Life and Death In The Fast Lane

This one doesn’t have any pictures. Use your mind.

I believe it was sometime in 2008 or 2009. I hadn’t anticipated watching someone die that day. Especially not someone many years younger than me. As if that matters.

I certainly hadn’t anticipated my military experience being the topic of brief, though relevant discussion. I had completed my time in service a few years prior and was making my best effort at leaving it there, in the past.

I’ll get to the point of this day and the events that unfolded, but I may bounce in and out of tangents as I do. They all apply in some capacity.

However, it’s up to you if you find the tangents relevant or a waste of your time.

It’s seems so vividly carved in my memory. Yet, in the same moment it’s a distant memory I can almost convince myself never happened.

The Associate

I was walking into my apartment building after an otherwise uneventful day in class as an undergraduate. As I was pulling my keys from my pocket to unlock my door I heard the voice.

“Hey Micah, you have medical experience right?”

They were in a state of noticeable distress.

I wasn’t sure what they were talking about and must have looked like a deer in headlights. Staring back with noticeable confusion smeared across my face.

Unaware of the destruction that lay outside.

I knew who this person was, but had no idea what they were referring to regarding the ‘medical experience’ comment.

They were a teachers assistant (TA) at the university I was attending. We had gotten to know each other a bit in class.

Rather than attending the class they were working as a TA while completing their graduate degree.

We happened to live in the same building just off highway 94. It cuts through Minneapolis and separated our apartment building from the University of Minnesota campus.

“The military taught you some stuff right?”

His assumption was relatively on point. There were combat lifesaver courses I had participated in.

However, I didn’t remember sharing much of anything with him regarding my military experience during our brief discussions in class.

He made a good guess maybe?

Training Cycle

I never actually received my certification as a combat lifesaver. We had very limited time prior to deploying overseas, which left our unit to pick and choose who got what training.

I was pulled from the training partway through the combat lifesaver course to focus on other functions more closely associated with being a gunner.

Operating different weapon systems and understanding their effective ranges and how best to utilize them against a formidable enemy.

Basically learning how to make things dead as opposed to keeping them alive.

It makes sense thinking about it now. I suppose our leadership wanted the drivers of the vehicles to learn that stuff so when the gunner got fucked up, with their head poking out the top of the gun tub, the driver would know how to patch them up.

Yet, this was wishful thinking. Anyone that saw what a roadside bomb would do to an armored vehicle knows well that nobody is safe.

I’m rambling. Moving on.

I had training, but this didn’t extended much beyond putting a tourniquet on or stopping a sucking chest wound.

Interesting fact. A sucking chest wound is when someone gets a hole that penetrates through their body into their lung(s) and leaves air surging in and out of the wound as the person struggles for air while drowning on their own blood.

For those of you that don’t know, a sucking chest wound can be stopped with a piece of plastic large enough to completely cover the hole.

You just need to apply enough pressure while placing the plastic over the hole. Keep applying pressure and something to help with the bleeding.

I’m sure you can find something to help soak up the blood. Don’t be stingy, take off your shirt and use it if you don’t have bandages available.

Continue applying pressure until help arrives.

Ok… Ok… I’ll do what I can to avoid these tangents moving forward.

Back on topic.

Reaction: Fight or flight?

Life and death in the fast lane and how I found myself having a revelation of my own.

So the acquaintance was standing in the hall staring at me and had just asked about my military medical experience.

I responded to them I had received a bit of training and asked why they were asking.

They proceeded to tell me there was a really bad accident on the highway near our building. What I didn’t understand was how I was supposed to help.

There was a large wall that separated the highway from the road that ran parallel and just behind our building. The only way to get to the highway would be to scale a 20 foot wall.

He just said to hurry and that I’d understand when I stepped out the back door. He wasn’t lying.

When I stepped out I saw a very large hole blown through the wall and what appeared to be some aspect of a car pushed through it.

There was a very large group of people gathered and looking onward. Instantly I had chills because it reminded me of something out of Iraq.

The site of carnage. Twisted metal, smoke and strange noises.

Due to the neighborhood I was living in, many of the men were wearing very similar attire to those in Iraq. They were adorn with flowing dish-dash’s and shemaghs.

Ya know, the man dress and head scarfs. Great for staying cool in hot summer air and keeping the sun off your head.

I ran down to see how I could help and was blown away with what I saw.

On Scene: Senses heightened

To get to the vehicle I surfed my way through a crowd of no less than 30 onlookers. When I got to the front of the pack I saw a first responder looking up at me.

The law enforcement officer looked as helpless as everyone standing around. He was next to what use to be the drivers side of the car.

