Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bolt from the blue.

I had one of those events today which happened too quickly to actually comprehend, so I’m going to try to write this in slow motion and see if it makes any more sense.

I was driving Daughter to a birthday party because, you know, it’s a Saturday. In a hilly suburban neighborhood, I came to a four-way stop behind an SUV. The SUV, having fully stopped, rolled forward through the intersection, at which point a grown man flew into the car from the cross street. And I do mean flew; he was about five feet off the ground, in something resembling a diving position. His head hit the side of the car, but since the car was still in motion the car pulled forward and the man finished his dive by slamming into the ground, head-first.

Within seconds, I screamed, the SUV stopped, and a bicycle rolled in from whence the man had flown. The man was crumpled on the ground, completely still.

Still in the street, I threw the car into park, hit the hazards, grabbed my purse and started fishing madly for my cell phone, cursing again the design genius who decided my particular cell phone had to be black, thereby capable of hiding for minutes at a time at the bottom of my purse. I glanced at Daughter who, mercifully, had been reading and hadn’t realized anything had happened until I screamed.

I said to her in my tone which brooks absolutely no negotiation, “I will be right back. Keep reading, don’t worry about what’s going on over there and do not get out of this car

Mercifully, after a couple of minutes, the injured man started to move around, which decreased the odds that he was dead. Unfortunately, he was adamant that he needed to move around, and he was the poster child for someone who should just stop moving until someone took a look at his neck and skull. The man whose car he hit leaned over him, trying to get him to lie back down, and I alternated between trying to count head lacerations for the 911 operator and shouting “DUDE! JUST LIE THE F**K DOWN!”

Because, when it comes right down to it, I am a native of Southern California, and when under stress, my colorful native idiom comes roaring to the surface.

The operator assured me help was on the way, including the police, with whom I would have to fill out a police report, being as I was the only witness. By that point, several neighbors had come out with towels, ice and water. One neighbor had taken the bike out of the street and placed it in his yard; he later gave his phone number to the EMT guys, so the victim could come get it when he was out of the hospital. In short, everyone behaved in the way you would hope strangers would behave if a loved one of yours was bleeding in the street.

Knowing now that I had at least a few minutes of waiting ahead of me, I finally moved my car into a parking space. Daughter still had her book in her lap, but clearly had given in to the normal human impulse to peek. She said quietly, “I don’t think I want to see this”

I said calmly, “I don’t want you to see this either, baby. But I have to stay for a few minutes. Keep your eyes on your book and before you know it, we’ll be on our way”

By the time I had parked the car and made sure Daughter was comfortable, we could hear the sirens. I walked back to the victim, who had a towel being pressed against the worst of the cuts by the man from the SUV. I noticed the victim was holding a cell phone, turning it over in his hand like a large worry bead.

I said loudly and slowly, “Sir, do you want me to call someone for you?”

After a second, he shook his head.

I said, more loudly and slowly, “You’ve had an accident. You’re going to the hospital. Is there someone on your cell phone I can call, so they don’t worry? Is someone expecting you?”

He shook his head again, but I wasn’t certain if he wasn’t just moving his head to the beat of some music only he could hear right then.

All the while, I’m staring at the blood-covered hand holding the blood-covered cell phone, thinking “Please don’t make me touch that phone. God, please don’t make me touch that phone. This individual does not look very clean or completely mentally stable even without the blood pouring down his head; Hepatitis C is a very real problem in the indigent population, and the cure rate isn’t great. So, please don’t make me touch that cell phone”

I mention that part because I didn’t want you to think I was looking too heroic here.

Once the EMT crew landed, the SUV guy and I had a second to look at one another. He was in his early twenties, ashen from shock. His shirt was speckled with blood.

“Thank you for everything you did” he said, his voice querulous.

I know that voice; it’s the one you get after the emergency has passed, and the adrenalin starts making you feel as if your limbs were being electrocuted. I shook his proffered hand.

I took the same no-argument tone I had used for Daughter right after this first happened, “You did nothing wrong. This accident wasn’t your fault. I witnessed the whole thing, and you are not responsible”

Apparently, a good maternal tone works outside one’s own family. He looked both relieved and puzzled.

