One moment I was sitting in my seat on the 33 (fast commute, quiet, ordinary), wondering if it was too early to go to work and thinking I might stop off somewhere for a coffee.
The next minute, there was a horrible, primal noise coming from the back of the bus, or behind the bus, or, oh god, beneath the bus. I can't describe it except to say it came from somewhere deep, deep inside. It could have been an animal, but we all knew it was human.
Everyone (there were maybe ten of us left on the 33) looked around, and then we noticed the man on the floor at the back of the bus.
I stood up to look at the man, who was rolling around on the floor. No - wait - not rolling. He was in the middle of a seizure.
The Russian woman and the man with the catfish mustache hollered for our driver, James.
He stopped the bus and got up.
"Call 911!" the Russian woman said, at the same moment I said, "James, I think this man is having a medical emergency, a seizure or something."
The catfish mustache man made his way to the back of the bus and he and I wondered what we should do. The man was still seizing, his hands balled into fists, but he was breathing well.
None of us knew what to do (a horrible feeling - does anyone know of any evening or weekend first aid classes in San Francisco?). The catfish mustache man set down his cane and he knelt on the floor. He pulled the man by his legs, towards us, so that his head wasn't between two seats anymore but in the open space at the back of the bus instead. More room for him to move around.
James finished talking to the paramedics, telling us, "They're on their way," and then he quickly directed people who wanted to get out the bus and on their way to catch the approaching 22 Fillmore. James pulled his poles down so that the other bus could move around us.
Everyone got out except the Russian woman, a quiet woman who always sits at the front, and me. I don't know why I stayed. I wanted to make sure he was all right, I guess. And I wasn't in a rush. I also thought, fleetingly, that we might need someone who could speak Spanish just in case. My medical Spanish is really rusty but I would have made it work.
I watched and listened to the man's breathing.
"Is he conscious?" James asked us. We were not sure.
"He's breathing okay," I said.
James crouched down beside the man and asked him if he was all right. At this point, he was beginning to come around. Breathing hard, mumbling, trying to move.
"Do you want to sit up? Maybe you should stay lying down, sir," James said. He tried to keep the man still but the man began to sit up and try to feel his way to a seat.
James and I looked at each other.
"Where are the paramedics?" he asked.
"They're taking a long time," I said. I wasn't sure where they would be coming from but I knew there was a fire station just a few blocks away.
The man tried to stand up. James did his best to try coaxing him into a seat but the man was in his own world, and all he wanted to do was get out of the bus. James picked up the man's hat and helped him walk to the front of the bus. The man moved in slow motion. He stumbled once, twice, but James made sure he did not fall.
Thankfully the paramedics roared up and intercepted the man as he tried to walk down the stairs. He was in bad shape, though still alert and standing, and the paramedics and firemen surrounded him and helped him down to the sidewalk, speaking calmly to him in English and in Spanish.
James, the quiet woman, the Russian woman and I looked at each other.
"That was not good," said the Russian woman. "He maybe also had a stroke."
I told her I hoped not.
James said he needed to stick around, that we should try to catch the bus behind him.
No matter. I said good bye to everyone and walked the rest of the way to work.
I hope the man is all right.