It’s been a tough few weeks. In the middle of November, a student at my school was struck and killed by a car. He was 4. There are no words to express the tragedy of the loss of a four-year old child.
Last Thursday, as I was driving to go Christmas shopping, I suddenly became part of another tragedy. As before, not my own, but somehow part of my lived experience.
As I approached an overpass, I noticed a tow truck parked at an odd angle on an adjacent on-ramp and a man, the driver, waving frantically at people. I slowed, as did all the cars around me, and as I looked over a grassy median, I saw that, beside the truck, was a man, lying in the road. It took my brain a moment to process what I was seeing. A man. In the road. A highway.
He was alone. No one was with him.
Because the tow truck was stopping traffic from the on ramp, I was able to get over to the side of the road safely.
I didn’t make that decision. It just happened. I didn’t decide to open my trunk and scan for my first aid kit. I didn’t compute that it wasn’t in the car. I just saw a tarp, a large garbage bag really, and I grabbed it. I felt for my cell phone. And I ran.
The man wasn’t alone anymore. Another woman was standing beside him, talking on her phone. I placed the tarp over the man’s body, keeping his head free. I could hear his very laboured breathing. The woman knelt down next to me after taking off her coat. She seemed to be considering putting it under his head. I said, Don’t move his head.
She kept her phone to her ear the whole time. I heard her say, yes, he’s breathing. No, he’s not responsive. He’s got an obvious broken leg. I said, severe head trauma. Yes, she said, head trauma.
Then the sirens began. There were so many sirens, but I could still hear the man’s struggled breathing. We talked to him. We talked to each other. We talked about how we didn’t understand how no one else had stopped.
I rubbed his back as gently as I could, but hopefully he knew he wasn’t alone.
Another man came up and said, I saw it. I saw what happened. He jumped.
A police officer arrived. He took control of the situation, told us what to do. Keep doing what you are doing. He helped hold down the tarp – the wind was fighting us.
More and more and more officers arrived. The highway was blocked off, trying to allow emergency vehicles to arrive.
One car driver maneuvered through and got past all the barriers. Multiple officers yelled at him. Suddenly 4 police cars came the wrong way down the highway. The ambulance was there.
The paramedics had helmets on. I kept wondering why do they have helmets on.
We backed away as soon as the paramedics were with him. We stood back. The witness came to us. Did you see what happened? Why did he do that? How could he do that? He was shaking. He had trouble standing.
The other woman talked to the police and shared that she did not witness the cause of the man’s injuries. She had to leave, she had to get to work.
The officer ask me if I had seen anything, if I knew if a car ran him over after he jumped. I had not seen the event. I was free to go.
The witness asked me to stay with him. I took his arm. He took mine. We exchanged names. I told him he would be okay. I knew, even as I said it, it would be a long time before he would be okay.
Another young man came up. I don’t know where he came from. He said, why didn’t more people stop. He said, I stop even if I see an animal injured in the street.
The police came and took the witness to a car. I told the first officer on the scene I was very worried about the witness. The officer assured me that they would take good care of him. He said thank you.
I walked past the injured man. He was on a stretcher. The tow truck driver was helping the paramedics, getting blankets from their bag. He looked shaken up as well. I walked back to my car. I saw a group of truck drivers and vans pulled over. I didn’t know why they were there, except I remembered the witness saying he was driving his truck.
I have no idea what happened to the injured man. Shortly after the incident, it was announced that Nelson Mandela had died. The news was taken up with stories of the life of a man who everyone knew.
When I was talking it through with a friend, I wondered what compelled me to stop. I didn’t make the decision. It just happened.
I cannot imagine the despair that would drive one to take their life.
I don’t know how to bring comfort to someone who is so devastated by what they have seen.
I’ve been trying to find the words.