We first heard the motorbike as we sat down at the table, revving up and down the street. We paused and listened as it reached the end of the road and turned around. We held our breath as it paused at the intersection. We counted as the rider worked through the gears in quick roaring succession…
I closed my eyes and bit my lip as we heard the roar cut out. As we heard the scrape of metal and plastic against asphalt and gravel. My husband and I have spent too much time volunteering around speedway tracks to not know that sound. The sound of a rider not having time to brake, to brace, to prepare for impact. The sound of several hundred kilograms of metal and plastic hitting a solid surface at high speed on the wrong angle. The sound of silence that follows. The sound of no screams, no screeches, no squeals.
People say their heart misses a beat when they hear the sound of squealing brakes, when they hear the sound of someone screaming after an accident. Mine doesn’t. The screech and squeal of brakes show that there was time to react, to prepare, to brace. The screams of someone involved in a motor-vehicle accident show that they’re alive, they’re conscious, they’re aware.
When there’s only silence… when there’s nothing… that’s when my heart misses a beat.
That’s when my breath catches in my throat. That’s when I feel adrenaline course through me. That’s when instinct takes over. That’s when countless hours of practice and training kick in. That’s when everything speeds up and slows down at the same time. My mother-in-law is a nurse. I was Occupational First Aid accredited through my previous job and involvement with motorsports (one level below a Paramedic). It’s our instinct to help, to rescue, to save. I don’t think we hesitated for a second before running to the car.
I don’t remember the drive to the scene. I don’t remember my husband following us. I don’t remember what specifically I saw first. I don’t remember tearing the boot of my car apart to find the first-aid kit, torches and blankets. What I remember is the local residents standing around, not able, not trained, not knowing what to do. I remember a man arriving as we did – an off-duty volunteer ambulance officer. I remember my mother-in-law & I telling him to take the lead role – to make the decisions while we did the work with him. I remember lying down on my stomach in the gravel, staring into the eyes of a young man lying face-down on the curb. I remember being told his name, recognising his name, realising that this was a school-friend of my husband. I remember my mother-in-law and I both yelling at my husband to go home, to go away, that he couldn’t be there.
I remember staring into his eyes, shining the torch into his eyes, seeing no response, no pupil dilation. I remember the blood around his face, on the gravel, in his mouth, on my hands. I remember the moment I realised the blood soaking into the interior foam of his helmet was coming from inside his ears. I remember the off-duty ambulance officer cutting away his shirt. I remember seeing his shoulder blades, stacked upon each other, stacked upon his spine. I remember the small patch of his tattoo on his back barely visible due to the skin being scraped away.
I remember, when the ambulance finally arrived, going to assist with rolling him onto the stretcher, placing my hands on his ankles. I remember the lack of resistance from the bones under the skin. I remember realising that not only were his ribs broken, but his feet were shattered. I remember the lack of sound from him throughout it all. I remember no screams, no sighs, no grunts, no groans, no moans. I remember only the rasping rattle of his lungs struggling to breathe through the blood in his airways.
I remember his mother arriving on the scene. I remember the sound of her sobs, her cries, her collapse. I remember her calling out for her husband. Her husband, who had died not two months before. I remember that sight, that image, more clearly than anything else that night. The sight of a bereaved widow called to the roadside in case she had to say goodbye to her son as he lay on the ground, on the gravel, bleeding and broken.
I remember later that night, arriving back at my in-laws’. I remember looking at myself for the first time since we sat down to dinner. I remember seeing dried blood on my hands, my arms, my bare feet, my clothing, my face, my hair. I remember throwing that clothing in the bin. I remember laying awake until the first rays of dawn, waiting for the sound of the rescue-chopper from Perth to come to take him to a bigger, better equipped hospital. I remember spending my Christmas Day on tenterhooks, waiting for news, to know if he had survived, to know the results of an emergency craniotomy to relieve the swelling and bleeding in his brain. I remember wondering if his broken body would ever breathe on its’ own again.
Two months later, he is still in a coma, there is still no news either way. Two months later, a family is still waiting to find out what will happen next. Two months later, I am still waiting to find out if I helped save a life, or merely prolonged inevitable death.
This wasn’t the first life-threatening motor-vehicle accident I’ve attended. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to rely on my O.F.A training and knowledge. This isn’t the first time I have seen first-hand that bodies don’t fly – they fracture; bodies don’t bounce – they break. I don’t want to have to use this knowledge for THIS.
Please, slow down and be careful on the road – if not for yourself, then for your family, your friends, and for the people who have to scrape your twisted, broken and bleeding body off the road.
Chantelle is ex-Client Liaison Consultant & Accounts Administrator who has become a stay-at-home-mum in the remote mining town of Karratha WA. You can follow her blog here