Tuesday, July 17, 2007

101 South

Last Thursday night, as Spooney and I were driving home with my brother, who used to be an EMT in rural New Jersey, I saw that maybe a half a mile ahead of us that a big rig appeared to be standing still in the middle of the freeway. It was late at night and there were few cars in front of me but a small pack of them behind me, so I started tapping my brakes to warn them, and I slowly worked my way over to the #1 lane (the furthest left of 5 lanes) because it appeared to be unencumbered. I noticed my brother in the passenger seat was paying close attention to my actions.

As we slowly approached the scene, I saw in front of the big rig was a crumpled airport shuttle van. It had taken quite a beating, and was caved in on both sides, although in different places and at different angles. I also saw that the center divider had been smashed pretty good in one place, and that chunks of concrete had been strewn across all of the oncoming lanes on the other side.

It had clearly happened shortly before we arrived. There was not even a backup of cars yet except for the big rig. There were no emergency vehicles on the scene. When my brother took note of that fact, he told me to pull over. I was expecting him to say that, and yet somehow not really prepared for it at the same time. Doing my best to avoid the larger chunks of broken glass, I pulled over in front of the van and threw on my hazards.

Spooney and I watched my brother work the scene for maybe half a minute, and then it occurred to me that if he yelled for me or needed help, that I would not be able to hear him from inside my car. I got out and stood behind my car, and Spooney followed me. Together we watched my brother as cars drove by him a little too fast and with only a foot or two to spare. Spooney told me that he wished I would get back in the car, and I knew he was right, but I just said “He might need me.” Now, I knew better than to think that my assistance might actually be valuable in such a situation, but somehow, sitting in my car when my brother was doing what he was doing just felt wrong to me.

But I’ll let my brother pick up the story from there:

Looking back at the last few days, I’ve reflected on just how many times I have walked through the crunch of glass and metal to survey what could be anything between a close call and a tragedy. Hundreds of times I have made that walk and the only true variable of that night would be what I would find inside that particular vehicle. The fact that I was far from home deprived me of my jump bag and the knowledge of the whereabouts of the nearest appropriate facility but other than that I knew this script well, I have played my part over and over until there are no surprises… or at least very few.

The center lane of 5 lanes, a shuttle bus that has clearly stood on its nose and was capable of holding many people, maybe as many as 10, there were no downed wires, no fire, and my ears cataloged the crunch of moving traffic across the median as opposing traffic drives through a concrete debris field. I guessed that the accident started and ended on this side of the divider from the fact that there is concrete blown 30 yards across the opposing lanes, but the reality is I have seen too many unguessable situations that I don’t put much stock in what it looks like might have happened. How it happened doesn’t much change how I will treat a patient for the first 5 minutes.

I automatically checked for a gas puddle, ignition sources and cries from within as I approached, none were present. The semi-trailer blocking traffic in the lane moved on leaving the lane exposed to oncoming highway traffic, I remember noting the increased risk without the truck in place. This time the vehicle was empty no one knew where the driver was and the two wrecked vehicles upstream of the accident yielded no injuries. I gave the very brief out-of-state-retired-EMT report to the CA cop that pulled up using as little bandwidth as possible as it was, after all, just the opinion of someone driving by on a Thursday night.

I ramped back down easily enough, again, practice, though I wondered for over a day where the hell the driver went in such a short time as I estimated that we were on scene within 1-2 minutes of the event. While I have seen plenty of drivers book from a scene, they typically weren’t shuttle bus drivers.

It is nearly impossible for me to drive by during that time between crash and help arriving. I literally had to take my hand off the car door handle to prevent myself from exiting while the car was still in motion while my sister staged her car exactly right, upstream of the site and protected from oncoming traffic.

I still don’t know the name of the highway that I found myself standing in almost 3,000 miles from home that night.

All in all this was a good night, zero patients is a good number.

As we left the scene and eased back into traffic, we all couldn’t help but speculate on what had happened to the driver of the vehicle. As he was going to fly out the next day, my brother asked to look at the news and let him know what had happened. I had to explain to him that in Los Angeles, this kind of event didn’t make the news, and that I had often felt frustrated myself and left wondering why, for instance, the police helicopters circled my block with searchlights veering crazily down the street and through my backyard for the better part of an hour, only to have them fly away suddenly without so much as a word of explanation. It is part of the random nature of life in the big-ass city, I guess, that so much of the bad shit seems to appear out of nowhere, fuck intensely with your life for a while for no discernible reason, and then disappear just as suddenly as it appeared.


SJ said...


GETkristiLOVE said...

Damn, I was hoping for the balloons/clown story but way to go bro.

Larry Jones said...

Welcome home. It never ends, does it?

Skylers Dad said...

Glad you are home safe, and kudos to you and your bro for stopping.

kiki said...

is your bro a paramedic or something?

pezda said...

This is an amazing story. What's most impressive is that you stopped at all. I think most people (for whatever their reasons) would prefer to gawk and move past; viewing the crash as a tv event rather than a real-life event.

Bro said...

Thats cool that you were standing by like that, scenes like that can get really busy really fast sometimes and you would give anything for an ink pen, cell phone, extra pair fo hands, and a scrap of paper. (Which explains why we write on our hands and clothes, small furless animals, etc) during the triage phase.

I remember saying "get me in there" and then wincing with each pop of your tires hitting debris.

W'ell have to do the clown and ballon story sometime.


cheer34 said...

I am glad there are people like you and your brother.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Kiki: Sorry, I meant to hyperlink on "EMT" for you foreigners. It's there now.

Bro: Send me Clown story and I will print it. I love that story.

All: Thanks for your concerns and good wishes. My brother, who was a volunteer EMT in his local NJ township and never got paid a dime for his service, is an amazing person. I was just glad that I was able to get him in there and get him back out without freaking out or fucking up.

Chris said...

Volunteer EMTs are saints. We deal with them a lot through the ski patrol (many patrollers are EMTs). Nice to have you back!

Skye said...

Wow, Vikki. Must have been pretty inspiring for you to watch your brother work his magic.

And somehow you seem the type who would neither freak out nor fuck up...probably ever.


deadspot said...

Random city shit,
Fucks you up, then goes away.
Hey, I dated her.

Johnny Yen said...

I'm glad your brother continues to prevail in his struggles against the demons you've posted about before. He's a good guy, and we need more like him around.

dad said...

He is a mensch in every way.