of the station's staff.
As the attendant spoke into his crackly radio and shortly departed for the ground level control room, I was left with the poor man, crouched on the cold, dusty station floor, trying to keep him in the recovery position as he rolled backwards and forwards clutching his chest. I talked to him, trying to calm him down, explaining why he needed to try and stay still and why we could not do any more to alleviate his pain until the trained medical professionals arrived. He told me where he had been and where he lived, gasping out his words as he fought for breath. For several minutes we two people were alone on the platform, and then another train pulled in. Blocking the exit as we were, numerous commuters hustled towards us, most of whom gave neither of us a second glance - this older gentleman in what now looked like severe pain, and this young girl who knelt by him probably looking rather terrified. Someone asked if we'd called an ambulance or if we needed any help, but the majority of people swept past keen to get home to their warm houses, where no stranger in distress threatened their comfort.
Time crept by as I and the man awaited the paramedics. Another train-load of people passed us by, some trampling a little too close for my own personal safety, rubber-necking but unwilling to take any responsibility for what they saw before them. Then silence again. A minute or two later I heard a radio crackle, and two paramedics dressed in green arrived, all jolly and jokey. 'Hello! Who have we got here? Is he your dad?' one asked me. I admitted that until about twenty minutes ago I had never seen this chap before in my life. Once the paramedics were there however I breathed a sigh of relief. Here were people used to dealing with strangers in need, something I most certainly was not. The tension in the tunnel dispersed, as the paramedics conducted tests, joked about the man's luck at being found by 'such a pretty good samaritan', extracted further information from the man and stabilised him. Despite his protests that he would rather spend a couple more hours lying on the floor of the station, the paramedics, now aided by two more colleagues, hoisted the man into an e-vac chair and pushed him towards the elevator. They picked up their large crash bags and I gathered up the neat pile of belongings which he had deposited when he was first taken ill. 'Ooh thanks! You'd be amazed how many times things like that get left behind.' laughed the paramedics as I placed them in the back of the ambulance once we were above ground once more.
'Thank you' the man said as the doors of the ambulance closed on him. Once he had got his breath back down in the station he had repeated it over and over. 'Don't worry about it. It's no problem!' I'd said, and smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring way, that didn't convey how unsettled I had been by the whole incident. What I didn't say to the man was 'When we were alone in the tunnel I hoped you wouldn't die because I wouldn't know what to do.' I didn't say the thing that haunted me afterwards as I walked home, which was 'One day that might be me on that floor'. As a sufferer of migraines that leave me half blind and unable to speak properly, I have often worried about what would happen if one struck on the Underground. And maybe that was partly why I stopped to help the man, in the hope that my actions might accrue some karma points that I might need to cash in sometime. If I were to collapse in a subway station I would want someone to stop and find out what was wrong, to get me help and to stay with me. I would want someone to find out who I was. I would want them to make sure my coat and handbag were not just abandoned on the platform, but came with me when I left. I would want more than anything not to be alone. And that was the main reason I could not just walk on by, because being alone somewhere in a city where there are hundreds and thousands of people all around you is somehow so much scarier than being alone in a place where you are truly on your own.