It was then I saw the young man crying for help. His arm outstretched and gripping for anyone who would hold it.

There wasn’t much volume to his voice though or maybe I was in shock with how fast my afternoon escalated into a state of chaos.

His face covered in lacerations and his body covered in blood. Who needs a combat zone when you have this in your back yard?

The surge of adrenaline was unmistakeable at this point.

The young man in the car will forever be a memory I cant shake. He was passing from this world into whatever you believe follows and I saw the prelude to his last breaths.

Knowing the situation was pretty well defined, I asked the police officer if there was anything I could do to help. He looked at the situation we were standing next to and then at me with a distant stare.

His face was painted with sorrow. With what I’d assume was the realization of a presumable loss of a youth half his age.

The young man could have likely been the same age as one of his sons if he had any.

First Responder

It’s a painful reality when you’re in a traumatic situation and there’s nothing that can be done to make it better. Telling the boy that help was on the way did nothing except make me feel like a shitty person.

The officer was clearly distraught with the situation, but as composed as you’d hope someone carrying a firearm would be. You could see he wanted to help, but given the circumstances he was at best a radio operator calling for help.

It was disturbing to look into the eyes of a young man pleading for his life. Smashed in a car with that arm reaching out.

Hoping someone would help them escape.

It’s that exact image that scars my thoughts at times. This is only the case if I think too much about the details of the event though.

On a side note…

A big thank you to the men and women that perform emergency response helping others. I’d be interested to learn how you manage separating these difficult realities from impacting your daily life.

Cognitive thought processing and self-imposed will I suppose.

Ok, where was I?

The Anomaly

The officer didn’t take long to direct my attention beyond the wreckage. He pointed out the passenger was thrown from the vehicle and on the ground not far from the twisted wreckage.

He was attending to the young man still showing some signs of life in the car. He was aware of the other mans presence. However, he wasn’t moving on the ground and it would appear as if there was nothing left to attend to.

The scene was something that gives me chills to this day. The car had literally folded in half around a tree and smashed the driver in his seat.

The force of the car tumbling at 90 miles per hour blew out the retaining wall that blocked these types of things from reaching my apartment building.

It left a large enough hole that I could easily step through to reach the accident.

Here goes the lesson. Ya see, the boys in this accident and I had something in common. The desire to move quickly in motorized vehicles or the whip as they say.

There’s something really interesting about going fast. For me it was motorcycles.

120 miles per hour (mph) is fast, but around 150 mph is where I’d really start to get tunnel vision.

At 170 mph there’s just a small target straight ahead that’s surrounded with blur. The hit or miss mark if you need to dodge obstacles.

All I had to do was look around at the accident and I saw the aftermath of what missing the mark looked like. Hell, you could smell it and hear it also.

Life Lesson

An epiphany should happen for anyone that looks the consequences of that action in the eyes. It feels amazing to rip, but there are consequences. The faster you go the greater the consequences.

Yet, this was something different. It was no longer specifically about driving a vehicle or the act of physically going fast.

Life.

The faster you go the harder you crash.

Yet, we still do it. I guess the risk is worth the reward to some.

I’ll come back to risk and reward shortly, but for now back to the main story.

I looked passed the vehicle and the young man begging for life to see the passenger laid out flat on the ground. The traffic still speeding past on the highway, slowing down just enough to get a glimpse of the carnage.

I turned to the crowd that formed and asked if anyone had medical experience. I wanted to help, but was hoping there was someone more qualified than myself.

Blessings Come in All Sizes

After I asked if anyone had medical experience I received a lot of blank stares from the group of men just peering back.

Then, in the midst of the chaos a little voice parted the crowd. To be clear, it was one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard.

It was what I could imagine a scene from a movie looking like.

A woman raising her hand from the back of the crowd stepped forward. This in no way is an exaggeration. The men parted like the red sea and she emerged a superhero in her own right.

No hate towards those standing in the crowd. I understand why most wouldn’t get involved in an accident like this.

It was traumatic just to see it from a distance, let alone getting close enough to see into the eyes of those directly impacted.

That said, when the woman stepped forward I felt I had been gifted from the heavens. I told her what the officer had told me and pointed through the hole in the wall at the body on the ground.

I believe she was a practicing EMT or paramedic, but not certain. She did say she had formal training though.

On another side note. If you, the reader, are this woman or the law enforcement officer, I’d like to buy you a coffee or a beer if that’s more your flavor.

If you happen to know this woman or law enforcement officer, please get them in contact with me. They more than earned the beverage and I would be curious to learn how they manage these experiences.

Maybe they have some interesting insights to share that might help others manage similar incidents.

