About ten days ago, on my way home from work, I came upon an accident moments after it happened. I saw the cars braking and pulling over, and pedestrians and cyclists moving toward the intersection of road / train tracks / path where someone was lying on the ground. I pulled over as well and rushed over—not because I have any particular useful skills for accident scenes, but because I wanted to make sure someone was actually calling 911. The worst is when everyone’s standing around assuming someone else is doing it, or wondering if they should do it, or debating who should do it, and the call doesn’t get made. So I put on my Bossy Pants (let’s get real here, I live in a Bossy Body, there’s no taking that off), grabbed my cell phone (with a quick moment of amazement for how truly useful this technology is, and wonder that I resisted it for so long), and headed toward the growing knot of people.
It took me about thirty seconds to confirm that there was indeed a competent, non-panicking person on the phone with 911, describing the accident and its location, so I turned to see what was going on with the victim. While I have no first aid skills, I do always have blankets in the car (albeit covered in dog hair), and a good head in a crisis. What I saw confirmed my pessimistic view of people’s common sense. The cyclist, a young woman, was lying by herself between the two rails of the train tracks. Two standing people were talking to her but backing away (even as she said “Yeah, I should probably go to the hospital”), and one older man, who turned out to be her father, was trying to communicate that he couldn’t hear and so people had to talk to his daughter.
With one regretful glance at my gorgeous long, flowing pale yellow silk skirt, and a quick scan of the ground next to the victim for blood, I went over and squatted down next to her. She looked up at me, not moving her head. She was still wearing her helmet. “Hi,” I said. “My name is Nissetje.”
She raised an arm to shield her eyes from the sun. “Are you a medical person?”
“No, but I’m going to stay with you until the ambulance comes.” I wondered if I should touch her to be reassuring, but some people (like me) hate being touched by strangers, and also what if she was in pain?
“Oh, I don’t think I need an ambulance,” she protested. It was the phrase and tone of someone who didn’t want to cause any work or trouble for anyone.
“It’s already been called. And besides, it’s exciting for the rest of us!” It was a dumb thing to say, but I was trying to keep it light, while noticing that her shirt had pulled up a bit over her belly, which seemed kind of oddly puffy. I was wondering if she had internal bleeding, like the cyclist I saw in an accident a few years ago. “Are you cold? Do you want a blanket? Is there someone I can call for you?”
She didn’t want a blanket, and she preferred not to call anyone, so I tried to move on to the next business, which was to see if I could get her off the tracks, or get someone to notify the city to stop whatever trains might be on the way. So I asked her if it would be okay with her if I moved her bicycle off the tracks.
“Okay. Is it on the tracks? Okay.” And as I stood up to move her bike, she looked sideways and exclaimed “I’m on the tracks!” and started to pull herself up to a sitting position. I didn’t want to move her at all, but I figured if she was moving herself, what the heck. I mean, better more internal bleeding than getting hit by a train, right? She hauled herself out of the way of any potential train (barely). When I moved toward her bike, the bystanders suddenly felt like there was something they could do, so her bike, her bag, and everything that had fallen off or out of them got moved to the side as well.
This all happened pretty quickly, and then we could hear a siren approaching. I was squatting back down beside her (sore ankles aching and knees popping, but still with some effort to preserve my lovely skirt). A firetruck pulled up and I started to stand up again, telling her: “The paramedics are here now; they’ll take good care of you.” She looked up at me silently for a moment and then said: “I like your hair.”
It took me about five minutes to get to my car, because although most of the bystanders had dispersed by then, the ones who were left were mostly cyclists, and everyone wanted to talk and debrief. One cyclist was incensed about how badly drivers treat cyclists, and when I pointed out that in this particular case, the cyclist was repeatedly telling everyone that it wasn’t the driver’s fault, as she had cut him off, this person glared at me and rode off.
As I drove away, an ambulance was racing toward the scene.
My brother cycles everywhere. I have friends who do a lot of cycling. Personally, I am terrified of cycling in traffic, so I don’t get on my bike much. But I am always mindful of what my dad told me back when I was learning how to drive. He cautioned me to give motorcycles a lot of following distance, and I said “Because they’re tippy, right?” and he said no, “Because if you hit a car, you’re hitting a machine, but if you hit a bike, you’re hitting a person.”
This is the third bike accident I’ve come across in the last few years. The first was awful, two bikes racing around a blind corner on the sidewalk and ramming into each other. One cyclist had a head wound and the other took a handlebar to the lower abdomen and was swelling horribly and rapidly. The second accident I wrote about here about a year ago. And this one, with this lovely, quiet, calm young woman.
I don’t know her name. I didn’t touch her. But I think of her every time I cross those train tracks. And I’m finally going to sign up for that St. John’s Ambulance First Aid course so I can be more helpful (and bossy) in these situations.
Be careful out there. And be kind to each other on the road.