Adam couldn’t tell if the woman was alive or dead. He had to know, and if he could, he had to help.
A few minutes earlier, he’d been in the Starbucks on Granville Street enjoying a caramel frap, a treat he hadn’t had for a while. He’d been mentally preparing for his first evening back at work, reading news on his phone about the Clinton/Trump election, and occasionally sharing smiles with the young women coming and going. His father had dropped him off and had lent him eight dollars. He’d walked only a block from Starbucks when he noticed her.
She was face-down on the sidewalk with her knees under her chest. He nudged her shoulder. “You okay?” No reaction. “Yo!” He pushed her more vigorously. Still no response. Turning her over, he saw a syringe pinned into her forearm. He removed it and placed it beside her. He shook her shoulders more, hoping for a response.
He yanked his phone from his front pocket to call 911 but stopped. The call would bring not only paramedics but also police, who might arrest her. He didn’t wish that on anyone, even a stranger. Interaction with police wouldn’t be good for him either, especially with his fingerprints now on the syringe. He listened to see if she was breathing. She seemed to be, but there was no other sign of life. She might get through it and wake up. She could also just stop breathing. Forever.
He stood up to think. Well-dressed people were walking by with accusing glances. He resented their judgement and dialed.
“911 operator. What’s your emergency?”
“There’s a woman unconscious on the street.”
“Is she breathing?”
“I think so.”
“Check again. Put your ear near her mouth and look at her chest.”
Adam followed the instruction and this time couldn’t detect anything. “I think she stopped breathing!”
“Where are you?”
He scanned for a landmark and an address. “Near the Harris Clark building. 551 Granville Street.”
“Paramedics are on their way. Is there anything in her mouth?”
Adam put his phone on speaker, placed it on the ground, and squeezed her mouth open. “No, nothing.”
“Okay. Tilt her head back, hold her nostrils closed, seal her mouth with yours, and blow two strong breaths into her.”
He felt squeamish about the task but went ahead. Blow. Blow. Nothing. He tried again and again until he heard sirens and wondered if they were from police or paramedics. His hands became unsteady.
The sirens were now so loud, they hurt his ears. Adam sighed relief at the sight of the ambulance and the exiting paramedics. He told them the situation as one of them checked the woman’s vitals and confirmed that she wasn’t breathing. Adam heard the second set of sirens in the distance and knew what they entailed. He wanted to leave before police arrived but also wanted to stay in case he could help.
“Narcan,” said the attending paramedic to her partner, who was already holding the small white container that looked like a bottle of nose spray.
Police arrived. Adam continued looking at the woman.
The paramedic inserted the nozzle of the container into the woman’s right nostril and pushed the plunger. She placed a mask over the woman’s mouth and pumped oxygen into her lungs. Adam was relieved to see the patient start to breathe. The paramedics had another Narcan container ready but didn’t need it.
The woman opened her eyes, laid there for a few seconds, then tried to sit up. The paramedic put her hand behind the woman’s back and helped her to a sitting position.
“What’s your name, honey?” she asked.
“What?” The middle-aged woman looked around.
“What’s your name?”
“Uh … Gabby. What’s … what’s going on?”
“You overdosed, and you stopped breathing. But you’re okay now.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m a paramedic. Just relax. There’s a bad batch of heroin making the rounds. Looks like you got some. Fourteen people died in Chicagoland yesterday – more than normal.”
The rescuer glanced at Adam, who was now answering questions from the police as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “This young man saved your life,” she said, nodding her head toward him.
Gabby looked at the ambulance and all the equipment. “My insurance doesn’t cover this.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. By the way, the police are here. They want to talk to you. Then we need to take you to the hospital. They might accompany us.”
Gabby remained sitting. “I don’t need to go. I feel okay.”
“It’s procedure to take you to a hospital so they can monitor you for an hour or so.”
“No, I’m really okay. I don’t want two ambulance bills chasing me.”
The paramedics had her sign a waiver, collected their things, and left. A few people had stopped to watch, and they also departed.
Adam relaxed as the two officers walked away from him, apparently believing his statement that he didn’t know her and was not involved until she was unconscious. They approached Gabby. “We need to search you and ask you a few questions,” said one of them.
Gabby looked at Adam and said, “Don’t leave. I’d like to talk to you.”
