The woman, who was in her 40s and wore what appeared to be a government ID badge, had been seated facing the back of the train. Across the aisle, also facing backward, was Eugene Chay, a 47-year-old attorney who’s so fascinated with superheroes that a Captain America shield hangs in his dining room. Batman has always been a favorite, he said, because, like Chay, Batman has no superpowers.
As much as he’s identified with heroes, he’d been more like a frustrated Batman, polishing the Batmobile in his cave, waiting for someone in need of help.
As it happened, that morning he was tapping a novel he’s writing into his smartphone with his good hand, as he usually does on the half-hour ride from Twinbrook to Farragut North. It’s a story about a teen’s strained relationship with his parents, but “fantastic mental powers come into play,” Chay said.
He was writing about superpowers when, from the corner of his eye, he saw the woman fall. “I looked over and her eyes were open on the ground," he said. "No one else went over to attend to her.”
He thinks others initially didn’t get up because they figured somebody else would help. But that’s not what a superhero would do.
He leapt into action — or actually, limped, because he has a bad leg.
“My first stroke was in South Bend, Ind.,” Chay said. He was 30, attending a business meeting at a hotel when he felt dizzy and had a hard time understanding what people were saying. “It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t understand each word. I had an inability to comprehend the words together,” he said.
The next morning, he went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a congenital clotting disorder that can momentarily cut off the supply of blood to the brain.
He’d mostly recovered when, six years later, he began feeling ill during a wedding.
The second stroke left him with the limp. The fingers of his right hand are curled, but he can use them to hold his phone while he taps it with his left.
When the woman fell, Chay said, “I was really concerned. I know that if you have a stroke, time is of the essence. I’ve been in a situation like that — stricken, disoriented and unable to physically support myself.”
“I asked if she needed help and she said, ‘Yes, I think I need some help. I feel weak and lightheaded.’”
A passenger said to pull the emergency cord, but by the time Chay limped over, the train had pulled into Bethesda.
Chay told the conductor over the intercom that somebody had collapsed. He and two other passengers helped the woman off and to a bench on the platform, where she had to lie down. She didn’t have diabetes, she said. But when the station manager gave her some Skittles she said she felt a little better.
After the paramedics arrived, the woman thanked Chay. She said he should get to work.
He hopes all she needed was some food. But he doesn’t know what happened.
“I’ve been hoping to see her,” he said. He hasn’t.
No, he said, he doesn’t feel like a superhero, though he joked on Twitter that those who know him would say his jumping in is an expression of "my inner desire to be a superhero.”
Something else stuck out to Chay about that day: He was dressed for the part. It was casual Friday and he was wearing a T-shirt his wife, Elisabeth, saw online and thought he had to have.
The shirt shows a bowl of ramen. Slurping from it, with long strings of noodles hanging from his mouth, is Batman.