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From the archives: Superhero strangers, by Jowita Bydlowska Add to ...

Ouch. I looked down at my right leg. I saw something white with a hint of blue revealing itself through the squishy red.

Without thinking much, I reached down to my shin and held the flaps of skin with one hand; with my other hand I rummaged through my purse looking for my cellphone.

I was fine.

I held on to my bike. People walked by. The sun beat down on our arms and heat-swollen faces.

I couldn't find my stupid phone. It seemed I had ripped my leg open with one of the sharp spokes on my bike - it cut through skin and muscle like butter.

But I was fine.

I always took care of myself. I planned to call my partner and tell him what had happened, then walk to the nearest hospital.

I was covered with sweat. My breath was getting shorter. I couldn't find my stupid phone. What a nuisance.

A woman got off her bike and walked up to me. "Are you okay?" she asked. She had freckles, a pierced nose, sunglasses. She was wearing a bike helmet.

Just give in, ask for help, I heard in my head. No, you don't need people, you're fine! Give in, I heard again. The woman was looking at my leg; she looked scared.

"No," I whined. And let go. We were just outside of Toronto's Kensington Market; the street was busy with weekend shoppers.

The woman helped me slide down to the ground. I think she asked to look at my leg. I remember something small and violently red flopping onto the ground when I moved my hand.

I was losing my breath, fainting. I was lying down on the sidewalk. I was very, very tired. I hated the sight of blood - it was making me sick.

I can't remember who was holding my leg by then, her or someone else. Because suddenly there were lots of people around us. Somebody was getting water. The woman who stopped me was on the phone with 911; she said her name was Melissa.

A fire truck arrived with the cutest bunch of firemen. They asked questions that Melissa answered for me. A guy in khaki shorts pulled my skirt down to cover my thighs - in my distress, I was flashing the entire city.

I heard Melissa on the phone with my partner. Paramedics came. Somebody poured water on my hands. Melissa moved my hair off my face, telling me things were going to be okay.

After the paramedics bandaged my leg, I was loaded into the ambulance. My previous experience with ambulances involved watching random episodes of Grey's Anatomy while on a stationary bicycle at the gym. People rode in ambulances when they had heart attacks or broken spines. Really, there was no need for all the fuss.

Conveniently enough, while in the ambulance I started to pass out. The paramedic couldn't stick the electrodes onto my chest because I was soaking with sweat. Almost out of it, I tried to get them to give Melissa my business card, but it turned out Melissa had disappeared. She did her superhero deed and then she was gone, poof, just like a superhero. And then, poof, I disappeared for a bit too, finally passing out.

At the hospital, I got 16 staples in my leg. My partner showed up and stayed with me until it was time to leave. I left the hospital in smiles, full of Percocet and back to my independent spirit. I convinced my partner I was fine and could go to pick up my sister at Union Station - she was coming to visit for the weekend.

He drove and parked there reluctantly. Was I okay? I was fine, jeez. He slowly walked with me toward the station. But before we reached it, I was back to lying on a sidewalk, this time in an even grittier and busier spot than that morning.

"It's the new thing, passing out in public places," I told my partner, trying not to lose consciousness again. He was stuck with me, struggling to shield me from the heat.

We sat there for a moment before a stranger came up to us and brought us two bottles of water. Like Melissa, the stranger disappeared as soon as he helped us. If it wasn't for him, my partner could have been on that sidewalk passed out next to me. I'm sure he was barely holding up, though he never showed it.

After a short rest, we found my sister at the station and made it home without any more stops. I was able to rest properly, this time in bed and not on a sidewalk. In spite of the scary experience and the ugly wound, I felt happy and serene, knowing that indeed I would be fine. Yes, I would be just fine in my city, as long as I was not by myself.

Jowita Bydlowska lives in Toronto.

 

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