Being 2nd On The Scene Of A Fatal Accident (For The 2nd Time)
Last week, Libby and I were second on the scene of a fatal car accident.
This is the fifth time in 2.5 years I’ve been 1st or 2nd on the scene of an accident or emergency.
The first was a motorcycle that flipped in front of me on the interstate.
Then a guy’s appendix burst while we were having lunch.
Then someone had a seizure at breakfast.
And most chillingly, in Thailand I came across a scooter accident where I watched someone take their last breaths of life.
I’ll spare you the details, but the accident was so intense, I passed out moments after I left the scene because I was in shock.
In each situation, 4 times in a row, I had the experience of standing around an emergency like an idiot, having no clue what to do or how to help.
I stood around waiting for the ‘authorities’ to arrive while I just watched. Waiting. Having nothing better to do than just wait.
There are few moments in my life where I’ve felt so helpless. And it’s an awful experience.
After the scooter accident, I promised myself I’d take a course to learn the basics of medical care.
In April, my buddy Steve Wright invited me to go to a Dark Angel Medical Training with him. This course is designed to teach you how to respond to traumatic medical situations, covering 90% of what to do in the first 60 minutes of a medical emergency.
It takes what most 1st responders learn in a couple months of training and crams the most important lessons into 2 days, covering the majority of the basics you need to know.
After last night, I’m so grateful I took that course…
We were driving in the RV around 9 PM and saw a big fire on the right hand side of the road. “That’s a strange place for a bon fire” I thought when I saw it a few miles away. Then we came up to it and realized it wasn’t a bon fire…
A car and truck were in the ditch. The truck was on fire. The car was flipped upside down. There was only one other car pulled over on the side of the road and no ambulance or police yet.
We pulled the RV over. I told Libby to call 911 then grabbed my medical kit, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher and ran outside.
I found another man on the side of the road with a flash light calling out to the car. He told me he watched the wreck happen. The car was towing the truck and a tire blew out.
The driver must have been moving to a new home because the ditch was littered with household items. A washer and dryer. TV. DVDs and photo albums.
It was like something you’d see on a hollywood set. But this wasn’t a movie. It was real.
I ran down into the ditch. The truck and car were about 20 yards apart. The front of the truck was on fire. Because of the dry hay fields of Nebraska, that fire was quickly spreading towards the car.
We knew the truck didn’t have anyone in it. But the car did. Except the car was upside down and flattened. We couldn’t see in or move anything or anyone out.
If the fire got to the car, there’d be no chance people in the car would live.
I watched the fire leap a foot closer towards the car in a matter of seconds. And for the first time, I felt afraid of the overwhelming power of fire…
Step One Of Any Medical Emergency – Check The Scene For Safety
As this was happening, my mind flashed to a movie they showed us during the training. The movie was the dash cam of a police officer who ran into a smokey car accident to help.
We watched him collapse 20 seconds later because he didn’t realize the ‘smoke’ in the accident was actually anhydrous ammonia being released into the air from a tank that exploded. He died immediately.
Step One -> Check The Scene For Safety.
I thought of that as I watched the truck burn.
It’s a terrifying feeling… watching a truck burn 15 yards from you… wondering if it’d catch a gas line and ignite… and being forced to choose what action to take…
Wondering, “if the truck explodes, how close can I actually be without getting hurt?” And debating if I should go after the fire near the truck. Or just keep the fire from spreading to the car.
I was afraid of the truck, but rationality told me the fire would engulf the car in a matter of minutes. So I focused my energy on stopping the fire from spreading to the car, while calling out to see if anyone could respond.
When the fire had stopped spreading, I went back to the upside down car and shined my flashlight inside.
Then… I saw his arm. And I froze.
He was wearing a Nokia watch, but nothing on his arm moved. It was lifeless. Still. Limp.
I stayed there. Frozen. I didn’t want to go forward. Or backward. I didn’t want to look farther into the car. I was too afraid to see what I’d find.
As I was standing there, that’s when two police cars showed up.
The officers came running down and checked the pulse on the man’s arm while I stood there wondering, “Where was this guy going? Was anyone else in the car? What was he thinking moments before he died? Was he happy with his life?”
All of those questions were flying through my head when one officer told the other, “No pulse.”
I snapped out of my daze and we tried to pry the doors of the car open. We searched the ditch for other bodies. We helped the man who watched the accident calm down as an ambulance and more help arrived.
At this point, there was nothing we could do. The man had already died. There were no other people traveling with him. It was 100% out of our control to impact anything.
And yet, I was sooooo grateful for the training. Because for the first time, I didn’t feel helpless in an emergency.
In any emergency there is a thin line between what you can do and what you can’t do to help.
In the past four scenarios, I had no idea what I could do. So I just stood there. I had no knowledge. No capacity to act. And I’ve felt immense guilt for that.
This time, I did what I could. And that is what’s so relieving. Knowing that I had the power to act instead of standing around feeling helpless. THAT is what I’m so grateful for.
Are You An Asset Or A Liability?
During the course the instructor asked us one question that stuck with me. He said, “In an emergency situation, you have to ask yourself, do you want to be an asset to society… or a liability?”
I don’t feel like a liability anymore. I don’t have to “just wait” for help to arrive. And that feeling is so incredibly freeing.
So this is a little PSA to highly, *HIGHLY* recommend taking the Dark Angel Medical Training.
I think this should be required learning for being human.
It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to use it, but the moment you need it, it’ll be too late.
And lastly… this is just another reminder of how fragile life is.
Being around Death is a strange, eery feeling.
It’s sobering to connect to the fact: Death can come at any moment.
This man was driving down the interstate.
Maybe he was rocking out to Pearl Jam. Or texting his love. Maybe his heart was broken. Or maybe he finally made the decision to move and get a fresh start to life.
The only thing we know is that our time here is limited.
We don’t know when it ends…. But it will end.
And when it ends, there’s no second chances to live more fully.
So we might as well start now.