Last Friday night, en route to a fundraiser, I travel through the city at the peak of evening traffic. On a four-lane street near downtown I drive about 40 mph as I sing along to the radio. Actual fresh air, rare in Atlanta this time of year, fills my car as I think about the weekend ahead. And then I see something I have never witnessed before. A man on a motorcycle, traveling toward me but at least a quarter of a mile away, hit something in the road. His bike goes down and he and machine slide on pavement at least 100 feet before crashing into a telephone pole.
It is not like watching Die Hard, there is no techno music playing like the carefully crafted crash scenes I have seen through digital enhancement. And it is not in slow motion. All of this compact fumbling of human and motorcycle seems crammed into a very narrow space of about five seconds.
I pull over and I run as fast as I can in high heels and party wear to where this man lies in the street at an awkward angle. The path to reach him littered with blood, skin, and broken bits of motorcycle. I am the first person on the scene. With his helmet off, I can see he is young. Maybe 25 years old. I am shockingly calm as I check to see if he has visible injuries and if he can speak. He is jarred, missing a great deal of skin from his right arm and leg, and can’t tell me whether his helmet came off in the crash or if he took it off.
I then run back to my car to get my phone. Luckily, someone else in a building saw the accident and met me on the street to tell me he called the paramedics. Running back to the accident, I see the cars have slowed down because of the debris from the bike in the road. Because traffic is backing up, drivers in cars who can not see what is the genesis of the delay begin to honk and shout out of their windows. A large truck full of large men seem the most agitated and yell "Get the F out of the way" to the cars in front of them. As I stepped closer to their window, to them I shouted a simple update and request. “There is a body lying in the street! SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”
Sometimes adrenaline speaks for itself.
Sometimes adrenaline speaks for itself.
The young man is in visible pain. I offer to call his family. He was on his way to work so I call his employer. Another person has come to help. He removes the motorcycle from the street. The boy in the accident wants to get up we assist him out of the street as well while we wait for the EMTs. He has a broken shoulder but is fully coherent under his anxiousness. Two of us stay with him until another woman comes to help. But hundreds of cars have passed us in the 30 minute window all of this takes place. Across the street people gather but do not come over.
What is keeping everyone at a distance? Maybe they think the situation is covered? The man is still lying on the sidewalk. Are they unsure how to engage? Why don’t they come over or pull over? My concern is that we, especially the lawyers of this country, have created a society that makes people afraid to help because of potential (and legal?) repercussions. Say it isn’t so.
There are people that do this everyday. Military personnel, police officers, fire fighters, doctors, nurses, paramedics. But thousands of people’s lives have been saved by everyday strangers willing to get involved. You don’t have to be trained. And if you are not, you don’t perform treatment. But if no one else has come to help, if we can help without compromising our own safety, shouldn't we? And I certainly don't mean provide any kind of treatment if we are not trained. Sometimes someone scared or out of sorts simply needs a soothing voice or someone to hold their hand while they wait for medical help to arrive.
Leaving that scene, that 30 minute window felt more like half the night had passed. I called my husband as soon as I got back in the car. He doesn't ask what I did. He already knows the answer. And I admit the image of seeing that crash is hard to shake but I hope I am never too afraid to help someone who needs it.