Wrong place and the wrong time....
March 27th 2008 my husband and I were stopped at the intersection of Duluth Hwy (120) and Lawrenceville-Suwanee Rd (317) when a motorcycle was hit by a car. The two people on the motorcycle flew off of it over 50 feet and into the side of our minivan. I can still see the look on the guy’s face as he flew toward our van. My husband put the van in park and we both jumped out. It was about 8:10PM so there were several people there and a bunch of people jumped out of their cars as well. I’m a CPR/First Aid Instructor so I went to my kit in the back of the van and got my gloves on and ran around to the driver’s side where they were laying. It was horrible. The female passenger was on her side with her legs under the van up to her hips. Her femur was basically in her lap. I tried to see if she was breathing but she was turned toward our van and I couldn’t get between the van and her. As I was leaning over her, I looked up and saw the motorcycle driver’s left leg. It was broken in at least three places, with it bent at each break, flopping with each attempt to get up; he couldn’t get up because his other leg was apparently jammed up in our wheel well. (They hit the pavement and slid into/under the van.) I lost it. I started to cry and had to get up and walk away. I thought the female was dead and I knew that there just wasn’t anything I could do to help the male. It was way beyond my scope of training.
Ultimately, the female was pronounced dead at the Gwinnett Medical Center about three hours after the accident. She apparently had massive head and facial trauma. Someone I know whose wife works in the GMC ER said I should be thankful I couldn’t get to her face because it was horrible. She was kept alive until her family could get there to say good-bye. The male was brought by ambulance to GMC but was Life-flighted to another trauma center because GMC was on neuro diversion. Ultimately, he lost one of his legs. It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced in my whole life.
I have my good days and my bad days. On a bad day, the only way to describe it is I feel extremely jumpy, teary, and don’t want to get in the car (but I force myself). I do volunteer work with Gwinnett Fire’s Public Education department. The Assistant Chief of the dept was at the scene and he saw my Gwinnett Fire tag on the front of the van. He came up to me and asked if I was ok and we talked a little. When we got home, Tommy, our Citizen Fire Academy advisor called me to check on me and we talked some of it through. Then he had someone from the FD’s debriefing team call me at around 10:30 that night and we talked some more. I just felt (and still do at times) like such a failure. I’m an instructor. I’m supposed to teach people how to remain calm and I lost it! I just feel like I could have helped the male. He was trying to get up and I found out later he had a lac on his scalp and a possible fractured pelvis. I could have tried to get him to lie down and stay still. I could have tried to stop the bleeding on his scalp. But instead I got hysterical. I just kept saying over and over again “I can’t help them. I can’t help them.”
The fire fighter from the debriefing team explained about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and told me what to watch for. Everyone has said the same thing… that my husband and I were actually considered victims that night because it happened TO us. The ff’s that were there that night and I sat down the very next time they were on shift because I just had to walk through it and see if there was anything I could have done to help. They were so wonderful. One LT told me that when he stepped out of the Engine, he was a bit freaked out by what he saw. He said not to kick myself because there was nothing I could have done. I remember someone asking me for more gloves because they said there was a nurse who was trying to help and I remember this little feeling of relief, but, no matter what everyone says and no matter how many times I tell myself I did the best I could, I still feel sad, crappy, angry and sick.
At one point I was ready to quit everything; quit teaching, quit working with the fire dept, throw away my scanner and say “I’m done!” But fortunately it only lasted a few minutes. Lt. Haley Smith (first female ff officer in Gwinnett) was one of the ff’s who was there and who sat down with me. She told me I needed to just keep doing what I’m doing because it all adds up to so much good stuff. I know she’s right but it’s going to be hard.
I didn’t see everything in a positive light at first and actually has several people tell me I needed to stop talking about it. Turns out that was THE worst thing I could have done. I ended up supressing all the feelings I had, only to have them surface in a very dramatic fashion. To make an already long story less long, I ended up in a local mental hospital’s day program for two weeks. I had what I like to call my “meltdown” where I just reached a point where a bunch of things happened to me in one day and I threw up my arms and said “I’m done. Somebody needs to put me somewhere safe because I AM losing it, right now, right here.” I drove myself to the ER at GMC and they got the folks at the mental hospital involved. Turns out it was THE best thing I could have done for myself at that point in my life. I needed the time to focus on just ME and to figure out how to put all the pieces into place.
The first time I taught a first aid class I spoke about how sometimes things will happen that they (my students) may not be able to handle because it goes way beyond their level of training. I realize now that I need to use what happened to us in a positive way. Who better to help one of my students if they experience something similiar but me? I’ve been there and will definitely be able to relate.
So that’s my story. I realize it’s not as traumatic as those of you who actually were physcially hurt during your accidents and I applaud your strength and perserverance. My hope is that just one person who reads this will find the strength to deal with whatever horrible accident or tragedy they witnessed.