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First aid, 2nd time around

I was driving along yesterday, in a reasonably good mood despite the fact that I was behind a steering wheel rather than handlebars, when a car going the other way suddenly leaped off the road - this is not a fanciful description, to my eyes it literally did leap - and jumped into the woods. There followed a very loud sound which could only be a car smacking into a tree.

I turned around as soon as it was possible and pulled up to the scene of the accident, which was downhill around the bend which had served as a slingshot. There I saw the driver, a young woman, crawl onto the road then lie down.

A man was already there, on his phone. He motioned for me to back up to provide a safety cushion, which I did. After putting my hazards on I got out, walked over to the woman, and sat down on the kerb next to her.

She was intact, though what I took to be her tibia was now poking out of the new hole in her jeans. She was lucid. She was also, as you would expect, in a lot of pain. She slapped the cold pavement again and again, having no other remedy for her anguish and frustration. She then gave me her hand to hold, which I gladly did as I really didn't know what else to do.

The man who had called for an ambulance (business suit, paunch, not to be trifled with as he later hustled along what he took to be a rubbernecker) started directing traffic. Another man (construction? fuel delivery? he was wearing a bright vest) walked up to join the rescue party.

The woman asked me to retrieve her phone, which I miraculously found without too much digging around in her car, the inside of which appeared to be filled with the booty of a car boot sale. I sat down again and handed it to her. She was very concerned to call her boss at a nearby diner. The man with the safety vest approached us and became the switchboard operator, at one point putting the phone on speaker and holding it so she could talk to her brother between gasps and moans, in what was surely the worst call of his day.

She went back to slapping the pavement, shaking her head as if saying No to the whole situation, and shouting out in pain. I was chiefly there for hand-holding if and when she wanted it.

Presently a passing GP gave the tableau the stability and reassurance it required. She asked the woman the questions necessary to form a quick medical opinion, and instructed me to hold the woman's head still. Her roadside manner was excellent.

The police arrived, but surprisingly to me at the time, kept their distance.

As I braced the woman's head I could not help but reflect on how I had been in a situation very much like this only a few years ago, in the back seat of another wrecked car with another wracked body, struggling to be of assistance.

The woman's boss turned up and took over hand-holding duty, her familiar face hopefully a welcome anchor in the sea of strangers.

The woman berated herself for "Being so stupid!", was hushed by our chorus of "No! Don't be silly." She felt sick to her stomach and was worried she'd broken her arm as well. She wanted to get up. She started hyperventilating. She did nothing I couldn't sympathise with, having been laid out on a few roads myself surrounded by people who seemed intent on helping me despite my best efforts.

When the ambulance arrived the paramedic told me to hold her neck much more firmly than I had been doing; a lesson I won't forget if there's ever a next time. When she came with the neck brace I was relieved at my station.

What do you do after such a close encounter with trauma? Depending on your life CV, you may well experience a little trauma of your own. The woman's boss was also looking a little shell-shocked.

The police interview was accomplished with the minimum of fuss ("How fast was she going?" Not fast enough for me to want to add to her woes), though by the rolling of his eyes after his chat with the businessman I'd evidently just missed a clash with authority. Then I was on my way back up the road, the woman with any luck now on a trip to a morphine-induced stupor.

When I got home I wandered over to a neighbour, in need of normalcy. He was working on the glorified shed he's bought to turn into a house. We climbed the scaffolding and talked about planning permission, water seepage fracturing roofing tiles, and eventually, the bloody things that happen. He's seen much worse than I have; the aftermath of a motorcyclist smashing into a van ("He kept trying to get up onto his broken arms and broken legs"), a construction site story almost out of the movie Final Destination (the guy lived); a bus blowing up right before his eyes on 7/7 in London. I feel like I've led a sheltered life.

This experience, especially when added to my last one, has prompted me to start looking to enroll in a first aid course. I'll be writing about that in part II.

