Last night after the Super Bowl, Rich and I took off in our car to go pick up our daughter Aislynn (12) from a friend’s house. It was almost 9:00pm, the streets were damp from rain, and hardly anyone was on the road. It was about a 15 minute ride to the friend’s house.
We picked her up and were on our way home when we saw three people standing in the mostly deserted street. Rich slowed down, and as we got closer we saw that there was a body lying in the street and a smashed bicycle about 20 feet away. We stopped our car and Rich got out while I stayed inside with Aislynn, Aria and Aiden. I could hear Rich explain to the three people that he was a paramedic, and someone said, “This just happened! A hit and run!”
I called 911 and gave them our location while Rich checked the man for injuries. Then I got out of the car, handed the phone to Rich so he could give medical details to the 911 dispatcher, and walked over to the man. I wasn’t sure how I could help, but it felt wrong to just stay in the car when someone was lying in the street, hurt. But when I saw the man up close I realized that he wasn’t just hurt; he was dying. There was blood coming out of his mouth, out of his nose, and out of his ears. He appeared to be unconscious and he was breathing in labored, raspy breaths.
Rich said not to move him because his spine could be injured. I felt so helpless. I remembered that we had blankets in our car and thought well, at least let’s make sure he’s warm until the ambulance can get here. Rich put a blanket over him. I wanted to to do more for him but there wasn’t much else we could do. I kept thinking, this is someone’s son. His mother has no idea that he is lying in the street right now and that her life has been forever changed, either by his death or by helping him live with a traumatic brain injury. What if this were my son and I couldn’t be with him? What would I want for him?
I’d want for him not to be alone. I’d want for him not to be afraid.
So I knelt down near his head and I spoke to him. I told him that we are getting help for him, that the ambulance would be here any second, that he’s going to be okay, that he’s not alone. With every raspy breath, blood would spray from his nose. And as much as that was hard to watch, I was so worried that his raspy breaths would stop. I just kept saying to him “you’re going to be okay, you’re not alone, we are here with you…” I wish I had known his name so that I could have said his name, too. People like to hear their names.
While I was talking to him, another man was gently holding the victim’s head in between his hands, and he, too, was speaking to him. I could hear him say, “Hang on, man…help is on the way.” I felt thankful for this man, for his gentle touch. That’s what I would want if it were my son. I would want for my son to be calmed by a human touch.
The police arrived, and then the fire department got there within minutes and took over his care. I backed away and watched from a distance while Rich briefed them on his condition, and I closed my eyes and silently prayed for this poor man. That’s what I’d want if it were my son. I would want someone to be praying for him. Soon we got back into our car and drove away. I was shocked at how easily we just got into our car and left. It felt wrong, to leave like that. But Rich said there was nothing more we could do.
We drove home mostly in silence, except for me. I kept saying things like, “That was awful” and “I feel so bad for that poor man” and Rich would just chime in with “Yep. It sucks” every now and then. I couldn’t get the man’s face out of my mind. I kept seeing all the blood coming from his head and pooling in a small puddle next to him. I kept hearing the raspy sounds of his breathing. Yet my husband was saying, “Yep, it sucks” as if we were discussing a bad movie.
And it then occurred to me. This is what he does for a living. He sees this stuff every day at work; people smashed up in cars, lying in the streets, blood and broken bodies. This is what he does!
We visit him at the station and it’s all fun and games and woo-hoo! our daddy is a fire fighter! The novelty of his job never wears off. As they say, everyone loves a fireman.
I think we are so removed from that part of his job that it’s hard to imagine the reality of what he deals with every day at work. It really is a lot of blood and broken bodies, a lot of sickness. Death.
I look at him now and think, how does he do it day after day? Because seeing it just once has had an effect on me. I assume you just get used to it. Rich explains that you don’t really “get used to it” but it’s more like you learn to let it go and move on. Because there’s always another call to go on, always another trauma victim. You do your job right then and there, and then you pass the person on to the doctors at the hospital; not your patient anymore. You move on.
I’m grateful that there are those who can do the job that medics do because it sure isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely not for me because I am having a hard time “moving on” from what I saw last night. I can’t shake it because I know that he is someone’s son, someone’s brother, possibly someone’s husband. He might even be someone’s father. He is everything to someone out there. And my heart hurts for them all.