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The blink of an eye.

2005-05-08 - 11:16 p.m.

“Please,” she said in a heavy Russian accent, “Look at my eye. Does it look okay? Will it be okay?”

Her face is already fading but I will never forget her eye. The cornea had lines across it and was refracting the light oddly. It looked like it was made of glass and had been cracked into three pieces with a hammer. Every blink squeezed more blood – it was welling out of her eye socket and, I think, a small tear in her eyelid. I tried to look reassuring.

“Yes. It’ll be okay.”

J and I were in maybe the third car on the scene. There’s a hairpin turn on the way to my father’s and for a reason I’ll probably never know, the blinking yellow light and large black and yellow arrows hadn’t been enough to prevent the driver from ploughing straight on. The nose of the car hit the bottom of the ditch and it flipped forward, completely over. It was kind of surreal. There were two women, their hair matted with blood so red it looked like a special effect. One was sort of staggering along and a few people were milling around her. The other was ominously still on the grass. There were others with large patches of blood on their hands, their skin, their clothes, but it had all come from the two women.

I grabbed my phone, opened my door and yelled to see if anyone had called 911 – one of the people already there was on the phone with them describing our location so I tossed it back on the seat and headed for the closest victim. Another woman ran at me, shrieking about wanting water, she was looking for water, did I have any? I did not and couldn’t understand why she wanted it. She ran on. When I got to the girl, that was when she asked me about her eye. I managed to get her to sit down, then she lay back. She kept trying to touch her face, her eye. I tried to get her to stop. She was clearly in shock.

J is an absolute rock in emergencies: he hopped back into the car and headed for the fire station only a couple of kilometers away. I stayed to try to help if I could.

In the blink of an eye, the hysterical one was back with three bottles of Perrier. I helped her open one without thinking, then had to stop her from pouring this fizzy carbonated water onto the face of the victim. It turned out that the girl had asked for water. She wanted to wash the blood off. Her face was burning, she said. She wanted water to pour over her face. I think the airbag had burned her. I’m sure it hurt like hell, but I couldn’t let her do it. I was honestly afraid of what would happen if it got in her eye. I tried not to think about the possibility of it washing any part of her cornea away. Another woman who’d stopped came then and was firmly telling the hysterical one that no, she couldn’t pour water on the girl’s face, or let her drink anything right then. She could dab some on her hands, one of which had a gash which looked like it had hair matted into it, so she did that.

Not seeing anything else I could do at that point I left the little group and investigated the other woman. She was older; the mother who, it turned out, had been driving. She couldn’t talk much but just kind of groaned and seemed to be drifting in and out of consciousness. I told the person with her to try to keep her talking or at least responding frequently. I got a look at the car and the roof and windshield had been smashed in. I shuddered to think of the two heads that had been in that space while it had happened.

I saw flashing lights in the distance and tried to reassure the woman that help was almost here, just hang in there, try not to move, I know it hurts but help was coming. It was a truck from the fire station and it got there before 911 had dispatched it, thanks to J. He was in the car behind the truck, returning to see if there was anything he could do.

I went back to the girl who would. Not. Stop. Moving around, asking questions, (“What happened?”) trying to touch her face. The hysterical woman and her husband, himself pretty hysterical, did not help matters. They wanted so desperately to help they would try to do whatever the bleeding girl asked, even if it was something that could harm her. They helped her up; they would pick things off her face, things I was afraid may be staunching the bleeding. They were family friends and had been in the car behind. They’d all been at a picnic on this beautiful day, and were heading home. They were like family. I understand, really I do, but it was hard to get them to stop what they were doing. She wanted her sunglasses and they dutifully tried to put them on for her. I had to stop myself from freaking on them when the sunglasses neared her eyes. I think I said, “No, please don’t do that.” to those two a lot.

When the firemen came I went over, pointed out the victims, and told them what little I could (the young one hadn’t been thrown there from the car, she’d walked to where she was lying, her face and particularly her eye seemed to be messed up, the other one was older and didn’t seem very responsive). One asked me to keep talking to the girl to keep her calm if I could. He came over in a minute or so and made her close her eyes and placed gauze over her face. He cut the family friend off and asked him not to answer any of the girl’s questions because he didn’t want her talking and moving.

The police arrived shortly after. Once there were 5 or 6 officials there J and I decided that we were just getting in the way at that point. We told an officer that we had come along after the fact and asked if there was anything we could do and if not, should we leave? At his request we grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down our names, dates of birth, and phone number, then headed on our way. I washed the blood off at my father’s.

I wish there was more I could have done. I wish I’d had more presence of mind and asked around for a first aid kit instead of presuming that no one had one because no one had pulled one out. I wish I’d been able to muster the authority to have that girl lie down and close her eyes and to have the two family friends back off. It was hard. If there’d been blood gushing from something, or an obvious broken bone, I would have known what to do. If someone had needed CPR, I could have done that. But the hardest thing was controlling the people who needed to do something. The injured girl felt compelled to move around; pick at her face; ask questions; wash the blood off her arms; worry about scars. The people trying to help felt compelled to do something and that something had included dragging their friends from the car. I know they shouldn’t have been moved but it happened before I got there and honestly, I don’t think I could have stopped them.

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