On the corner of 45th and Broadway, during his lunch break, Grey Becker abruptly fell to the street, limbs flailing uncontrollably. In an attempt to remove him from oncoming traffic, a woman tried to pull Becker onto the curb.
Unable to bear the dead weight of his 220-pound body, she repeatedly lifted and dropped him. Becker felt a dull snap when she dragged his side over the curb.
Finally, the woman gave up. “Just leave him. He’s drunk,” said her male companion.
The couple crossed the street, abandoning Becker, who was fully conscious, yet devoid of motor control.
He knew from previous episodes that if he tried to stand up prematurely, he would collapse again. A few minutes later, a passerby helped Becker to his feet.
“I just remember being extremely embarrassed,” he recalls, adding that his embarrassment quickly turned into anger, as it usually did after such an episode.
On this afternoon in March 2012, Becker, a 20-year military veteran and cancer survivor, was not drunk. He experienced cataplexy, one of the many symptoms of narcolepsy, a disorder he has had for the past five years. Cataplexy is sudden and uncontrollable muscle weakness, often triggered by emotions. The result was a broken rib.
Portraits of Narcolepsy in New York City