Sunday, May 17, 2009

First responder

I saw a man get hit by a car on Friday.

The experience was kind of surreal, like out of a movie. I was driving south on Lawrence Expressway in Santa Clara at 45 MPH, approaching an intersection a little after 11 a.m. Our light was green. As I neared the intersection, I saw a man on the concrete median start running across the highway, right in front of oncoming traffic. One car missed the guy. The next car, the one right in front of me, wasn't so lucky. The driver slammed on his brakes and swerved hard, but wasn't able to avoid hitting the guy. He hit the man with his left front fender and immediately pulled over. The guy was laying in the road on his back, motionless.

Traffic just stopped. Several people looked on, apparently not sure of what to do. A few were on their phones, calling 911. The driver got out of his car and ran over to the pedestrian. Strangely, everyone else stayed in their cars for a minute.

I pulled over and walked over to the victim. The driver was there, trying to talk to him, and another man was hunched over him, on the phone with 911, explaining our location and describing the man's condition. The victim, perhaps 55 years old, was alive. He had a pulse, but was having a hard time breathing. He had a few external lacerations, but wasn't bleeding badly anywhere. He was conscious, but wasn't responding to questions. The impact had literally knocked the shoes off his feet. Both shoes were 10 or 15 feet away, in different directions. The man, who had started out at the edge of the intersection, was now 15 or 20 feet down the road.

A guy wearing a fluorescent vest pulled up behind us in a big orange construction truck. He turned on his flashing lights and set up traffic cones to protect the accident area. The fire department showed up within four or five minutes, and the fire chief went to work, directing onlookers and his men. A crowd of 10-15 people had gathered around, and the chief directed everyone who hadn't witnessed the accident to stand over on the sidewalk. He had me stay there, along with the driver and another car that had seen the accident.

The fire department was short-staffed at first, so they had the driver hold the victim's head (to stabilize his neck) while they examined him. After they realized that it was the driver, though they had him step away, and asked me to come help. I was hunched over this man who was struggling to breathe, holding his bleeding head in my hands while they cut the clothes off his body, checked his breathing, put an oxygen mask on him, and moved him onto a flat board to prepare to load him onto a stretcher.

Another fire truck arrived a few minutes later, and one of the fire fighters replaced me. An ambulance showed up a few minutes after that, and they loaded the guy into it and drove away. The police arrived and interviewed those of us who had seen the accident.

I felt really bad for the driver who hit the man. There was nothing he could have done to avoid the accident, since the man ran right out in front of four lanes of high-speed traffic. I hit a dog once in high school, and I felt terrible, like I never wanted to drive again. I can only imagine how the driver must have felt after hitting a person. I was impressed with how he dealt with the situation. He stayed calm and did everything he should have.

Being so involved in the accident made me realize that many of my skills are pretty lacking. Thankfully, in this case the man was breathing, his heart was beating, he was conscious (sort of), he wasn't bleeding badly, and professional emergency responders showed up within minutes. What if he had been hurt worse, though? What if he had gotten hurt far from professional help?

My response to the accident wasn't perfect. I should have blocked traffic with my car, rather than pulling over. I should approached the scene immediately, rather than waiting a minute to decide what to do. I've taken basic first aid courses, but it's been a while. I don't really remember how to do CPR. I'm pretty sure I remember how to do resuscitation, but I'm a little fuzzy on that, too. I've been considering taking an EMT class for a while, and this experience made me realize that those skills could make a huge difference. Most days, it doesn't matter if you know first aid. Most days no one gets hurt. But on the days when people do get hurt, a person with those skills could be the difference between life and death. I'd like to be prepared to be that person.


Jonathan said...

That's crazy! When my sister got in here 4-wheeling accident I felt so useless too. She was unconscious and bleeding and it was so scary. All I knew was to keep her still and call for help. It is scary to be in that position.

Dianey Face said...

What a surreal experience! I'm glad you were able to help. It's crazy when we live life just like we'll live forever, taking things for granted. Reading your story makes me want to enjoy the journey and enjoy my relationships with others along the way.

amanda said...

woah! that's insane. just remember you do cpr to the beat of "another one bites the dust". don't think about that too it...