Like the mother I am, I kept trying to brush all the little crumbs of glass out of his hair. He had to lie on his side to keep from choking on the blood bubbling from his mouth and nose, so I kept my knee under his head. Sitting out on the pavement of the freeway in a cold wind, I cradled his head in my lap, coaxed him to lie still, and waited . . . brushing at the glass.
When the paramedics arrived, we helped bundle him into the ambulance. I folded up the blankets, found the people they belonged to, and it was over - except for the part that is still troubling me:One by one, all the officers came up and earnestly, solemnly thanked me for stopping to help, as if it had been something unusual. "You're welcome," I kept saying, more and more bewildered. Wouldn't anybody?
Maybe not. But if not, why not? Because it would be too awful? Yes, it was sort of awful. While my body was being very deliberate about pulling on the emergency brake, opening the door and running up to the overturned car, a despairing little voice in my mind kept whimpering, "Oh, no! I'm going to have to help. Oh, no! I'm going to have to help." But when I actually got there it was easy to do whatever needed to be done, easy to be matter-of-fact and reassuring.
Are most people reluctant because they wouldn't know what to do? Admittedly, I've had more first-aid training than I ever wanted. We had to study it every year in school and every summer at camp. There was a course for the Naval Officers' Wives Club and advanced training in the women's church auxiliary. I took a CPR course because it seemed like responsible citizenship.
And the whole time I was learning details and perfect-scoring exams, I seriously doubted I would be able to remember any of it in a real emergency. But the priorities fell into place just the way I was taught them. I knew just what to do, and I did it. Other people were there too, who knew what they were doing. We were instantly an organized, effective team, helping and reinforcing each other.
Are some would-be helpers deterred because of AIDS? I know the precautions to take: Avoid getting blood or other body fluids on your skin, especially if it is chapped or broken. After helping in an accident, keep your hands away from your face, etc.
Afterward, I kept trying to manufacture some logical-sounding justification for the decision I had made. Something like, "The risk of becoming infected from stopping a single time in my entire lifespan to help one randomly encountered accident victim is statistically insignificant," would have done nicely. But what kept surfacing instead was the embarrassingly sentimental notion that I don't want to live in a society where people won't take care of each other when they are hurt and helpless.
So if you are in an accident, if you need help, if I am there, I will stop. And I hope you will do the same for me.
But it was a week before I could face taking my blanket out of the trunk to wash it, so I would rather you just slow down a little.Don't follow so closely. Be courteous. Don't drink. Fasten your seat belt.
Listen to Mother.