The officer continued. “What’s your full name?”
“We need to look in your pockets.”
“Fine.” Gabby looked forward and raised her arms like people do for airport security.
He searched her bag and her pockets and found a couple of paperback novels, a library card, and a baggie with what appeared to be heroin residue. He held up the baggie. “Where’d you buy this?”
“I don’t know.”
“I bet you do know. If you cooperate with us, you may avoid going to jail tonight. Where’d you buy it?”
“Some guy … I never purchased from him before.”
“What’s his name?”
Gabby frowned, and her voice developed an attitude. “No idea. I wasn’t planning to fraternize with him.”
The questions and answers went back and forth until the radio on the other officer’s belt squawked. “What’s the location?” he said into the radio. “We’re on our way.” He looked back at Gabby. “We have an emergency to deal with, so we won’t be arresting you today.”
Before they left, the officer gave Gabby a card with his phone number. “Call us if you see the guy you bought from.”
Gabby and Adam watched the police drive off. “They think I have a phone!” she blurted.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” he replied.
Now that she was conscious, Adam took a moment to examine her. She was wearing a blue jacket, jeans, and running shoes – everything a little soiled. She had shoulder-length straight dark hair that looked surprisingly well-combed. She was thin but not bony. Adam tried to guess her age. She looked around fifty but was probably in her early forties – a sign of her disease.
“I’m even luckier that I’m not in a police car on my way to jail. What’s your name?”
“Adam.” He still had some time before his meeting and wondered how she’d be, after receiving Narcan.
“Thanks for saving my life.”
“The paramedics saved your life. How you feelin’?”
“I’m not feeling high anymore, I can tell you that. I’ve heard of Narcan, but I’ve never had it administered.”
Adam was surprised at how well she spoke, and he detected spunk even though she had just come out of an overdose.
“You did save my life. I wish I could repay you in some way,” she said.
Adam thought about the paramedics saying she should be watched for a while. “Do you feel good enough to walk? I have to go somewhere before I head to work later. Maybe you could walk with me for a bit. I could use the company.”
“I’m certain you can find better company, but sure. Thanks.”
Adam’s destination was a few blocks east, so they sauntered in that direction. Late afternoon was giving way to early evening, and the sidewalks were becoming busy with business professionals on their way to the Terrace East train station to go home in other, smaller suburbs, or maybe to Chicago, doing the reverse commute thing. Maybe some were walking to one of the fancy apartments on or near Granville Street.
Terrace was a large suburban city about twenty-five miles outside Chicago. It had a population of 210,000 and had a busy downtown area that was centered on Granville Street and attracted not only Terrace’s population, but also people from nearby towns. Bordering Terrace was Adam’s hometown of Parkdale with a population of seventeen thousand. Parkdale was home to high-achieving residents and a competitive high school, from which Adam had graduated five years earlier.
They walked past the Cosmos Hotel, where two uniformed doormen stood under an awning, mentally tagging anyone who walked into the fancy establishment as either a guest or an undesirable. The Cosmos had a restaurant at the front, and in the summer, its tables sprawled out onto the sidewalk. Several outside tables were already occupied with people enjoying cocktails, probably to celebrate the end of the workday. Even on a Tuesday, these tables got taken early.
Two well-dressed women, their arms weighed down by shopping bags, walked past Gabby and Adam, looking eager to get to their next boutique or to one of the upscale restaurants. A disheveled teenager sat on a blanket behind an empty plastic container and a sign saying, “Any Help Appreciated.” Two tourist-looking twenty-something guys hauling backpacks examined a map on one of their phones. Probably a tourist guidebook had told them that a trip to Chicago must include a one-day venture to downtown Terrace.
Adam enjoyed hearing the familiar yet fresh sounds of cars, horns, large buses, pigeons, and whatever musical busker was at work. Gabby seemed to be walking okay, but he wondered if the late summer heat might be getting to her.
“How you feelin’?” he asked.
“I’m okay. I’m kind of overheated, but who isn’t in this weather?”
They reached Adam’s destination. He thought it’d be good for her to get off the hot street and hoped she’d agree to step into the air conditioned building and join him at the meeting. He was also looking forward to seeing his friend, Camille, and to hearing stories about her daughters.