Monday, January 27, 2014

How One Reacts in an Emergency

I was a freshman in college, just coming back from a hockey game where my beloved North Stars lost a heartbreaker to the hated Chicago Blackhawks.  Riding with me was my buddy from college, and since he was an avowed 'Hawks fan, the conversation on the ride home was fairly one-sided.

We were sitting at the left turn lane of an intersection, waiting on the green arrow.  Eventually the arrow came, and the car in front of us began their turn into the intersection.  At that same time, a car in the opposite lane crested the hill on the opposite side, and was moving at substantial rate of speed.  It was going way too fast, and things went into slow motion as the inevitable looked to unfold before our eyes.

Indeed, the inbound car could not stop (it could barely slow down) and it rammed into the car making the left turn at about 35 mph.  The crash, noise, physical force exerted, and resulting wreckage was shocking.  

And then, as soon as it all started, both cars came to rest, and things were eerily quiet.  I sat there, completely dumbfounded.  I literally had no thought in my head other than disbelief.  I was snapped to my senses by my buddy yelling "YOU TAKE THE CAR ON THE RIGHT, I GOT THE LEFT!" as he flew out of the passenger side.

I remember distinctly thinking, "Of course - help!  What the hell was I thinking?"

We got to both cars where the driver that ran the red light appeared to be fine, and the passenger in the car he hit needing medical attention, albeit nothing life threatening.  

And for years after that event, I was embarrassed by my inaction.  It is said that one never knows how they'll react in an emergency until faced with one, and as far as I was concerned, my sitting there unable to process the situation as an abject failure.  

I vowed that it would never happen again.  And ever since I told myself, repeatedly, that if I was ever faced with an emergency situation, my first and only conscious thought would be to MOVE.

And that's exactly what kicked in at the health club this morning.  I was on a treadmill, just completing my morning run when there was a horrific scream from behind me that I was able to hear over the Metallica in my headphones.  I turned toward the noise to see an woman on the ground, and another crouched over her seven rows to my left and a row behind me.  Their body language and the screams instantly reflected a situation that was not right, and immediately a voice in my head said "MOVE!"

I rushed to them where a woman was trying to sit up, and her daughter was hovering over her.  The woman had fallen on her treadmill, landing on her head, and while the treadmill pushed her off the back, her head and neck fell again onto the accelerating treadmill, and her skin was stripped off her face like someone had taken a huge sander to her head.

Immediately after I got there the person working at the health club arrived.  She added exactly zero value.  I was trying to access if the woman fell due to passing out, heart attack, or some other serious reason as that would require immediate action, or if she just fell in which case her massive facial and neck wounds would be the extent of her injuries.  I got the woman to sit down from her crouching position as I was worried she'd pass out, and I yelled to the woman that worked at the club to get towels and ice.  

The victim was embarrassed, and was also not making the most sense.  She obviously took a significant blow to the head, and at that point I wasn't messing around anymore.  I grabbed the iPhone out of my pocket and called 911.

While on the phone with dispatch, the daughter suggested that an ambulance was not needed - she felt that she'd be able to drive her mother to the hospital on her own.  I conveyed that to dispatch, and the pair gathered their things up for the drive to the hospital.  I helped the wobbly woman up and out of the building.  Then I got back to my work out.

I was aghast at the lack of quick response by the worker at the health club.  There should be a standard protocol for when a member hits the ground, and the actions need to be swift.  Likewise, there should be some kind of panic button where help can be called in to respond at a moment's notice.  Had our situation been more life-threatening, precious minutes would have been lost.

But more than that, I was surprised by the lack of any kind of action by anyone else.  There were approximately 50 people in the health club at the time, and a couple of them were far more close in proximity to the emergency than I was.  And yet it was only me and one other guy that rendered aid.  Everybody just kept working out, looking at this poor woman with half of her face tore off.  

I was disgusted by their lack of action.  But then I thought back to that car accident I witnessed during my freshman year, and I backed off.  Maybe, upon reflection, some of those people that did nothing can use the event to be more active the next time.  Like I did.

In the meantime, I acted appropriately exactly once.  I hope I'm never put in a similar situation.  But in the event I am, I hope I'm able to move like I did today.     

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