PLEASE WEAR YOUR SEATBELT!!!!
Years ago my mom and I were driving on the highway when a few cars ahead of us spun across the road, hit the median and stopped facing oncoming traffic. We pulled over, ran to help (my mom is a paramedic) and the first questions out of her mouth- calmly- “What is your name, age, are you on any medications, allergic to any medications?” Later we discussed the importance of obtaining this information quickly, as it is a great deal of help to the emergency personnel and people in the ER. She also reinforced the importance of getting this as soon as possible because the patient’s ability to provide it can change quickly! Its amazing what you remember when you must…
This past week I was driving home from school. We were in lab for the second half of the day so I left hoping to beat traffic and headed south on I85. About a half mile into the drive, just ahead of me, 3 cars crashed into each other. One bounced off to the right seemingly ok. (for a wreck that is) The other two started to flip and roll. A white Honda was rolling side over side and a Chevy Trailblazer was going end over end. It looked like something out of a movie rather than real life. Steel, plastic and glass were flying everywhere! There was smoke, loud screeching, crunching and just chaos as the cars continued to flip and roll down the highway…then… I saw a person get ejected from the Trailblazer as it continued to flip.
Immediately I pulled to the side, got out of my car and started running through the debris towards the victim who was ejected. She had been thrown from the car, hit the ground and slid into the barrier separating north and south bound sides of 85. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come next.
She was middle-aged, overweight and looked to have been hurt everywhere. Her left foot was covered with blood and a bone was sticking through her heel. Tib/fib was compound at the ankle and her knee was torn to shreds. Her right leg was twisted around and bleeding due to the many cuts and road rash. All 4 fingers were compound fractured just below the knuckles with jagged tissue and skin missing all over. She had a laceration across her stomach, her left arm lay placid as the shoulder was obviously separated or broken and her right was certainly no better. I looked at her face- there was blood in both eyes, mouth, ears and hair.
Without hesitation it spewed from my mouth: “How old are you? Are you on any medication? Are you allergic to any medication?” She could barely talk but answered; “58, I don’t take medication… penicillin, Im allergic to penicillin.” In a matter of seconds things changed. Her pupils dilated to the point you couldn’t see the outline any longer. She started to talk loud and tried to roll around. “Who are you? Where am I?” I tried to calm her down and keep her from moving- yelling to the other bystanders who were approaching, “Call 911!! Find an AED!! Does anyone have a blanket or a towel, shes going into shock?”
A girl brought a blanket over and covered her up while still trying to keep her calm and still. She kept repeating herself; “where am I?” Trying to get up – she suddenly had no pain- as if nothing had happened.
After a few minutes with her, there were enough people surrounding me I was able to instruct them to stay on the phone with 911 and continue to keep her calm and still as the medics would be there soon. I ran past the upside down Trailblazer towards the white Honda that came to a stop resting on the drivers side of the car. The lady was still inside and I could hear and see her moving through the shattered glass. Several people were trying to help her out and one person was on top (passenger side) attempting to open the door for an exit route. The ground had shards of glass, plastic and metal scattered everywhere... and it was wet. On its side meant unstable so I instructed the guy off the top. The lady inside unclipped her seat belt and slid down into the passenger seat standing on the passenger side door panel. Against my better judgment as the car was not secured, two guys grabbed what was left of the windshield and pulled it back while I reached my hand out to the woman to help her out. She held my arm as we walked to the barrier to sit down… those same questions came out. Upon first glance she looked ok- only a bloody lip from biting it when she was rolling. We talked for a couple minutes and another bystander offered to sit with her while I ran back to the group with the first victim.
The firefighters were the first on the scene followed shortly by two ambulances and police. I gave all of the information I had, never identified myself, walked across 85 to my car and drove away. We had recently gone through BLS training and one of the points made to us, was to stay anonymous & leave after you have done everything that you can. People sue regardless of your good intentions to help. So I did.
On my drive home I called Tami back (she was on the phone with me while I saw the crash) to let her know I was ok but just needed a minute to process what happened. Then… it all hit me. I started to get short of breath. I couldn’t swallow. My head started to pound and I couldn’t talk. I pulled off the highway and sat a stop light just trying to get control of myself, breath, but it wasn’t working. All I kept seeing was the lady’s eyes and thought about how quickly her condition changed while lying in front of me…
I continued to try and talk myself down. Traffic was bad so we weren’t moving very fast but nothing was helping. A million thoughts raced through my head- did I do the right thing? Did I do enough? What else could I have done? What if she dies? What if I was in the accident? Did I tell everyone else the right things to do? The thoughts were overwhelming. The experience was overwhelming. Seeing the cars flip and someone get thrown the way she did was extremely, overwhelming.
I picked up my phone to call my mom. She may not have seen many accidents happen but she arrived on scene after scene and could definitely identify with what I experienced. She and my dad answered but I couldn’t answer back. I tried to talk but nothing came out. A mixed jumble of word fragments was all I was capable of. After several minutes of her getting an idea of what happened she started to calm me down and I was able to drive home.
To say the rest of the evening was rough would be an understatement. Letting the incident go was damn near impossible. Driving back to school the next day was even tougher. Everything- what I saw, the sounds, the smells, her eyes…everything from that day was and is still very vivid and real. Looking across to the other side of 85 as I drove past didn’t seem real. Its hard to talk about it, write about it and think about it.
The only thing I did take away from the entire experience is wear your seatbelt. The woman who had her seatbelt on was still in her car and able to walk away after an unimaginable crash. She was lucky undoubtedly, but staying inside her vehicle rather than getting thrown out with the force that the other lady had been victim to, certainly saved her life.