“Where does it hurt?” I ask the young woman lying in the street.
“My leg,” she groans.
“My side,” the girl says, wincing. She’s having trouble talking.
“Can you breathe?” I ask.
“Not much,” she gasps. “It hurts when…..”
“Lie still,” I say, trying to sound comforting. “The ambulance will be here soon.”
I look up. A pale young woman is standing next me. Jeeped up on adrenaline, her right leg is involuntarily twitching up and down.
“Were you in the car too?” I ask.
“I was d..d…..driving,” she replies, stuttering from fear. “That car….. it came from nowhere.”
I look over at the wreck. Two midsize cars collided head on. I came upon the scene ten seconds after it happened. The driver of the other car, yet another young woman, is sitting on the opposite curb – screaming unintelligibly into her cell phone. A female bystander is trying to comfort her.
“Are you alright?” I ask the injured girl’s driver.
“I’m fine,” she says.
The driver looks uninjured but looks can be deceiving. I’m not an EMT, but I’ve seen people walk into emergency rooms claming they were fine and die ten minutes later from internal bleeding. I decide not to mention that little fact.
“Do you remember if you hit your head?” I ask instead.
“I don’t remember,” the driver says. “All I remember is the air bag.”
Suddenly a car horn blares. A driver in an SUV is trying to drive past the wreck. It’s rush hour. He’s got to get where he’s going and he doesn’t care if there’s an injured person lying in the street. In fact, there’s a bunch of cars lined up behind him waiting to do the same thing.
“Hey buddy!” a man shouts, jumping off the sidewalk and into the street. “There’s an accident here! You’ve got to turn around.”
The driver of the SUV honks his horn furiously and tries pushing forward. The bystander stands in front of the truck and holds his ground.
“You’re gonna get a flat tire!” the bystander yells. “There’s glass everywhere!”
The driver of the SUV leans on his horn but the bystander shakes his head. Realizing that he’s not going anywhere, the driver of the SUV cuts his engine and starts gabbing angrily into a cell phone. Another bystander, a tough looking old man, has taken up position on the opposite side of the wreck, directing traffic away from the accident.
“Hey buddy,” the old man shouts to me, pointing at the pile of twisted metal in the street. “Do you think those cars should be running?”
“No,” I reply. “I’ll turn them off.”
Stepping over the rivulets of gasoline and coolant following the downward slope of the pavement, I climb into the first car. The interior’s filled with vapor from the air bag’s propellant. I get some in my lungs and start coughing. My eyes tear up. My right hand fumbles under the steering wheel looking for the keys. The force of the impact has rearranged the car’s interior so the keys aren’t where I expect them to be. The car’s radio is defiantly blaring a Top 40 song. Trying not to breathe, I finally locate the ignition key and switch off the engine. The radio’s still blaring. The acrid smell in the car is so overpowering I decide against figuring out how to turn it off and get out of the car. After sucking in a few lungfuls of air, I hold my breath, climb into the second wrecked car, and kill its engine.
As I walk back toward the injured girl lying in the street I can hear the first police sirens wailing in the distance. The shock of the accident has worn off and the young woman’s really starting to feel the pain. She’s also starting to hyperventilate. An SUV with flashing lights pulls up. A thin police detective with an iron grey crew cut steps out. He’s holding a walkie talkie in his right hand. I walk up to him.
“Officer,” I say, pointing to the girl lying in the street. “That woman could have internal injuries. She’s having trouble breathing and she might be going into shock.”
The officer issues rapid fire instructions to the dispatcher over his walkie talkie. I can’t understand all the police jargon, but it sounds like he asking for paramedics, ambulances, and two tow trucks.
“Thank you for your help, sir,” the detective says. “Reinforcements are on the way.”
Within minutes the street is crawling with firemen and medics. Two policemen relieve the civilians of their traffic duties and detour the accumulating cars away from the accident scene. Two medics are busy stabilizing the girl lying on the pavement. It’s obvious she’s the medical priority. Another medic says something to a cop about broken ribs. Maybe the girl’s lungs are punctured. The other driver’s boyfriend has arrived on scene and is cradling her in his arms. A medic is gently trying to separate them so he can examine her. There’s nothing left for me to do. The professional rescuers are here. I’m just getting in the way. I get in my car and drive off.
As I head toward my destination, I think back to an accident I had several years ago. Not wearing a seatbelt, I cracked my head on the windshield and almost passed out. Stumbling out of my car and blinded by the blood dripping from my head, I tripped and fell into the street. A couple of bystanders propped me up against my car, gave me some water, and did their best to control the bleeding until the ambulance arrived. Someone held my hand. I remember my right leg twitching from the adrenalin and fear coursing through my system. In the end I got away with a mild concussion and several stitches.
But I’ll always remember how those strangers stopped and helped me – how good it was not to lie in the street alone and afraid. It was a reminder that, in times of trouble, you don’t always have to wait for the professionals to make a difference. In the end, when you think about it, we are the reinforcements.
