The mortality and morbidity rates in rural America compared to the big cities are telling… that’s why country folks have a stake in their communities, they act rather than react; they are survivors.
They don’t wait in waist-deep water looking for federal helicopters to pluck them from misfortune.
Once you drop down onto Texas state highway 287 out of Amarillo headed south, the long, battered ribbons of highway connect small villages like Washburn, Goodnight and Ashtola. Down this way, a town like Clarendon in Donley County, just a couple of newborn kids over 2,000, is a regional shopping mecca.
Down here the citizens of the open range leave behind what urbanites take for granted… speedy emergency services response. The population is too small, the land too vast, the funds too meager.
The “10 code” most law enforcement agencies use for motor vehicle accidents (fatal, personal injury, property damage) is…
The first accident occurred about a half hour out of Amarillo; two cars, moderate damage, no injuries and just required slowing down the high speed travelers down with a flashing light and waving them to the right lane as we tried to get the folks some shade and water in the 100+ degree weather.
I came upon the second accident very quickly. The anti-lock brakes bumped and pumped back as I pulled to a quick stop behind a woman who was trying to cross the highway carrying a bottle of water.
It appeared that the SUV, pulling a long, heavy trailer and a one of the large “zero-turn” mowers used by many who have a lot of property to maintain or a lawn business had swerved out of control and whipped into the steep grassy median.
A woman, the driver, was talking animatedly on her cell; man in a white T shirt was suggesting ways that she could pull the rig forward and back on the road. I suggested that to do so would risk a second accident.
Heather, about 10, stood on the driver’s side running board, crying, seemingly ignored by the adults on scene.
“What’s your name, kiddo?”
“Heather.” Her stringy, long blond hair covered her face.
“Is that your mom and dad?”
“That’s my Mom; my Daddy’s in prison.” This was said matter-of-factly, but also seemed to be her explanation for the situation.
Tears streaked her flushed cheeks.
I asked if she hurt any where and she said “no.” And then a moment later she said,
“I didn’t have my seat belt on,” and began to cry again
“I have a bad headache,” she said, rubbing her right temple. She said she didn’t remember hitting her head.
I tried to get mom’s attention about the possibility of a concussion and asked if she called law enforcement. She seemed quite concerned about “Papa’s mower” and reported he was on his way.
Well, thank God… I mean it was a zero-turn mower.
I went back to the barefooted Heather, carried her to the rear of the vehicle and lifted the tailgate for shade. I lowered all the windows, looked at her pupils… and asked Mom again if she had called the cops… she said yes.
I spent the next few minutes talking to Heather about the possibility of bad dreams and being afraid of being in a car, sleep problems one you’ve been in an accident. Over many years I learned that part of “psych first aid” in such situations includes “preparing” trauma victims (especially children) with details of what they might experience after the incident. This way they know their feelings are expected, predictable and those of a “normal” person, and that such feelings will go away quickly.
The sheriff’s deputy pulled up, I told him about the child’s headache and he said EMS was en route; I went back to the SUV, kissed Heather on the brow and headed back to my pick-up.
I like people a lot more when they are kids.
Two hours later I jammed the brakes once more.
Four people, three women and a young man, stood over him looking down.
The big, black Ultra Glide lay on its right side; debris from the fairing and saddle bag contents littered the median. Just minutes before, the young man said, the biker lost control on the edge of the pavement, the cruiser fished tailed several times and whipped bike and rider airborne across the steel cable barrier and onto the grass.
He was about 65, a big man, tattoos, and a veteran; a Patriot Guard arm band lay nearby.
I felt mechanically for a carotid pulse… but he was clearly dead.
I learned that one of the young women had just finished course work in EMS and the other was a nurse. They had already checked his vitals… we all knew the same thing.
I looked about, unrolled his rain gear and covered his face with the jacket.
I saw a woman in a white sedan make a quick sliding stop off the pavement on the far side of the road. She yelled “do you need a nurse?” I yelled back “no” and slowly shook my head; she understood.
We stood quietly for several more minutes. I thanked the young folks for being the type of people who stop to help… the world is divided into two groups of people: those who stop at accidents and those who don’t.
The first group is a lot fewer and we need every one of them.
Two young EMS guys arrived and immediately set to work… listening to our few comments, but very professionally and methodically went by the book.
Our small group said good bye and the young man who witnessed the crash said that he’d wait to talk to law enforcement.
The traffic had jammed up and one of the motorists let me cross in front of him.
In the several more hours ahead, I thought about my own Harley and being 64 and not as “quick” as I was at 30. I thought about the two times I’ve “been down”… both sobering, but not serious… just a sprained wrist. I thought about the man I just left, his friends and family and that his last Patriot Guard mission would be his own.
I berated myself for getting sloppy…. my first aid equipment is woefully out of date and I don’t know what happened to my emergency reflectors and my tool bag since I moved to Texas. I have a multi-purpose tool in the console, but it is not near big enough or well-made enough. I had water but not one of light weight “survival” blankets that can serve as just about everything.
I promised myself I’d get a first-aid refresher course and I vowed to be a better and more cautious driver…. and as the news about the mass shooting in Colorado continued to pour through the radio, I vowed once again not to take a single moment of this life for granted.