There were other people in the room, but I could tell that they were engrossed in their own little world and were unavailable to tend to this woman.
She was on a couch, clutching her cane in one hand. The other hand was over her mouth as she tried to stifle her cough. But her hiccuping, turned coughing was getting louder and more incessant. Her episode was getting more intense and I was suddenly acutely aware that she needed help.
I’ve never been in that situation before where I was the one called into action to help a stranger. This was a potential medical emergency, I could just tell by the way she was holding herself and trying desperately to calm herself back down.
I threw all my own stuff aside, got up, and walked over to offer my help. Shaking a little, I asked if I could help her. She looked at me, unable to speak or to even catch her breath. So I took charge. “I’m going to get you some water. I will be right back.” She nodded. And for the next 10 minutes, I took charge of us both. I took a commanding role and lead us both through the scare.
I fetched the water, sat down beside her on the couch and waited. I waited for two things- 1. I waited for her to sip the water and see if it was going to help; and 2. I waited, tuned in to both of our bodies to see what I should do next. After she caught her breath and drank some water, we talked for a few minutes until she could cautiously stand up and make it down the stairs. We went down together. I insisted on going 2 steps in front of her in case she fell.
At the bottom, she thanked me over and over until I finally put my hand on her arm, looked into her eyes and said, “You’re welcome of course but you know how this works right? This kind of experience is as helpful to me as it is to you. We both get something out of it. That’s just how this stuff works. And, you’re welcome and thank you.”
We stood for a minute and a little of that aliveness that comes only in moments of suffering electrified us both.