Waiting for my delayed flight from NYC to Washington, DC, I wandered aimlessly through the Marine Terminal of LaGuardia airport. Past security, there are only six gates, a bathroom, a magazine rack, and a coffee/snack bar. The pickings are slim. A couple of stale muffins, some soggy sandwiches that look like they were prepackaged in 1986, and a selection of teas and coffees. The coffee smelling less than enticing, I opted for a black tea with milk. The bored looking attendant behind the counter apologetically announced that the only tea she had left was peach-mint. Makes sense. The only flights from this terminal go to Regan and O’Hare. Not your peach-mint kinda crowd.

I paid for a sparkling water and headed over to the solitary rack of trashy novels. Nora Roberts, Jackie Collins, Judy Blume, Sydney Sheldon, J.K. Rowling’s new, “Cursed Child… ” wishing I had slept instead of finishing my “Girl on the Train,” I sucked down the last drops of my flat Pellegrino and made my way into the ladies room.

The customary line greeted me as I turned the corner. Normally, I’d just go next door to the men’s room. I discovered this trick at a Billy Joel concert in my teens and it has never occurred to me to wait in bathroom lines since, but today, being in no particular rush and having nothing more interesting to occupy my time, I leaned against the tile and waited. On second thought, I stood straighter, deciding that a decent one-inch separation between my clean, white blouse and the questionable looking tile was better advised.

The women in line were mostly engrossed in their cell phony lives. At the counter sinks, a woman in a Nancy Regan-red business suit applied a cherry blossom shade to her creased lips. A youngish woman in a nondescript navy cardigan and too-tight skirt languidly held her hands under a stream of water, pretending to wash. 

My eyes roved further and came to rest on the lady furthest from the door. She had spread the contents of her makeup case on the countertop about her and was adjusting her contact lens in the mirror. I assumed she was taking it off in preparation for the flight, as I daily advise my young patients to do, in order to avoid having the dry, recirculated plane air both dehydrate their lenses and increase their risk of viral infection. She continued to fiddle with her right lens, moving it up and down in her eye. I knew I should look away. Nothing good ever comes from an optometrist offering unsolicited help. But these situations being as riveting as they are, I continued to surreptitiously stare in her general direction.

Unable to get the lens to settle properly onto her eye, she removed the lens and placed it in her palm. I noted it was soft and filed that tidbit into the vast catalog of useless information I seem to keep inside my head. Her other hand moved to pull up the hot water lever of the faucet. It was not the motion detector operated type but the old-fashioned, use your hand that just flushed the toilet and wiped your derrière type. Cupping the same hand, she caught a few drops of tap water and sprinkled it onto the contact in her other palm, swished that around some, and started to put it back in her eye. The line moved and it was time to make a decision. I was next and could either have entered the next vacated stall or dived headlong for her hand and screamed, “ABORT!” at the top of my lungs.

In moments like these, my brain does a curious thing. The world slows and a silent film plays in black and white, stop-motion, animated fashion before my mind’s eye. I grab her hand. She startles and the lens pikes out of her palm and performs a triple somersault into the sink, making a clean entry into the pool of murky water, spiraling down the drain. She mouths a silent scream and I can read her lips, “Oh no! I’m a 15 diopter myope, that was my last lens, and my glasses were lost with my luggage!”

I have nothing to offer her in the way of help. No artificial tears, no sterile saline, no multi-purpose solution, no spare disposable in the inner lining of my carry-on, packed for just such an emergency. She whips around to cast a simultaneously sad and accusing glare that pierces me to the depths of my very soul. The other women online momentarily abandon their Facebook feeds to shake their heads in silent disapproval. Blank looks greet my defensive explanation, “But I have saved you from a hideous, cornea-melting, blinding, worse-than-death, fate!”

I blink, the world returns to its technicolor light, her finger makes contact with her cornea and she smiles as the lens smoothly suctions into place. I step briskly and silently into the now empty handicap stall.

The question is, should I have waited for a regular stall to become available?