Sunday, May 20, 2007

Crash Statistic

A short story

It was only three days ago that his airplane had touched down after a short business trip. He had to fly for his work as a small business consultant every three months. He was not afraid of flying, but he hated takeoffs and landings. Most of the airplane accidents happened while near the runway. Each time the airplane lifted off or descended from the runway, Frank would grab hold of the seat armrests and try to breathe his cares away. His mind would race with thoughts of escape scenarios in case anything awful happened.

Sitting in the car in the middle of the day was a silly time to be thinking of crash landing on a strip of concrete. Yet, it was a way to get an idea of his current predicament. The world swirled around him with more force than gravity pressing hard against a pilot reaching for the ejection seats. The front of the car was indistinguishable from the vehicle in front of him. A perfectly sunny day had almost instantly become a disaster. At least he hadn’t fallen out of the sky, although he wasn’t sure it was a consolation.

A shallow voice broke the darkness that was slowly engulfing Frank in his seat, "are you alright?" It seemed to come from his own mind, but he knew it wasn’t his subconscious.

Frank focused on the voice hoping to keep from falling into the abyss of dangerous sleep. He wanted to answer sardonically that he wasn't alright or he would be walking, but words wouldn't come out of his cotton mouth. That same distant voice called out: “Does anyone have a cell phone? We need an ambulance." Knowing he could hear the voice coming from the real world beyond the wreckage, Frank realized he had not died. Simple thoughts were coming back to him. His wife was telling him to have a nice day at work. Children young enough to not be ashamed of affection scrambling to give him a goodbye hug. His boss always asking when he was going to come back from lunch to finish up business. Putting keys in the ignition.

Thoughts were followed by slowly recovered senses, seeing shapes and colors in the mist of groggy pain. At first Frank was thrilled that he would be getting out of the situation alive. Searing pain from movement took that hope away. His thoughts of recovering sufficiently to walk out on his own diminished. The first real words left his mouth, "what happened?" No one immediately answered. He repeated himself, feeling his voice getting stronger.
A large man in a blue collard shirt and jeans walked over to where Frank was sitting in his vehicle. The man leaned over, "I am afraid you have had a car accidents. Everything is going to be fine. The police and an ambulance are on the way."

That was not the answers to what Frank was asking. He already knew he had gotten in an accident. There was no question of that. “An ambulance?” he stammered. What he wanted was more information on the seriousness of the crash. It had happened so quickly he wasn't sure how the two cars collided.

Another sharp pain raced across his body. It started at his foot and cruised along the leg to the lower back. Fear took over as Frank wondered if he had broken his back. He wanted to test that horrific theory. Mustering total concentration, Frank tried to move his left foot. There was a shock of pain, but he could tell it moved. He tried his right foot, and the same terrible and gratifying pain assured him he would not be paralyzed. He tried moving his hands. His left hand moved with ease, but the right hand hurt.

Moving his head was a more serious experiment. He knew from countless movies and sensationalistic rescue documentaries that you shouldn't try to move the neck. The results could be disastrous and deadly. A possible broken neck could end up pinching a nerve and cause paralysis and death. He felt lucky at this point and didn't want to make the situation worse. Professionals could handle getting him out. Besides, he was getting tired with the effort.

Another indistinguishable voice yelled, "I have someone in the driver’s seat and looks bad. The other one is over on the lawn next to the fire hoses."

A large man standing over Frank said to someone else, "The third person is stuck in the back seat, but there is no telling if that is where she was at the time of the collision."

"My guess is that she was on the passenger side," the second voice said. “That makes, what, four people?”
In the distance the familiar sounds of sirens could be heard getting closer. Frank felt satisfied that he would be rescued. He had lived this long and was confident that it would stay that way. The ambulance and police car arrived a few minutes after first notice. The usual yellow, red, and blue lights pulsated outside of where Frank silently sat in pain and hopes. It wouldn’t be much longer.

Looking beyond his present condition, Frank said a prayer for his family. He asked that they would get along without him if he was in more danger than he thought. He asked more earnestly that he could live and void the need for the first supplication.

