Intense situations are not very common. When they happen, I always learn about myself and change in some way. On November the 2nd 2019 I experienced one of those situations. I was the first responder to a car accident.
I was on the way to my sister's house to Skye from Diggers Rest. It was raining heavily on the freeway. All of a sudden, I was forced to brake hard. For some reason the traffic had slowed very suddenly. A few moments later I noticed the trail of carnage. It was clear that a car went off the freeway, busted through the barricade, flipped on its side and crashed into a tree. That’s the actual picture above. I wondered how long it had been there. I knew there were at least a few cars in front of me that simply kept rolling along, so I figured it had happened some time ago. I didn’t notice anyone pulled over though, so I quickly decided to pull over. It was raining, so I jogged over. I figured I’d just make sure the situation was under control, then I’d jog back to my car and get out of the rain. When I got to the crashed car there wasn't anyone around except for an elderly lady that had just walked over. At this point I was pretty shocked by a couple of things. Firstly, I was pretty confident that this had happened some time ago (based on seeing other cars roll past). I was very wrong about that. This had happened just moments earlier. Secondly, I realised that I was it. I was the help.
We quickly laid out our plan. The elderly lady would call for help on her phone and I’d see if I could physically help. I climbed on top of the car to look for an open door. The car was slippery because of the rain. I managed to open the passenger side door. That side was facing the sky. I opened the door and saw a barely conscious man inside. I did a reverse pull up to lower myself in the passenger seat and used my limbs to secure myself in a stable position. Gravity was not supposed to go that way in a car. The situation felt very intense. There were a lot of different things grabbing my attention. It didn’t feel obvious what I should do. The car’s speakers made a loud ‘phone ringing’ sound. There was smashed glass in the cabin. It smelt like petrol in, and around the car.
The semi-unconscious man became a little more conscious. He was groaning. He turned to me. I gently put my left hand on his right cheek. I used my right hand to tenderly hold his bloody right hand. We made eye contact. I felt an enormous amount of empathy for this man. I felt like a mother as I tried to comfort him. The way my hands gently held his hand, and his cheek, was very tender. I told him he was going to be okay and the ambulance was on their way. He gained more consciousness. I could see the fear and confusion in his eyes. He asked me who I was. I told him my name. I told him he was in a car accident and that help was on the way. I could tell there was no way he was capable of getting out of there. He was much bigger than me, so there was no hope of me hauling him out of the passenger side door. It was pretty difficult for me to get myself in and out. I was really unsure if I should be touching him because I knew that he would need very gentle care if his spine was damaged in any way. The man started to panic, and tried to get out. That worried me. I tried to calm him as he hopelessly tried to get out. This guy just didn’t have the right body to get out. He was significantly taller and heavier than me. He kind of gave up the struggle and looked like he went into a state of shock again. Then he seemed unconscious. His reactions would continue in that cycle.
Around this time the ringing in the car’s speakers turned into a voice. The car had somehow called triple zero by itself. I guess newer cars know when they have been in a crash and automatically call for help. There was someone from the emergency line talking to me through the car's speakers. I tried to tell her the situation, but quickly realised that I could hear her, but she could not hear me. I picked up the mobile phone in the car. It was unlocked and showed a contact called ‘Dad’. I tried to speak into the mobile phone but the emergency line still could not hear me. I put the phone in my pocket. The car would continually call triple zero, a person would pick up and that cycle continued. The people from the emergency line trying to talk to me through the car's speakers added a significant distraction to my attention. It made the whole situation feel more intense.
About 3-5 more people had turned up around the car, none of them were capable of entering the car to help me, but I was really glad that they were there. I had to open the passenger side door against gravity any time I needed to talk to people outside the car. One of the guys tied a rope from the door to the front of the car. This rope held the passenger side door open and made it easier for me to communicate with the people outside the car. It also just made the car feel less claustrophobic. I was a little worried about the fuel smell, so having that door opened gave me a little peace of mind because I knew I could bail really quickly if I had to.
