It’s mid-afternoon on a pleasant spring day, and off we go from the station to an MVC on the Interstate near the airport, normally about an eight-minute trip. The crash was located right at the border of three jurisdictions, so the whole world was dispatched—three times as many vehicles as would be required for the Apocalypse.
As we merged onto the Interstate, we saw the middle lane was sandwiched between endless concrete dividers as a result of the eternal construction that seems to afflict the highway. Ahead we saw the lights of the engine parked behind a semi in the barricaded middle lane, with a line of stopped traffic reaching back as far as the eye could see. No choice but to park on the other side of the barrier and crawl over—great, just great.
So we grab our gear and leap like middle-aged overweight gazelles over the 4' stanchions to find a large sedan attached to the bumper of the semi-truck. There’s no damage to the semi, but there’s a lot of scuffing and denting to the car. It looked as if the vehicles somehow became conjoined, and then the semi dragged the car, scraping it along the barrier for a bit.
What was kind of strange, though, was that despite the fact that the engine had clearly been on scene for a few minutes prior to our arrival, nobody from the crew was in the car tending to the two substantial and very vocal middle-aged females inside. The guys were kind of walking around the scene trying to look busy. As we approached the vehicle, we began to understand why.
The driver was screaming, and the passenger was cursing. Now, I can’t testify with absolute certainty that I can always distinguish a scream of physical agony from a scream of psychic distress, but I was pretty sure the continual, high pitched wail emanating from the driver’s side was the latter.
“Um, fellas? Hey fellas! Anybody know anything … FELLAS, ANYBODY KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THESE TWO?”
That only elicited a higher level of feigned busyness and some head shaking. Alrighty then, I guess I’m going in. Anybody got ear plugs?
The front doors were jammed, so I crawled in the back.
“Oh my, oh my, oh my, why that man had to do that to me!”
“What man?” I asked.
“That truck. Why he had to drag me down the road like that.” Screaming continues.
“Ma’am. Ma’am, are you hurt? Are you injured? Where do you hurt?” No change. “Ma’am, what’s your name?”
“Shirley. Why that man had to do that?”
“Shirley, I need to know where you’re hurt.”
“My back, my neck, my chest, my legs …”
Oh boy. “Backboard and c-collar,” I yelled to my suddenly attentive co-workers.
“We’ll have to cut her out,” someone yelled back.
I turned back to Shirley to explain the extrication process, only to find that one of the great afflictions in modern life—and in EMS in particular—had now entered our little world. Shirley’s children, neighbors, friends and relatives had now joined us at the accident scene, in the vehicle, via the magic of the cell phone.
“Shirley? Shirley, I need to talk to you.”
“Why that man had to drag me?” she was asking the phone.
Now, some of you are thinking, just tell her to put the phone away. Makes sense, right? I don’t know what part of the country you’re from, but where I work, asking a distraught patient to sever contact with their loved ones in a time of crisis is considered insulting, outrageous and preposterous. They want them right by their side, and if it can’t be in person, then it’s gonna be through the ether.
“Ma’am, may I talk to your son? Thanks. Sir, your mom’s been in a minor accident. She’s very upset, but I don’t think she’s hurt. We’re gonna take her to the hospital to get her checked out; we’ll meet you there in about 20 minutes. Yes, I will treat her as if she were my own mother.” (He clearly never met my mother.)
One of the engine crew threw me a heavy blanket to put over us for the extrication. Now I was under the blanket, in the dark, with screaming Shirley. And I can tell you the screaming reached new paroxysms with each crunching of metal or shattering of glass. Meanwhile, my partner was tending to the passenger, herself a truck driver, which explained the cursing as opposed to the screaming of my patient.
Finally, access was gained, the passenger was extricated, the backboard was laid, we somehow managed to slide her onto it, and I ended up stretched out prone on the front seat maintaining c-spine as the crew finally drew her out of the passenger side.
At last. The screaming faded into the distance. I heaved a sigh. Quiet at last. I briefly lay my head on my hands, resting on the seat to compose myself. As I breathed in, the aroma of something sweet, something savory, filled by nostrils. What is that? So familiar, yet so unexpected in this context. Barbecue. That’s what it was. Barbecue.
But where? Oh no. As I pushed myself up on my forearms and looked down at the seat, I realized I was lying in the half-eaten remains of a plate of barbecue ribs, which were now adorning my uniform.
That’s great. Just great. Super. What next?