The Objective

The lady and myself moved through the hole in the wall, past the twisted and smoldering wreckage and down to the body laying near the highway.

It was a surreal experience seeing all the cars passing and nobody stopping to help.

Then again, when you see a scene like this I suppose most people are thinking stay away because the car might blow up. Or maybe questioning if anyone is alive.

What those passing didn’t know was the young man on the ground was still alive.

We got down to him and started communicating as he was fading in and out of consciences.

The woman from the crowd was amazing. I have no doubt she made a difference in stabilizing the young man clearly in need of a trained professional.

He kept asking about his friend. This was an aspect of the incident that will forever stay with me.

He kept asking and I told him his friend was fine and getting help. I said he would see him at the hospital.

I was a liar.

In an attempt to distract him from his questions about his friend, I asked what happened.

“We were speeding through traffic.”

He talked about how they were swerving through the cars on the multilane. I asked how fast they were going.

“Over 90 mph.”

He continued explaining while dipping in and out of consciousness. The woman continued evaluating his condition.

She was searching for broken bones, bleeding or cerebral fluid leaking from his ears or nose.

He explained what he thought happened.

It sounded like they almost hit the back end of another car. In an attempt to swerve and avoid an accident with the other vehicle the driver lost control.

For some reason I asked if he was wearing his seatbelt. He said he wasn’t. Yet, he said the driver was wearing his.

My brain twitched out of frustration in that very moment. Statistically you’re much better off to wear your seatbelt. Statistically.

However, these types of anomalies tend to skew public perception. They present naysayers with ammunition to fire at those who use statistics as reasoning.

Digging Deeper

Now back to the epiphany and risk versus reward.

I understand the sense of excitement they had ripping through traffic. Not because I’ve been there, but because it’s similar to taking risks in life.

Risk taking can be fun, but it can also be really brutal.

Think of the intensity of quitting a career to pursue a new passion. Or even just changing directions in your career after significant investment of time and education into one track.

Risks in life come in many shapes and sizes. Whether it’s speeding cars on the freeway, career changes or some big adventure. They all have their risk and reward.

The fast lane can be really exciting, but it can also be unforgiving. However, there’s something about it.

That accident showed the trademark of life. The statistical anomaly of the guy that didn’t wear his seatbelt living and the guy wearing his seatbelt not surviving.

Playing it safe got him in the end.

Sometimes life is gonna present you with anomalies. It’s up to you what you do with them. I wonder what the guy on the ground did with his anomaly.

I’m rambling. Back to the main story.

Irregularly Regular

The guy on the ground had just told me he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

In my mind I imagined a car losing control and rolling through traffic. Throwing him out the passengers window and crashing into the tree, while simultaneously blowing out the retaining wall.

A miracle. I don’t know what else would explain this kid surviving after being thrown out the window from a rolling car at 90 miles per hour.

No helmet, no seatbelt… no problems I guess.

In moments like these it’s amazing how slow time seems to go. Yet, in the same instance time flies.

The next thing I know there was a firetruck pulling up and an ambulance. The swarms of emergency personnel began to occupy the area.

The jaws of life began ripping into the car in an attempt to free the driver from the car. You could hear everyone communicating in the controlled chaos.

I backed away as the emergency personnel reached the boy on the ground. At this point all I could do was answering any questions the responders had.

If you were the boy on the ground that day I’d like to offer you a coffee, beer or whatever your beverage. You deserve an apology for me lying about your friend being ok.

Conclusion

It’s time I wrap it up and put a bow on it. This was a random crazy day and lessons were learned.

It was life throwing something at me. Throwing something at everyone that took part in it.

The passenger riding with his friend and not wearing his seatbelt. The driver speeding through traffic, but wearing his seatbelt.

The officer, the crowd, the little lady and the passing traffic.

The idea that you go through your day and it will end how you intend it is wishful at best. However, being worried about risk can be debilitating.

Life is one big anomaly. If you’ve got an idea of an adventure or business venture you want to try then start.

Remember the faster you go the more focused you need to be. You’re onto something when you get the blur around what you’re focused on.

However, sometimes slowing down is ideal. I was working in a high threat environment when I was younger and someone told me something I’ll never forget.

“You have to make it home to spend it.”

Stacking chips and building a savings is great, but at what cost. I think the point has been made.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you’re risk averse or tend to find the edge and look over. There’s a single train of thought.

Whether you’ll be the anomaly or the statistic.

If the juice is worth the squeeze you won’t even be considering this though.

You’ll be out there taking action instead of thinking about it. Just don’t complain if you miss your mark. If it’s your decision it’s necessary to be comfortable with the risk, or at least accepting of it.

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