Saturday, September 15, 2012

How Did You Get Here So Fast?

Her head was pitched back against the driver’s headrest, her jaw slack as the Lexus SUV idled through the intersection. If Jill and I could have seen her eyes, we’d have seen only the whites. No hands appeared on the steering wheel.

“Holy shit,” I said, leaning forward to the windshield. “I think that driver’s unconscious.”

Oncoming cars honked their horns and moved to either side as the SUV drifted across the lanes, up over the curb, and crunched to a slow-motion stop against one of the young elms that bordered the strip mall parking lot. I waited for our light to go green, intent on getting us over there.

Then things start to happen.

Before the SUV even comes to a halt, people start rising up. A man throws his car in park and jumps out. Without regard to risk, he runs alongside the moving SUV, reaching through the window for the gear shift.

A patron having breakfast at Qdoba leaves his egg burrito on the table and moves toward the scene. An elderly fast food worker in a Wendy's cap hobbles across the street to see what he can do. Other drivers emerge from their cars and leave them parked on the street as they converge.

We get a green light and I gun it, rounding the corner and pulling into an empty space not far from the action. Jill has her phone in hand and bangs out 911 and begins talking to the dispatcher.

I run over to see how I can help. It hasn’t been a minute since the SUV has come to rest and there’s already a half-dozen people gathered around the driver’s door. I see car keys in the grass – somebody has put the car in park and shut it down and tossed the keys there. Bystanders are on their phones, each talking to 911 and pointing to the street signs, either to orient themselves or in the belief that by physically pointing to “116th and Commercial Drive,” they can help the dispatcher hone in on our exact location.

Others are pulling the young woman out of the driver’s seat and onto the grass. She is about 25 and barefoot in blue jeans and a tank top. In other circumstances, her gray features would have been described as pretty. Someone had found her purse and her Florida driver’s license. We learn that her name is Amber, and this is what we call her. 

“Amber, can you hear me?”
“Do you know where you are, Amber?”

“You’re okay, Amber. Help is on the way."

Amber is convulsing. Her mouth is foaming and she’s clearly in the midst of a seizure. A woman with copper-red hair, about my age, now sits in the grass and takes Amber’s head in her lap. Amber is twitching. Her eyes are open but she doesn’t see. She retches and we turn her on her side. I see Amber’s hands start to flail, so I gently take her wrists to keep her from striking herself. As the others do, I repeat in a calm voice, a mantra: “You’re okay. You’re okay, Amber. Help is coming.”

Other hands are on her. Holding her head. Hands on her shoulders. On her legs. If we were somewhere else, not by the side of the road adjacent to a strip mall, not next to a car smacked up against an elm tree, this could have been a healing ceremony. Maybe this is what we do instinctively: a laying on of hands.

I glance over and see Jill watching with concern, her phone in one hand and the other covering her mouth. We hear sirens in the distance. The cavalry is coming.

People start to diagnose. “Do you think she’s diabetic? What about epilepsy? Is she wearing one of those medical bracelets? Are there any medications in her car?”

Her tremors begin to abate. Amber’s eyes start to focus and she stares up fearful at the faces of these strangers hovering above her. “Where’s Jeff?” she says.

“You were alone, Amber. Who’s Jeff? Do you want us to call Jeff for you?” Her eyes go blank again.

Fishers PD is on the scene now, and the two young officers begin assessing the scene. We hear the approach of other sirens and know that EMS is close. We continue to hold Amber and offer comfort and reassurance as her consciousness waxes and wanes.

I hear the familiar sound of the slide being racked on a semi-auto. I look up and see that one of the officers has cleared a firearm and is securing it in the cargo pocket of his utility trousers. So, Amber carries. I don’t see the firearm, but in the officer’s hand I recognize a Glock 19 magazine.

EMS begins arriving. A battalion chief in a white Tahoe. A Pierce Arrow tactical rescue truck from Station 91, big old Stars and Stripes on the front grill. Paramedics in a Fishers FD ambulance with lights going. Nearly a dozen EMS in total. The cavalry, indeed.

As the professionals move in, we civilians turn Amber over to their care. We step back and watch, and seem for the first time to really notice one another. There seems to be an unspoken surprise that there are so many of us. Where did we all come from? One even says to another, “How did you get here so fast?”

One doesn’t need to look far today for examples of evil and inhumanity. On a Saturday morning coffee run, it seemed a small gift to witness the spontaneous goodness of humanity welling up and surrounding and taking into its arms one of its own.


Anonymous said...

aaatHd 30hIncredibly well written! So much introspect and emotion from so many passerbys!

Joe said...

Thanks for your thoughts. In the moment, you're just taking action. It's only afterwards that you can look back and say, "dang... did you /see/ that??"

writeraa said...

Joe, this is wonderful. Admittedly, I got a little choked up reading it. Thanks for showing us your vision of what Matters In This Life.

I'll keep this and refer to it when I come across yet another article about senseless violence in our communities, the lack of humanity.

Thank you.

Joe said...

Clay, I'm reminded of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse last year. People rushed away to escape the collapsing structure.

But at the moment that the rigging bounced and settled, those same waves of people started flowing back TOWARD the wreckage, throwing chairs out of the ways and working to lift steel bars from trapped spectators, and pulling them free. It was an amazing thing to see.