We can all be Batman.
OMG, OMG, why why all the Batman, this is too much — you are an amazing Waiter and now all this Batman love! Love for Batman, YES! Dare I say it: I love you Waiter!
isn’t driving without a seatbelt a crime in the USA? it is in Australia, and joy of joys the driver gets fined if one of their passengers aint wearing a seatbelt….its cut the road death toll dramatically…im sure you’re a great reinforcement waiter
Seatbelt laws are state-to-state, for the most part. Almost all, if not all, states require seatbelt usage for front-seat passengers. I know states are hit-and-miss when it comes to backseat passengers, as my home state doesn’t require seatbelts for adult passengers in the back.
Enforcement also can vary by state. In places, it can be a secondary offense, where there must be another reason to make a traffic stop before issuing the citation, and in others, that can be the sole reason for making a stop.
As far as my thoughts on the laws, I generally disagree on compulsory usage of the seatbelt for adults. Clearly they do make a difference in an accident, but to be mandated by a ‘nanny state’ government is going too far. In my vision of an ideal situation, seatbelt usage laws that do NOT involve children should be rescinded, while an aggressive and explicit campaign showing what happens to people when they DON’T buckle up would be launched at the same time. This leaves people free to make their own choices, while giving real examples of how that choice can (or will) affect their own lives.
I’ve been trying to tell my atheist/agnostic friends for years…fine, you don’t want to believe in anything or anyone else out there, that’s perfectly alright. All that means is that we’re all we’ve got–we’re all in this together. It’s nice to see someone else who understands. It’s sad how many people don’t know the Golden Rule! Keep at it, Waiter, and congrats on the book!
bec, even though most states have laws (due to the threat of losing federal highway funding if they don’t) many people still refuse to wear them. The most ridiculous argument I hear most often is that “I would rather be thrown clear of the accident” – as if that will miraculously save them even though they will eventually impact something, usually a tree, at 60 miles per hour. I remember one story about a very minor accident where the driver was “thrown clear” and over a guard-rail and then a cliff.
I had a similar accident to Waiter’s where I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and where my head hit the windshield. At the point of impact, all I remember was the sensation of moving forward in slow motion. The next thing I remember was falling back into my seat. When I looked up, the winshield was bloodied and cracked in many places and strands of my hair were in it from the glass first pushng out and then closing around my hair as I fell back.
I have never gotten into a car without wearing a seatbelt ever since that day 22 years ago. For most people, a lesser accident forces them to come to their senses.
The problem with being allowed not to wear seatbelts is that it’s a choice that often impacts other people. For instance, if the other car made a mistake, it can be the difference between a fine and a second degree murder charge. Also, depending on the medical insurance you have, the extra health care results in high premiums or high taxes for others. More severe accidents also result in more traffic jams. Then we’re not even talking about the people who lose their loved ones.
So, while I’m generally in favor of letting people make mistakes, some mistakes just are too anti-social.
I agree that people should be able to make their own decisions, but the problem is people who don’t wear their seatbelts can kill others in the car who were wearing them. No one has the right to decide who lives and who dies, that’s why wearing a seatbelt is a law in most places. I don’t deserve to die because some dummy wants to play with fate.
we can all be batman? wtf? i was riding my bicycle in the bike lane at night with tail-light, head-light and reflective jersey on when i got hit by a mini-van that pulled away from the curb as i rode by. the van did not stop, it knocked me off my bike in the middle of the street, i got a black-eye from the impact of my face hitting the ground and a torn meniscus in
my right knee from the impact. did anyone stop? no…i jumped up and hobbled to the curb before i got run over. when i had a chance, i dragged my bike to the curb where it lay in a crumpled mess, and i laid on the side-walk next to it until i could call 911 on my cell-phone. no strangers stopped to help me, the cars just kept driving by. the fuckers. milk of human kindness? more like the piss of human indifference. that’s my faith in people. fuck them before they fuck you.
awesome piece. been a while since you came up with a top notch one again.
shame on ANYONE for not wearing a seatbelt!!! it is the law for a reason.
I know I’m replying 5 years later but your post was completely selfish and missing the point of Waiters story. I’m very sorry for your accident and the injuries you sustained and that no one stopped to help you but most of the time human kindness towards their fellow humans plays a factor and there are good Samaritans! That’s what he’s trying to point out here. Just because you had one bad experience doesn’t mean that that’s everyone’s experience. It just means that anyone that might experience an accident like you did should wish for someone better than you to be nearby. Sorry to be cynical but you can’t judge all mankind’s character on one bad situation.
I think it’s amazing that you are a stand-up guy that would stop and help out until the proper authorities arrive. In all but one accident I’ve been in I’ve had witnesses stop to check on my physical welfare and if I had a way to get in touch with family/loved ones/etc. It’s always warmed my heart to know that there is still basic human decency and kindness in the world and this story just reinforces that belief. Thank you!