How Do You Handle an Emergency?

This morning while waiting for a bus in front of my building, I heard a huge thud from the street. I turned around to see a car stopped in the centre lane and a girl on her hands and knees in the curb lane. Immediately the driver began screaming, even before he got out of the car. He made no effort to help her up, he just stood there in hysterics, screaming and crying.

The young woman made no noise at all as she tried to get enough breath to contemplate getting up. Another bystander and I rushed to help her. We checked to see if she was able to stand, directed the driver to move his car to the curb, and held her steady as she got to her feet. Through it all she was stoic, resistant even, wanting only to be on her way to her original destination. We tried to convince her to let us call an ambulance, to at least let the paramedics check her out. We urged her to stay and give a statement to police. She would have none of it, only promising to visit a doctor so that I’d leave her alone, and the other bystander walked her across the street and into my building where she was headed.

Meanwhile the driver continued to flip out. Through the conversation with the girl, I was also trying to calm the driver down. He stood there, screeching, “I’m sorry! Oh my God!” over and over again. It took me asking two or three times to find out if he had a cell phone. Four times I told him to call 911 while he fiddled with the phone, putting it back in his pocket and then pulling it out again. He never did place the call (no one else at the scene had a cell phone on them), and as the girl left the scene, he stood there wondering what to do.

People’s reaction to shock varies widely. Some people go silent, their response to flee the strongest thought in their head; “just get away…” Others, like the driver, go into hysterics. These are the people you don’t want to be in an emergency with. They’re useless in terms of getting anything done and they often needed to be yelled at, or even slapped, to get them to think clearly.

I’m in the third group – the hyper-aware, remember your training, cover all your bases kind of person.

A few years back when I fell in the front driveway of our house and broke both my arm and my nose, I stood in front of the house barking directions at Greg. First, call 911, I can’t possibly get in a cab with this much blood gushing from my nose. Then, get me a towel. Next, call and cancel your plans. Finally, take the dogs out for a pee before the ambulance comes, because we might be gone for hours, and on your way out grab my other pair of eyeglasses (the ones I was wearing were smashed), and my purse, and make sure my health card is in my wallet.

Then, like today, my mind was clear and eerily calm. Everything was measured and purposeful. My brain ticked through a list of what to do and what not to do.

My first words to the girl as she knelt in the street were, “Are you able to move and get up or do you want us to help you lie down?” Don’t move an injured body. To the driver – “Get your phone, call 911.” Always report an automobile accident, even if there is no injury or damage. To the girl again, “You have to get checked out, you may have internal injuries.” Something just kicks in, and logic takes over.

I’m glad that I’m the type of person who deals with emergencies through logic. Getting up and walking way after having been hit by a car is utterly stupid, even if you are in shock. And standing in the street having a crying jag doesn’t help anything, especially if you’re not the one who is hurt. Everyone deals with shock differently, but only one way of doing things makes the situation any better.