10 comments

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drewegg [24 posts] 1 year ago
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I have been on a 3 day first aid course and so far have only ever used it while out on bike rides... but have used it over 10 times in the last 2 years. It definitely gives you the confidence to take ownership of a crash scene until real responsibility arrives. So a good idea!

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fatbeggaronabike [815 posts] 1 year ago
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Well done for taking the time to do something no matter how insignificant you may think it to be, it's a lot better than just leaving the person to suffer own their own.

Or should I say, seeing what society is turning into standing in the way of medics doctors etc whilst taking pictures on a camera phone.

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therevokid [948 posts] 1 year ago
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chapeau that man .... never had to use my training ... so far ....

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kie7077 [877 posts] 1 year ago
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I had 1st aid training, without it I probably would have been standing around wondering WTF to do when we came across a man laid out cold. Instead, I got the chance to pull a guys tongue back and give him CPR after checking someone was calling an ambulance all within seconds, thankfully my workmates had also received the training and I was able to grab them to take a turn, CPR is hard work. I thought the guy was going to die for sure, but later got a thank you card from him and his family.

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msfergus [22 posts] 1 year ago
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I'd thoroughly recommend the Outdoor First Aid course (2 days). It covers the sorts of scenarios and injuries more likely to be faced when out and about on your bike (road or mountain) compared to the more general courses or work specific.

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charlie bravo [50 posts] 1 year ago
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As a cop of 13 front line years I've turned up to many many scenes such as you've described and thanked numerous members of the public for acting in the way you have done. Indeed, I've turned up to my own wife's serious injury RTC ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIbJeD5756o ) and thanked similar actions on a very personal basis. It is the British public's actions which very often save lives and/or lessen the suffering in times of great trauma and on behalf of every front line cop, can I just say thank you for your efforts no matter how small or insignificant you feel them to be. It merits far more than a humble anonymous thank you could ever achieve.

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Joeinpoole [439 posts] 1 year ago
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Thought-provoking and well written story. Thanks for posting it. Looking forward to Part II.

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TimC340 [75 posts] 1 year ago
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Sam, a first aid course is an excellent thing to do - I have to do a refresher every year as part of my job. Not only does it help banish the feeling of helplessness in the kind of situation you describe, it allows you to accept your own limitations and concentrate on getting the kind of assistance that can really make a difference.

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middleagedmoaner [14 posts] 1 year ago
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At last, something I want to post about! We can argue/discuss forever which wheelset/brand of carbon/cassette is best, but here is something which could affect any one of us at any time, whilst out riding, or in life generally.

Everybody should do some first aid training, with the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, or through work. St. John take a lot of stick, but many people who tip out for them at all kinds of events are qualified doctors or nurses giving their time for free to help others (I'm not a member or associated with them).

In 2012 I happened to be waiting for a train home from work when a chap who had had a liquid lunch was struck a glancing blow by a train. He was thrown back onto the platform with serious injuries. I've been trained in first aid for some years and was able to make 2 quick decisions. 1) No point in trying to staunch the blood coming from his ears because it would do more harm than good (safety valve relieving pressure on the brain) 2) Immediately request the helicopter medics via 999 because that was the guy's best chance. Another piece of advice and one which is taught on first aid courses. If you are the only person who can get help, make sure it is on the way before getting your hands dirty. You will get "sucked in" and you cannot rely on others to do it. There may be shouts of, "Recovery Position," which are quite right, and we did use it. The 999 operator was switched on, and did indeed send the air ambulance (in cars as it was dark) and the guy made it, albeit with a long period of rehab.

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Sam Walker [67 posts] 1 year ago
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Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and share your stories.

Today I had an enlightening chat with my GP (incidentally an avid cyclist) about the difference between basic first aid and dealing with trauma that can be found at the scene of road traffic accidents. The famous oath also applies to us civilian first responders: "First, do no harm." Though I was aware that I was unqualified to do much more than wait for instructions, the business of helping victims is more complicated than I thought. I'll be covering that in part II.