I moved the passenger side seat forward and started booting the windshield because I knew it would be much easier to get the man out through the windshield. I was no longer in “mother” mode. I was calculated, just weighing things up, making decisions and acting on my decisions. I booted that thing as hard as I could and it didn’t budge. At this point it was clear to me that I was risking breaking my leg and permanently fucking up my knees. I asked if anyone had a hammer; no dice. I changed tactics, I rummaged around the car, looking for something to break the glass with. Nothing. I also tried to open other doors while I was there but they wouldn’t open. I became pretty cool, calm and calculated and thought about my options. Option 1: I could keep trying to boot the windshield out to help free the man. I thought about the probability of fire: low; the probability that I’d break my leg: significant, the probability that the fireman would turn up soon: high. I weighed it up in an emotionless way and decided to wait. I figured the fireman would arrive with the proper tools any moment now. I also knew that if I broke my leg, there would be 2 people trapped in the car.
I waited. The people outside the car agreed that the best thing to do was wait and try to keep the guy calm. He seemed to need someone to prevent him from panicking. If he kept panicking, he could hurt himself. I kept waiting inside the car and tried to calm the man with my words. After some time, it dawned on me that I was waiting for quite a while in there. I wondered how long it would take for the pros to arrive. Someone outside the car suggested that I try to kick out the windshield again. I second guessed my previous decision to wait. I was really expecting help by now, and if other people thought I should try and free him, maybe I had made a miscalculation in my decision. I quickly decided to go back to booting the windshield. I gave it everything I had. With every kick I imagined my leg going through the glass, but instead my feet kept coming to a sudden stop. I could feel the sudden pressure in my knee and hip joints as my feet slammed into the hardened glass. After about 10 kicks of maximum effort the windshield separated from the car’s frame. It was amazing. It felt epic. I pushed the glass out with my legs as the world opened up to the cabin. I looked outside and saw the paramedics walking toward the car. I was very relieved that they were on site. I crawled out through the windshield. They started talking to the man and told me to wait because they needed to get my details.
I pulled the phone out of my pocket and called the contact ‘Dad’. A woman answered the phone. I explained the situation, the woman was the brother of the man in the car. She told me his name was Stuart. She put her father on the phone. Stuart's father was very concerned. I saw the fireman tape the windshield that I had kicked out, and they removed Stuart through the windshield. Luckily at this point I could tell him that Stuart was conscious, out of the car and talking to the Medics. It was perfect timing really. If that conversation happened a couple of minutes before, the reality would have been that Stuart was unconscious and trapped in a car that was wrapped around a tree. I did my best to downplay how serious the situation had been to prevent needlessly worrying the family.
I gave Stuart's family my phone number and gave the medics Stuart’s phone. I took a picture of the car as I left. I drove to my sister's house. I was wet, shaking and had a few small cuts from the broken glass. There was a tiny bit of Stuart's blood on my clothes too. The adrenalin was still doing its thing, that’s why I was shaking and my eyes were wide. When I got to my sisters, I immediately had a hot shower. It felt good, but didn’t fully calm me.
Later Stuart's sister messaged me to let me know that he was okay. Later in the evening Stuart himself called me. He could not remember me or the crash. He just called me to say thanks, because his sister told him about me. I was totally amazed that he had no recollection of me.
I reflected on the situation and myself. I figured that Stuart might have gotten into that accident because he was using his phone while driving; his phone was unlocked and a contact was already selected when I picked it up. I felt like the universe had sent me a message. I told myself: no sleepy driving, no touching my phone, only focus on driving from now on. I analysed my feelings and actions. The powerful empathetic, mother-like feelings I had kind of surprised me. I was even more surprised by how quickly I switched from pure empathy, to becoming super calculated and pragmatic. I’m glad my feelings take a back seat when the shit hits the fan and I need to think and act. I’m also glad that I can feel connected to people, and show it.