It’s not the kind of thing I expect to see on my way to work. Traffic slows a bit and I am more irritated than curious. But today was different.
First I saw the car stopped in the middle of the oncoming lane, then I saw the two people moving off to the side of the road, one supporting the other who was limping badly. Then I saw the bicycles lying in the grass. I slapped on my hazard lights and pulled off the road just past the bicycles, and ran over to the two people who looked to be in their early twenties. The short-haired brown man was supporting the shaky white woman who was bleeding heavily around her right eye. There was blood on one leg and on her hands, and she had some ugly deep patches of road rash where she had dragged on the concrete.
The driver of the other stopped car was an older man, maybe mid-sixties. My first assumption was that he had hit the cyclist (but I was wrong; she had fallen on her own). I ignored him and tried to figure out what I could do to help the injured woman. (Wishing I had useful skills here!) She turned down my offer of a blanket and turned down my offer to call an ambulance on the grounds that she couldn’t afford it. But when I offered a ride to the hospital, she accepted. So I ran back to my car to fold back all the dog blankets and raise the back seats, but by the time I got back, the other cyclist was talking on the phone to a friend of theirs who was nearby and could come and pick them up. I asked if she had health insurance (yes) and encouraged her to go to the hospital anyway to get her injuries checked out and assess for a concussion. She said she’d been wearing a helmet, but she was kind of vague and unfocussed. The person with her nodded at me in a way that said yeah, I’ve got that covered. I offered to drop her bike off somewhere but the friend said it would fit in the car that was coming.
She kept feeling her right arm, and looking very concerned. Her friend asked if it was okay, and she said “yes” rather doubtfully, then looked at me and explained that the last time she fell off her bike she had broken her arm. Other people kept stopping to offer assistance, and traffic crawled around the stopped car on the other side of the road. One woman came over and frantically started telling the injured person that she had to call an ambulance and the police immediately! The cyclist, still quiet and shaking, had to repeat for the fifth or sixth time that she couldn’t afford an ambulance. The frantic woman kept insisting about the ambulance and the police, and launched into a story about when her son got hit by a car and how important it was to involve the police and I snapped “nobody cares about your son right now!” And the cyclist repeated for about the tenth time that she hadn’t been hit by a car.
She asked me my name and I told her and she thanked me for being so nice. But it didn’t feel like “being nice”; it felt like this was a normal thing to do. I think the other people who came over felt the same way. The accident-watchers were the ones who slowed down and then drove away after getting a good look at the blood. But the dozen people who actually stopped and got out of their cars, I don’t think any of us were doing it to be nice. We were doing it because that’s what you do when someone might need help. Or because we are cyclists ourselves or know and love people who are on the road day in and day out on their bikes (my brother, my friend L., and my friend D. who was hit by a truck while cycling and broke her back in three places and is now cycling again).
The blood kept running into her eye and it occurred to me that she might appreciate some kleenex. I ran back to the car and got the box of tissues and an unused bottle of water. Wasn’t sure if I should give her the water because aren’t you supposed to avoid giving food or water to people who might be in shock?
But as I shut the car door again I saw a woman in scrubs emerging from a car that had pulled over in front of mine. A medical person! She was walking purposefully toward the injured woman and she had an expression on her face that reassured me. It was a weird combination of confidence and determination, mixed with something that was not pleasure, exactly, but maybe gladness? Not that she seemed happy that someone was hurt, that’s not what I mean, but it seemed like she felt she was in exactly the right place at the right time.
So I fell in behind her and when she squatted next to the bleeding cyclist, I put down the box of tissues. “I’m a nurse,” she said to the cyclist as she grabbed a few tissues without even looking at me. “Tell me what happened.” She started dabbing at the blood. I held out the water and the nurse reached for it. She took it and acknowledged me with a nod but never took her eyes from the cyclist.
It was obvious my presence was no longer needed so I went back to the car and started to drive off. Two sheriffs were just exiting their vehicle so I pulled alongside them to let them know very briefly what was going on: She wasn’t hit; she fell. Injured but conscious. There’s a nurse with her. Refused an ambulance. A friend is coming to take her to the hospital.
As I pulled back into traffic, the adrenaline hit me so I went to Tim Horton’s for coffee to steady myself. I hope she’ll get cleared at the hospital and that she only has those scrapes and bruises and cuts, with nothing more serious.
I hope her bike is okay so she doesn’t have to get it fixed since it sounds like she’s really broke.
I wish I had been kinder to the woman talking about her son. She was so upset that maybe she was reliving the terror she felt when that happened to her child.
I wish I had spoken to the older man who was the first to stop and offer aid, instead of assuming he had hit her with his vehicle.
On this chilly morning, I wish I had given her a blanket. Even just to sit on, to get her off the damp grass.
I wish I had asked her name.