So I’m home with most of a bottle of Bonny Doon Mourvedre in me.
It’s been a day that I’ll be digesting for a while.
I had meetings up in LA, so rode my motorcycle up for a morning meeting and a lunch. Meetings were great, and I was heading home from Beverly Hills after lunch, riding west on Olympic Blvd. when traffic stopped just past Century City.
I filtered through traffic to the front, where there was a pretty horrific two-vehicle accident. One was an Escalade or other big GM SUV with a smashed front end. The other was a Nissan Altima smashed on the passenger door.
There was no one in the SUV, but several people standing around the Altima; I rode up and asked if everyone was OK. A bystander said “No.”
So I parked, pulled off my gloves and helmet and went to the driver’s door where a woman was crying but seemed OK. Her passenger was sitting still.
I went around to the passenger window, and cut away the side airbag. The passenger was still in his seat, his head to the side in a way that made me pause. I grabbed the back of his head and chin to hold his head steady, and he gasped twice, then was silent. The driver was tugging on his shoulder, calling his name and I pushed her away and told her to sit back and be still.
I held his head with my left hand and felt for a pulse in his throat with my right and got nothing. Wrist, nothing. hand on his chest, nothing.
I took a breath and told myself I was just anxious and tried again. Nothing. hand on his chest, no rise or fall. Eyes half open and rolled back, a line of spittle from the corner of his mouth. I checked my watch, opened my pocket and took out the gloves and CPR shield and opened them and put them on the car roof.
The smashed door wouldn’t open, and I couldn’t get myself far enough into the window to reach him. My motorcycle suit shielded me from the broken glass in the door, but I couldn’t get to him.
I turned to a bystander and asked if they would come hold him while I went in the driver’s door. They came over to help and as we were trying to position ourselves to make the transition, the firetruck pulled up.
I love first responders, but it sure seemed to me that they were taking a long time to get out of the truck, pulling on jackets and picking up gear. I started screaming. “No pulse! No respiration! No pulse! Hustle!” and one fireman heard me and jogged to the car. He opened the driver’s door quickly checked the driver, pulled her from the car, and moved into the driver’s area.
He checked for a pulse and suddenly got much more focused. He turned and yelled for a c-collar, then when no one responded immediately, yelled louder. Someone came over and handed him one and we velcroed it around the passenger’s still neck. I helped lower him as the firemen took him and pulled him out to lay him on the ground.
I had nothing to do to help him, so I walked around the car to the driver, who standing crying while watching them get a respirator bag and defibrillator equipment ready. I pulled her away and sat her down, facing away from the car and the scene on the sidewalk.
“What’s your name, miss?”
She told me.
“What’s your friend’s name?”
She told me. Her boyfriend. He hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt.
I did a 30-second assessment, and other than an airbag burn on her forehead, mild pain in her stomach, and tears she seemed OK. I checked her nails and they pinked up, so if she had internal bleeding, I was guessing it wasn’t urgent enough to interrupt the work on the sidewalk.
We sat and I asked if she needed to call anyone. She gave me her father’s cell number, and I called him, told him his daughter had been in an accident, was upset, but seemed OK. I gave her the phone and she melted down into a torrent of Spanish too fast and too teary for me to follow. She handed me back the phone and said her dad would be right there.
I looked up and saw one fireman doing chest compressions while the others stood by.
Finally, another ambulance showed up and two new EMT came over to help her. I told then what I knew and stepped back. They turned her to get better access to her back and – dammit – faced her back toward her boyfriend, his clothes spread open while another fireman gave him chest compressions and one worked the bag.
I knelt between them, facing her, watching her cry as she talked to the kindly firefighter who was asking her about her pain.
A police officer came up and took her wallet, pulling out her ID and starting to write on his clipboard. He looked at me and I told him I’d stay there, blocking her view, until they lifted him or her onto a gurney. He patted my shoulder and said it was a good idea.
Suddenly I had nothing to do, and all I could do was replay the first moments in my mind. I kept seeing his half-open eyes and hearing his gasps. I kept playing it over and over, trying to think of what I could have done differently. I could have moved the driver and started CPR sooner. I could have put someone in the back seat to hold his head, pulled myself halfway through the window and given him CPR as he sat. A million implausible possibilities.
I held her hand.
And then her dad was there, pushing through the police and firefighters to his daughter’s side, and they were moving her onto a backboard and tying her down with strips of gauze.
As I stepped away, they were still doing chest compressions, but the lack of intensity in the crowd of yellow turnout coats standing around the prone figure told me the news wasn’t good.
I walked back to the car and took my stuff off the roof. The unused CPR shield and nitrile gloves. My helmet and motorcycle gloves. I’d thrown my earplugs onto the ground, and left them there.
My gear went onto my bike, and I walked over to the police officer who was writing on his clipboard. “Do you need me for anything? I didn’t see the accident, just tried to gave aid.” “No,” he said. “Thank you for helping.”
‘Tried to give aid’ sounded exactly right. I didn’t feel like I’d done much, or done the right thing. I kept cycling through possibilities. There must have been something else to do. I tried this, I tried that, all in my imagination.
Put my helmet on and started my bike and rode away; the loud Ducati exhaust sounding somehow offensive as it echoed off the parked ambulances and fire trucks.
I kept thinking about the razor’s edge of now; one moment they were in their car talking and laughing together, and then suddenly on the other side of the now they were apart forever.
I was two blocks away when I started crying inside my helmet. My fingers on the brake lever remembered the touch of his still, warm, skin. while the sound of the bike drowned out the sounds of his last breath. I stopped at the closest Starbucks and called for help.