Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Crash (Part 2)

As part of my job, I knew that airbags deploy after their internal sensors record that the car has been in an accident at at certain speed, usually over 45 miles per hour. Her car had to have been doing around 60 mph at impact, and I began to wonder just how touchy the airbag sensors actually were, and if some movement in the car might trigger a kind of delayed reaction. I had read that an airbag explodes at about 150 mph, reaching full inflation within fractions of a second. With my head necessarily in the position that it was in, my neck would've been broken in an instant if the airbag did go off. I had no choice but to remain right where I was until the medics arrived, but I do remember thinking that somebody should patent some device, like the Club, that could be slipped over a steering wheel to prevent delayed airbag deployments. I had thought that I might really be on to something with that idea, and to take my mind off of the explosive power located just inches from my head, I began to imagine the many beach houses up and down the Jersey shore that could be bought with all of the royalties from my new invention.

After about twenty minutes, a state police officer finally arrived on the scene. He ducked his head inside the passenger window and I shot a knowing glance at the blood-filled towel when I asked how soon the paramedics would be there. He hurried back to his radio, and after about 10 more minutes an ambulance and fire truck finally arrived. The head paramedic assessed the situation immediately, and ordered me to remain still. My dreams of financial wealth were dashed when he slipped a steel device just like the one I had imagined over the steering wheel, and then they began to use the jaws of life to pry open the passenger side door. Once they were able to gain access to her, they took over and I could finally relax my grip on her leg and pull my upper body out of the car, standing up straight for the first time in half an hour.

I moved several yards away and began to give my information to the police officer who was writing up his accident report. The paramedics had removed the passenger door completely and began lifting Terri out on a stretcher, after having put a cervical collar around her neck and properly bandaging her leg wound. Suddenly there was a heightened flurry of activity, and they began to call out orders in urgent voices. I could see now that Terri had lost consciousness, and I noticed that all of the color had drained from her face, and her skin appeared pale and waxy. They quickly lowered the stretcher directly onto the grass, and checked her vital signs. She must have gone into cardiac arrest, because they slipped a ventilator bag over her mouth and began to shock her with two paddles directly over her chest.

The events of the past thirty minutes finally caught up to me. I had been so focused on stopping the arterial bleeding and keeping Terri calm that I hadn't had time to react to the situation emotionally myself. Once the paramedics had arrived, I could step back and become more of an observer. I finally noticed my bloodstained shirt and hands, and then watched as the life seemed to drain out of Terry's body on the stretcher. Suddenly it all began to overwhelm me, and I could feel the tell-tale signs that I was about to black out. My vision was clouded by thousands of tiny black and white dots, like the UHF channel on our old TV set at home growing up. A loud buzzing filled my ears, and I remember just trying to lower myself down under my own power until the moment passed. I was able to drop down quickly into a sitting position on the grass, and remained upright until my vision and hearing returned a few seconds later. The medics had apparently stablized Terri again, and they were placing her into the ambulance. I heard someone speaking into the radio requesting an immediate medivac helicopter pick-up at a rest stop a few miles down the highway.

The firefighters had already doused her car with chemicals to prevent any fire, and one of them noticed me sitting there sporting what I'm sure was my own pretty pale complexion. He came over to check on me, and to make sure that none of the blood on my clothing was coming from any wound on my body. I was pretty embarrassed at the attention, in light of the real injured person that needed to be focused on, and quickly got back to my feet and assured him that I was okay. He remained with me for another minute, and after the color returned to my face, I convinced him that I would be able to safely drive the remaining couple of miles to my house on my own. He looked into my eyes one more time to make sure that my pupils were no longer dilated, and then paused and said, "You know,
you saved that woman's life." I told him that the paramedics were
the ones who had saved her, and that I had just been in the right place at the right time.

I walked back to my car, sat there for a little bit until I felt completely okay to drive, and then headed on to Avalon. Thankfully I was the first one to arrive at the shore house that weekend. I really didn't want to relive the whole experience all over again by talking about it so soon, and I'm sure the sight of me walking into the living room covered in blood would have only caused even more unneccesary excitement for the day. As it was, I threw my shirt in the trash, took a long hot shower, and made myself a strong drink.
I always thought that it seemed a bit cliche whenever some movie character would pour a drink in solitude after a particularly stressful situation, but right then it felt like just the thing to do at the time. Due to the resulting traffic jam that had backed up along the highway for miles behind the accident, my housemates already en route from Philadelphia wouldn't begin to show up at the house for a few hours. I went up to the third floor and settled into a chair out on the deck, which provided a perfect view of a spectacular sunset that was just beginning to appear out over the ocean. I sat back and put my feet up on the deckrail, and as I tried to come to terms with the events of that day, I thought about my reply to the firefighter for a moment.

The right place at the right time. It struck me that if the day had gone as I originally had planned, I would have already arrived at the house in Avalon a good hour or two before the accident had actually occurred. And if even one seemingly meaningless event had unfolded differently, I never would have been at that particular spot to witness the accident in the first place. If the court reporter had shown up on time, or if I had decided to ask one more question before concluding the deposition, or if I had stopped to change my clothes or get a quick bite to eat--I would have been miles further away on the highway when the accident took place. And going back even farther, I wondered about the likelihood of a different outcome if I had decided to choose some other activity years ago instead of learning first aid. The amount of coincidence and probability involved in bringing two people together at a particular time and at a particular place can be staggering sometimes. I really do believe that things happen for a reason, even though it's not always entirely clear why at the time. I realize that my belief could just be my way of rationalizing otherwise random occurences, but it's what works for me.

It was that sense of comfort that enabled me to set my empty drink aside without the need to pour another for the evening. Instead, I continued to watch the blazing orange sun fade slowly beneath the deepening blue horizon for the next hour or so, as I sat out on the deck by myself in silence. Where, for the second time that day, I found myself again in just the right place at exactly the right time.