Author Topic: Collateral Damage


Collateral Damage
« on: September 20, 2011 »

Just off the side of a scenic rat run cutting through the Kent Weald, waiting for traffic to clear so I can take the road which dives into the forest to the right, it's a beautiful afternoon and I'm feeling fine, BOOM!, no, BOOM!, I snap my head over to see two cars juddering, parked into trees next to each other, bonnets nothing but dead crumple. There's a conflagration of dust and a strong, unnatural smell shot through the air which somebody later suggests is from the airbags.

I cross the road to the first car, the driver is getting out already. I ask him if he's OK. I don't remember what he replies, but he's standing and I don't see any blood, and there are other people coming, so I go to the second car. As I'm doing this I'm dialling 999.

The second car is filled with gray mist, though nothing's burning. There's no movement inside. As I'm talking to the emergency operator, frustrated that he's not getting the location I'm telling him, I slowly open the door, afraid of what I'll find. It's a woman, collapsed sideways onto the passenger side. Her skirt is hiked up a bit and I feel quickly embarrassed to be invading her privacy. I peer in and see her twitching.

I have two flashbacks, one now, one momentarily. The first is an image from just the other day. I was also on my bike, also having a lovely ride, and watched a car hit a squirrel, which did a quick swirling dance in the air and then started flopping around on the road. I went over to do I don't know what, I don't have any ability to help squirrels. I guess I thought somebody should be there for him, silly as that must sound.

I move around to the passenger side of the car and open the front door. The woman continues to twitch. Her forehead is yellow and she's drooling. There's no room for me to get next to her so I open the back door and get into the back seat.

I lean into the front and this perspective, finally being in the car, enveloped in disarray, her wounded body completing the picture, triggers my second flashback; it's suddenly my own car accident half a lifetime ago in New Jersey, waking up to blood and confusion. Thank god there's no blood here. I know what you're going through I want to say to her and later do, though she doesn't yet know what she's going through and with hindsight I'm not sure it's a helpful thing to be saying. Her breathing is jagged but at least she's breathing. She's making little noises, not really moans, those will come soon. The noises frighten me the most, like she's having a nightmare and trying to wake up, which I guess she is. Her eyes are rolled up in her head. I'm still on the phone, describing her condition, hand on her shoulder, eerily calm if it's possible to be calm and terrified at the same time.

After awhile she tries sitting upright, then drops back down. She does this a few times. There are now other people outside the car, but they're mostly leaving us to it. She gets up again, looks in the rearview mirror at me. Her eyes have now settled more or less into place, but they are the very definition of dazed. I wonder, if she's thinking anything coherent at all, if it's what are you doing back there? who are you? She softly keens, pulling me further into her fractured reality. I keep talking to her and to the 999 guy. Somebody approaches. James. He says he knows first aid, tries to get her involved in a pleasant little conversation, what's your name, you'll be fine luv, don't worry. He's good. She's starting to respond, haltingly.

An ambulance arrives. The paramedic goes to the other driver. I want to tell him to come here, that guy's not as bad. When he finally comes over the emergency operator says I can go.

I get out of the back seat, walk past the the other car, then do a little crumpling myself. James follows, says he's proud of how I handled everything, says I'm in shock, tells me to breath. The whole top of my body is tingling, my head feels funny, my chest hurts slightly. But it seems like good advice.

I get this impression of quiet competence around me, civilians drafted into temporary duty until the proper authorities take over. A man has been directing traffic, allowing cars to slowly pass. Soon the police get here and everything stops. Time itself seems to stop. They begin taking statements and I soon realise why it takes so long for road accidents to clear. Geography is complicating matters. As this took place near the border of Kent and East Sussex, there are men from both jurisdictions with questions.

I am always "the cyclist" in their notebooks. Unfortunately I have nothing useful to report, having only been an eyewitness to the aftermath. Apparently only one person has seen the actual collision. The very much unofficial reconstruction goes like this:

James sees me off to the side. Taps his brakes (though I'm not actually on the road). Woman attempts to pass him and/or take the same road to the right that I had been about to go down; her mother, who later appears on the scene, lives that way. There's a car coming the other direction and she doesn't do it in time. BOOM!

The woman is taken away in an ambulance, the contents of her car stacked neatly beside it along with the seat that has been removed to give the rescue workers better access. The man is transported to a helicopter which has landed somewhere I can't see. He's going to King's Hospital in London. Roadside opinion is he possibly has a ruptured spleen and is in worse shape than she is, which goes to show, as if constant proof is needed, how looks can be deceiving. She almost certainly has a concussion but with any luck is otherwise not too bad.

In between giving our details and versions of events to one policeman after another ("I know you probably already told the other officer this, but I'll take it down just in case..."), James and I keep each other company, the last civilians on the scene. He says being in a car offered protection from the shock. It was different for me out here in the open. He heard what sounded like a bag of flour dropping on the floor, saw bad things had happened in his wing mirror, stopped and was relieved that the cyclist wasn't somehow part of the wreckage. If I'd been out in the middle of the road about to take that turn to the right, we might have been having a different conversation, or none at all.

or, Audi driver suffers serious injury in Bells Yew Green crash