Saturday, November 01, 2008

Reality Check

For the last month or so I've been obsessing over the election and the economy to the point that I got almost nothing else done. Today I got my chain yanked; I got a reminder of what's really important.

It started so normally - my husband picked me up from a dress rehearsal, and we drove home on the streets because the freeway alternative was a parking lot, for some invisible reason. To protect as much privacy as possible, I won't name the exact location, and I don't know the names of most of the people.

Anyway, as we drove up this main street, I saw a woman in an orange-brown jacket, crossing the street in a crosswalk. We were in the right lane and she was past us, so we didn't slow.

Then there was a thump, and the next thing I saw was the orange-brown jacket draped across the right front fender of a small station wagon. I can still see it. The woman fell off into the street, and didn't move.

The station wagon rolled a little farther and stopped, and the driver got out.

As my husband pulled our car over to the curb, I dived for my cell phone, entered the password, and speed-dialed the police department emergency number. Then I waited. (Our local dispatch center is notoriously understaffed.) After 1 minute 40 seconds (per the call duration meter), I climbed out of the car and looked around.

I have to give my fellow citizens credit. There were at least 7 or 8 people out there. Five or six were gathered around the woman in the street: reminding each other not to move her, covering her with a blanket, feeling her pulse.
Protecting her. The rest had put out flares, parked cars sideways, and were very professionally directing traffic around the accident. One man had a cell phone to his ear, and I yelled, "I'm still trying to get through to 911!"

Eventually I got through (I estimate in about 2 minutes).
Since she landed in the street, the woman in the orange-brown jacket hadn't moved. Dispatch asked if she was bleeding; I yelled, "Is she bleeding?" to the group in the street, and relayed the "yes" back to the operator.

After that, response was very quick: first the nearest patrol team, then the ladder truck from the fire station, finally a pair of ambulances. One of the policemen asked me for a statement, and we adjourned to the patrol car to get his paper report form out of the rain. The police, fire, and EMT personnel scurried professionally around, and in about 45 minutes the whole area was cleaned up.

One of the officers told me the injured woman was alive when they put her into the ambulance. I was glad.

But this is a reality check. We Americans, especially younger ones, have an unspoken assumption that we're invulnerable and immortal. If we're older, we know we are neither, but we sometimes think, nothing will happen to me, I don't have time for it. But sometimes it happens anyway. I hope very much that everyone will come out of this intact (or at least, not permanently damaged); but the victim put a hole the size of her head in the car's windshield. And the EMTs took the driver off in the second ambulance, just to make sure she wasn't hurt.

You hear a lot of rhetoric from the anti-abortion zealots about the sanctity of life, as if once those two cells merge, the resulting entity has some kind of right to a full life, the threescore-and-ten or whatever we live to these days. It's because of that "Right to Life" statement in the Declaration of Independence, and it's baloney. It's a nice sentiment, but people get killed all the time, by disease, accidents, and by other people. Life is very uncertain; modern drugs save lives that used to be lost to pneumonia and measles and tuberculosis, and they actually cure many cancer patients these days; but traffic accidents kill 40,000 - 45,000 people every year, or over 110 people a day, every day. And you get no warning, and no chance to clean up those things you were going to get to someday.

I'm not even sure what point I'm trying to make, except maybe: let's cut each other a little slack, and try to listen to each other, because we don't know how long any of us will be here. And maybe, there but for the grace of God go I.


  1. Both my stepfather and my son were killed in automobile accidents.

    When I was 18, an old woman ran a stop sign and broadsided me on the driver's side. She was going only 20 miles per hour, but pushed me 50 feet to the side, crushed the door on my left. Had she been going just 10 miles an hour faster, I'd have sustained life-threatening injuries.

    At any given time, we could be driving down a suburban street and a child could dash out in front of us, be seriously injured, even killed. And these kinds of accidents often end up in courts; innocent drivers may be sued for everything they own. It could happen to you.

  2. My little fender bender last Monday seems so minor now. Even when it happened, I was thinking about the call I was going to make that evening to my dearest friend of over 40 years to get the results of pathology report, and I thought "If this is the worst thing that happens to me today, I'll be happy." And it was - the path report was negative.

    Yep -- we all need to remember what's really important, and if we can't fully embrace another, at least we don't have to make each other miserable.

  3. Amen, hedera. I think my chauffeur and personal firefighter lives with these sorts of scenarios winding through his head much of the time, although he does not talk about them much.

    One way that manifests itself is his tendency for using money for fun now over saving for later, a tendency that I do not share.

    He usually wins, because fun is hard to pass up, and you just never know.

  4. dee, so glad to hear your friend's report came back negative.

    piglet, one of the problems with male persons is that they don't talk about those things much. It may explain his "life is uncertain, eat dessert first" approach.

    It's funny, while it was going on, I was completely calm. After it was all over, it was like my brain simply shut down for awhile; I wasn't horrified or frightened or repulsed, I just wasn't anything at all. I'm better now. The mental image of the body on the fender is a little fainter.