Nearly a decade ago, we undertook an itinerant but by no means comprehensive tour of Europe, which incorporated both familiar places (England, Belgium) and new ones (Budapest, Vienna, Prague).
We started in England, mainly in and around London, where the husband and I (but mostly the husband, since he’s English and once called London his home) spent close to a week playing tour guide to my mother and her friend from high school.
Next, it was off to Belgium for several days, where the husband finally got to meet our family friends, The Belgians, for the first time. He and the Belgian patriarch took to each other like fromage to a baguette, or as those two would probably say, like a CO² canister to a flat tire, and thus began a very cycling-focused friendship.
From there, we said adieu to my mom, her friend, and The Belgians and took a Wizz Air flight (to a nervous flyer like me, cutesy airline names like this do not inspire confidence) to Budapest.
After discovering the delights of Szechenyi Baths, I didn’t want to leave, but we had reservations in Vienna, so…
In Vienna, we ate lots of wurst and also learned via keen observation that bitte doesn’t just mean you’re welcome. It also means please, pardon, and probably a dozen other things we weren’t able to discern.
After several days exploring the Ringstrasse and environs, we took a train to our final destination, Prague. And it was on that train that the most salient memory of our three-week odyssey occurred. I’ll do my best to paint a picture with words, since no photographic evidence exists.
We boarded the train in Vienna, still full of Sacher Torte and, at least for me, mentally calculating how I could get back to Szechenyi Baths as soon as possible. We found our compartment (picture a Harry Potter-style train layout) and settled in for the journey. After a short while, we heard a thud and a scream. The husband went to see what all the fuss was about. I stayed put because, really, when is a thud followed by a scream ever cause for alarm? It was probably nothing. (If you had been in my childhood home, you would have heard thuds followed by screams all the time. It’s called having an older brother.)
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Shortly after he left, I began to hear odd grunting sounds. Suddenly unsure that everything was fine, I went to investigate the strange auditory emanations and found the husband administering CPR a few compartments down. An obese man had collapsed after running to catch the train – so we later discovered – with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. They were on their way to attend his son’s wedding. Springing into belated action, I ran to tell an employee what had happened, then returned to the compartment-turned-emergency-room to see what I could do and await backup. And wait is what we did. I heard some sort of announcement – possibly in Czech? Maybe German? – that was probably calling for someone with medical expertise to assist us, but still we waited. (And by waited, I mean I stood there wringing my hands while the husband continued to administer CPR – the old style, too, not this new-fangled “mouth-to-mouth-not-needed-just-do-compressions” method.) After what had to be 15 minutes, an elderly nurse and even more elderly doctor, both of whom looked like they had retired in the 1950s, arrived to help. Together, the husband and doctor continued working on the man, taking turns administering CPR. At one memorable point, when I was a few steps away from the action, I heard the husband yell out, “You’re doing it wrong!” (That’s the husband for you.)
Eventually, after what felt like ages, the train slowed to a stop in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, and some paramedics boarded, but then just stood around and let the husband and ancient doctor continue their labors. (Huh? Is this Eastern Europe-style medicine? Let the amateurs handle it?) Finally, another doctor (this one at least looked like he had been born in the 20th century) and the fire brigade arrived. The husband, original doctor, and nurse were relieved of their duty and all non-essential personnel were herded off the train to give the patient and medical team some space.
Out on the grass, we found out that the man had a pulse and was stable, and that due to the husband’s quick actions, and later the combined efforts of the husband, doctor, and nurse, the man’s life had been saved (though his son’s wedding day was likely ruined). (Of course, my contributions can’t be discounted. In addition to alerting the train employee early on, I also ran and got ice at one point – for what, I have no idea – and several times I asked if there was anything I could do. I really was integral to the whole life-saving endeavor.) Shortly thereafter, a kindly train employee brought the husband some vodka. As much as he wanted to, the husband didn’t drink it. He swished and spat, swished and spat, swished and spat.
At last, the man was removed on a stretcher, followed closely by his distraught family members, and we were allowed to reboard. I’m not sure when the husband’s heart slowed down and his hands stopped shaking – perhaps by the time we reached Prague? I do know that the memory of that harrowing event stayed with him for a long time. And if ever there was a moral to a travel story, it is this: get CPR certified… and carry vodka with you at all times.