Yesterday, on the way home from the park with Isaac, I came upon a car accident. I didn't actually see the accident but it had just happened when I arrived. A banged-up car was in a grassy area beside the country road on which I'd been traveling and two other cars had pulled over to help. I pulled over, too.
I used to be certified in first aid and CPR. It was a requirement of my job, both when I worked with children and when I worked in health care. Every year, I had to take a refresher course and then pass a test which involved performing CPR on a mannequin. My certification lapsed more than 10 years ago, but those annual refresher courses are stuck in my mind, apparently.
I jumped out of my car and hurried over to the people standing on the grass, calling, "I know first aid. Can I help?"
A young woman was standing over a man who was lying supine on the ground. "Yes!" she said, pointing at him. "Help him. He's hurt bad."
For a second, I thought I was going to have to perform CPR or something. Thankfully, that was not the case.
I dropped to my knees beside the man and asked him where he was hurt.
He said his lower back hurt and he looked like he was in pain.
I asked him if he could feel his hands and feet. He said yes. I asked him to stay as still as he could and asked if he could wiggle his fingers and toes. "Just your fingers and toes, just a little bit. Don't move anything else." He could.
He said, "I guess it's good that I'm in so much pain. At least I can feel everything. I guess that's a good sign."
I said, "It's sure a better sign than if you couldn't feel anything." Which I thought was true, plus I thought if he could interpret the pain as a positive thing, like a good sign, that would probably be helpful.
I told him to take some slow deep breaths and to try to picture the muscles in his back relaxing and stretching out. I told him I knew that it was uncomfortable, that the ambulance would be there soon, that pretty soon he'd be at the hospital and get some really good pain medication.
I asked him if he knew where he was, who he was, what day it was. He did. I asked him if he knew what had happened and he said he fell asleep at the wheel. I asked if he had been tired, if he was sure he'd just fallen asleep, hadn't passed out or had a seizure or anything like that. He felt sure he'd just fallen asleep.
I asked him if anything hurt other than his back and he said no. I started assessing him for other injuries. It looked like he'd hit his nose on something. There was a bloody scrape on the end of his nose. I mentioned that to him and asked if it hurt. He said no and seemed unaware that he'd even bumped his nose. He also had a cut on one hand that was bleeding and a really swollen lump on one arm, which was also bruised blue. I felt the lump gently. He said it didn't hurt but I thought it might be broken. I think his back just hurt so much that he wasn't even aware of anything else that might have hurt.
It took a while for the ambulance to arrive. We were in the middle of nowhere. Mostly I focused on keeping him as calm as possible and helping him manage the pain. There were no injuries that needed first aid. There was nothing else to do until the paramedics arrived.
He asked if anyone had some Tylenol. One of the other people that had stopped to help had some. I figured Tylenol wouldn't hurt him. I made sure it was acetaminophen, not ibuprofen, because if you're bleeding or might need surgery, you shouldn't take NSAIDS. I thought it was unlikely Tylenol would help much, as much pain as he was in, but I also figured it wouldn't hurt and that if he thought it might help, then it might help. Even if it was just a placebo effect kind of thing, if he thought it would help, it might help.
The paramedics finally arrived so I told him he was in good hands, wished him luck and left. As I drove away, several things occurred to me.
First, I dropped down to the grass beside him and had no memory of it being difficult to get down on the ground. Nor did I have any memory of it being difficult to get back up again, when the paramedics arrived and I needed to get out of their way.
Second, even though he wasn't really in need of much first aid, he just needed to stay calm and hold still until medical help arrived, I think I was helpful and I felt good about that. Even though he didn't need CPR or anything serious like that, I knew how to do it if he had needed it, and I think it helped him, and probably everyone else there, too, to have someone on the scene that knew first aid. I think it helped him stay calm and feel safe.
And I think I was able to help him stay calm and cope with the pain until the paramedics arrived. And I felt strong and capable and competent. And I don't feel that way very often.
Of course, I'm not glad he had an accident. But I'm glad I was there when it happened. I feel like I was in the right place at the right time, for him and for me.