He said, “I just…”, and stopped. He looked over at where it had happened, at the blood pool in the street.

“I just didn’t see it coming.”

The fire captain told me I could leave. When I protested that the 911 operator had told me to wait for the police to fill out a report, he looked at me as if to say “Oh, you innocent, verging on moronic, woman” and suggested that unless I wanted to wait several hours for a police car to happen to drift by, I might want to just give my information to the SUV guy. So I did that and got back into the car.

Daughter asked eagerly, “Will that person be alright?”

As I drove off, I noticed the SUV driver was using the last of the bottle of water a neighbor had given him to wash away the blood in the intersection.

I said with a certainty I didn’t feel, “Of course, sweetie. He’s got doctors working on him already. He’ll have a headache, but he’ll be fine”

Daughter, still at the magical brief age where I am capable of greatness, declared “You saved his life!”

“No, the doctors will save his life. I called 911”

“But you called the doctors who will save his life, which means you saved his life!”

Readers, I have a great many flaws, quite a few of which I have illustrated in this blog, but I don’t take credit where it isn’t due.

“Honey, if I hadn’t called, someone else would have. The man whose car he hit and who took care of him would have called. The neighbors who came out with towels, water and ice would have called. I just happened to be the first one with the phone. Everyone had a job”

Daughter said, “My job was to stay out of the way in the car and not look. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, and that’s good”

I said fondly, “You’re absolutely right”

Because what Daughter took away from this-besides a garishly vivid demonstration of the need for bike helmets- was confirmation of something I’ve droned on about to her for years; the need to be of service. No one has to do everything (I’m working on that lesson myself), but everyone has to do their part.

Don’t get me wrong. For the sake of the victim, not to mention the kid in the SUV, I dearly wish this hadn’t happened. But, I take my lessons where I get them.

(Postscript: While writing this, I got a call from the police. The victim has, among other injuries, a skull fracture, but is expected to survive)


Blogger torontopearl said...

Unlike you, Quinn, there are often too many bystanders who sit by idly.

According to Judaism, you did a "mitzvah"-- you performed a good deed. Good for you!

5:52 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Dear Pearl,
I'm not sure I agree that this was a mitzvah. Everyone at that street corner did what needed doing, and everyone did their share. Isn't that just basic Humanity 101?

12:33 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Aha -- but, Quinn, sad to say that not everybody is enrolled in basic Humanity 101.

Some people are paralyzed by fear, others by apathy and others by the "It's okay...someone else looking after it" stance.

It's nice that some people do still care....and do something about it.

2:45 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

There is still hope for the world. =)

Thanks for sharing your story.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Thank God there are still people around who care about their fellow human beings. Your daughter will remember your actions in the future, and when she has an oppurtunity to act, she will.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous rebecca said...


You rock. Simple as that.

And thanks for the postscript. I was wondering.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I bet Daughter won't ever give you a hard time about wearing a bike helmet.


5:28 PM  
Blogger Tonya said...

If only everyone shared your viewpoint and was willing to help. Many people have died because no one would take the initiative to help.

I am so sorry you had to witness it! I am a vivid dreamer, so I would have not been able to sleep for the longest time and then would have been plagued by horrible dreams for weeks.

Oh, and I am SO glad you told that poor driver that it wasn't his fault. Even though he knew somewhere deep in his mind that he wasn't responsible, for you, a witness, to actually say it will help him so much.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Judy said...


Could you please move to MY neighborhood?

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Bangkok Expat Mama said...

Remember the Kitty Genovese case in New York? 30-something people heard or saw the "something bad" happening but everybody was too paralyzed by fear to do anything about it. And a young woman died thanks to their "I'm sure someone else nearby will do something" attitude...

...which you didn't take, Quinn. And thanks to events like this bike accident, your daughter won't take a Genovese case attitude either, once she's an adult. You're doing great. Kudos, woman!

9:11 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Expat Mama?
The Genovese case and I go way back...

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have very good values...I would
like to meet your parents and have
them explain how they did that, I am not having much success..

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Good God, what a terrifying story! And that man was damn lucky to have you around. I love that your daughter had the discipline and foresight to not stare at the gruesome scene (and I also credit you for part of that).

5:43 PM  

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