A scared woman's whimper caught Frank's attention. Muffled voices and clattering metal co-existed in a frustrating melody. The whimpering of the woman grew louder. A young male voice called, "Your going to be OK Susie. Everything is going to be fine. It was an accident. I am so sorry . . ." the voice trailed off and turned into crying. It must have been the one who was said to be near the fire hydrant.

Frank was paying too much attention to what was going on with the other victims to notice someone walk over to his vehicle. "Sir, we are going to get you out of here. My name is Officer Bradley. Can you respond to my voice?" The officer reached in and took Frank’s unhurt left hand.

"Yes, I can," Frank answered. He was still weak and his throat was dry. "I think my legs are broken. Maybe my arm.”
"He's conscious," Bradley yelled over the other noises of the accident. He turned back to Frank, "Do you remember what happened?"

“No,” was all Frank could answer. He didn't know what else to say.

"You got in a wreck.” Frank already knew that much and was prepared to make a sarcastic comment, but didn’t. It wouldn’t be good to antagonize your only salvation. The officer continued, “It appears you were hit by a drunk driver running a stop sign. What is your name?"

"Frank Hopkins." He felt himself losing energy again. His head was starting to hurt along with the rest of his body.

"Alright Frank, we are cutting you loose from the car," the officer said as a sickening crunch was heard near the other vehicle. "I'm going to move out of the way, but I am still going to be here."

For the next ten minutes Frank could hear loud mechanical whirring of saws and metal cutters working furiously to get him out. The loud noise drowned all other sounds. All Frank could think of was the terrible hissing of metal scraping and motors running full speed. With a last terrifying snap like an alligator biting down on a large piece of bone, Frank felt free and sick. He still didn't want to move; didn't know if he could move.

"Get that stretcher over here," officer Bradley said.

"Do you need any help?" said the voice recognized by Frank as the large man who had stood over him earlier.

Officer Bradley answered: "we have everything under control. Thanks for all the help."

The officer and three unidentified people stood over Frank. A bright light flashed into his eyes, and hands poked and prodded. He knew the other three had to be part of a medical emergency team. They put a bulky neck brace around the back of his head and slowly lifted him from the car. Pain pierced Frank in the process of moving and he blanked out. "We need—" was the last words he remembered.

Uncounted minutes later, Frank found himself staring up at a brightly-lit room with the same three emergency workers standing over him. He could hear the sound of an ambulance siren as if it followed them into the hospital. That meant he must still be in the ambulance on a stretcher.

"He's back," one of the men said as he looked into Frank’s hazy eyes. "Glad to see you awake. You’re on your way to Holy Mary Medical. The good news is that we detect a few broken bones and minor cuts, but nothing serious." The paramedic raised a large wooden stick, "Follow this with your eyes please." Frank tried as hard as he could to see the moving object. It seemed blurred. "Count to ten.”

"One . . . two . . . three . . . ," Frank went on slowly until he had finished the request. He didn't know if he had passed the required test.

"Good," the paramedic said to what seemed like no one in particular.
"Concussion seems controlled, blood pressure back to manageable, and heart rate up." He looked at a chart and then turned back to Frank, "what is your full name?"

"Frank Tinsdale Hopkins," he said with more exuberance than the counting.

"You’re a very lucky man," the paramedic said without changing his tone.

Frank agreed. “What about the others? Are they lucky?” He hoped everyone had made it out alive.

The paramedic checked Frank’s blood pressure while answering, “Don’t concern yourself with them right now. I am sure all of them will be just fine. At the moment I want you to relax and think positive. You still have a lot of recovery to go and wouldn’t want you to be more stressed than necessary.”

Despite the assurances of the paramedic, he wasn’t convinced. Someone would be as worried about the others as he imagined his family was going to be when they heard about the accident. He said a prayer that the girl in the back seat would survive. He said a prayer that the drunk driver would be alive and learn from the crash. Finally, he said a prayer for any others effected by the horrible mess. He was thankful to be alive. He was thankful to be a very lucky man.

1 comment:

Keryn said...

Thank you so much for sharing this short story with us--it is really well done. I especially loved the pacing and the unfolding of the story--from the airplane-crash worries to the realization of the accident to the conversation of the officer and EMT. Thanks again.