This morning started out like usual, except we were running a few minutes late. With a foster puppy in the house, we haven’t been getting a lot of sleep. With my work schedule and recent deadlines, I’ve been getting even less. I dragged my ass out of bed this morning having absolutely no idea what I was about to experience.
We took our usual route through the industrial park by the Animal Services Centre on 11th Street SE. As we drove beside that building, we witnessed something I don’t think either of us will ever forget; a man and his motorbike sliding across the road into the southbound lanes. I remember seeing some of the accident, but it didn’t come to me until much later in the day when I started remembering pieces of what I saw. When the police asked for my statement, I said it would be short. I couldn’t even provide the police with details about how the accident happened, although I told them what I remembered seeing. It turned out I wasn’t that far off what happened except my brain had filled in the blanks to make sense of it. You don’t expect to see something like that, so it almost doesn’t register. I think my brain decided “that can’t be what just happened”. The police are investigating what happened, and we’ve already given our statements. I will let them be the judges of what happened and don’t want to speculate, although it already looks like they’ve figured it out and charges are pending.
What I can tell you is that we were on the scene within 10 seconds. First responders. Brandon called 911, as did the truck driver who was at the scene of the accident. I ran to the man lying on the road, assessing the environment as I approached. I touched his hand, I told him my name. I told him I knew first aid and was there to help him. I asked if he could hear me, to squeeze my hand or blink. His eyes were half open and blank. Within a minute, there were other people around the body, looking for ways they could help. I checked for a radial pulse, but couldn’t feel anything. I asked someone else to confirm. I tried to listen for breathing, and observed his chest for movement, but he was on his side and I couldn’t hear or see anything that indicated pulse or breath. I tried to reach under his helmet, which had a chin guard, but was unable to get access to his neck to check for a pulse there. My years of being a hockey trainer with first aid and the ability I have to handle crisis situations (and freak out later instead) allowed me to be calm and matter of fact. He was non-responsive, and I was unable to find a pulse or breathing. I understand the meaning of “Life over Limb”. In a situation where you are unable to help a person because of their body positioning, it is acceptable to move them. I lined up the others, supporting the head, neck and legs, so we could roll him and hopefully not do any additional damage to his neck or back. We were going to roll him on 3, and everyone knew their job.
At that time, the truck driver handed me his phone with the 911 dispatcher. Someone looked at me and said “you aren’t supposed to move him” but I was confident in my assessment and decision. The 911 operator had me go through pulse and breathing assessment again. I put my ear less than an inch away from his face to try and listen for breathing through the sound of the vehicles around us (most people who stopped had left their vehicles idling). Nothing. I asked for the engines to be turned off while I listened carefully again. I couldn’t feel air from his nose, and his mouth was covered by his helmet. I asked the dispatcher if we could move him now. He asked me to confirm pulse and breathing. I confirmed I couldn’t find either. Someone said they thought they felt a weak pulse, but it was a very stressful environment, and it could be a case of someone who really wanted to feel a pulse. I know I really wanted to feel a pulse but didn’t.
The dispatcher said that we could roll him now. I lined everyone up again to support head, neck and knees. I rested my hands on his hips. On 3, we all rolled at once until the man was on his back. The dispatcher asked me to check again for a pulse, this time I checked his neck. I didn’t feel anything. At that time, someone came up to us, identified himself as a first aider and talked to the victim. I was still on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, and in c-spine, when the man started chest compressions. I asked someone to take over c-spine for me so I could support the man and trade off with chest compressions. I had no idea how long it would be until the medics/police/fire arrived. Luckily it was very soon after. Probably only a minute or two. I watched the man do compressions and offered to assist, but he was strong and didn’t need my help yet. The medics arrived and took our place. We stood just over the body while the medics assessed the situation. The defibrillator came out, but they never even charged it. It seemed like their assessment only took 30 seconds. It might have been longer, time wasn’t behaving normally for me at this point. The medics stood up. A man walked over with 2 yellow sheets and they covered the body. Someone came over to me and said thank you for responding, unfortunately there was nothing they could do. Just like that, it was over and he was gone.
Because we were first on scene, and the only people who directly witnessed the accident, we had to provide numerous statements to different officers. While Brandon filled out the accident reconstruction form, I had to walk another officer from the Accident Reconstruction unit around the body to show him what we had moved/removed and where those items had been when I arrived.
It was not a scary moment. I was not scared. It was a traumatic and devastating moment. In a few seconds, we watched someone full of potential die right in front of us. The police say he was 21.
What was most traumatic for me what the first minutes I was on scene. I looked into his eyes and told him I was going to try and help him, told him I was there for him. I could feel the warmth of his right hand, which I was holding while I pleaded with him to respond. But instead of a response, I watched the life slip out of his eyes and his body. I saw the small pool of blood under his cheek that had dripped from his mouth.
The police officers on scene were respectful and patient. They should be given a lot of credit for how they handle situations like this. We were on scene for about 2 hours before we had finished all our paperwork and discussions and were allowed to leave. They recommended we talk to their Victim Support Unit (which we will) to help us cope with witnessing the accident and responding to the man’s death. I think that will be helpful, especially for me. I find comfort in talking about things and explaining my emotions and experiences.
A mere minute or two after the accident, this man was dead. Seeing his eyes change will be something I never forget. Having my face an inch from his, my body on the pavement beside him, checking for a pulse, checking for breathing… I know there was nothing more we could have done. I don’t feel a sense of first-responder guilt but I do feel a sense of immense sadness. This was someone’s brother, son, friend, boyfriend or husband. It might have been someone’s father. He was on his way to work. A route he’d probably travelled many times. And he would never travel it again. I only hope that if he could hear anything when I arrived that he was comforted by my voice and understood I’d do my best. I hope it was over before he was scared.
This morning, that man’s family got a phone call and a visit from CPS they will never forget. They will never get their son back and they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. My heart is broken over what they must be feeling and going through now. My heart is broken for everyone involved in the accident.
Life is so precious. It takes 9 months to create but only a second to destroy. I called my parents and told them I love them. I hugged my husband and puppies more times today than all of last week. Nothing can make this better for that family; nothing I could say would help. But I would tell them they are in my thoughts and I am sorry for their loss. I will never forget it, but they will never escape it.