21 Minutes

Today, while driving on Route 80 heading back to work from a meeting, I glanced at my GPS and noticed the arrival time to my destination was 11:04 a.m.   In that instant, an SUV not too far in front of me jerked severely to the right, then jerked to the left, then swerved back and forth and back and forth for what seemed like an eternity until it slid sideways, perpendicular to the highway lanes, for a couple of seconds, dust flying up and encapsulating the vehicle.  In that exact moment, I thought, whew, it's over, when it then stopped sliding, the dust spread thin, and the SUV flipped over.

Me, along with 5 or 6 cars pulled over and ran out of our cars.  I started running towards the SUV, stopped, ran back to my car, turned it off, and then ran towards the SUV again.

The driver, a young kid maybe 20 or so, was out, his hand bleeding.  His father, who had been sitting in the passenger seat, was climbing through his window.  I ran to the other side and there was a woman, the mother, lying on the road next to the back window of the vehicle.  One of the drivers who had pulled over knelt down and began speaking to her.  Another driver and I ran back to the father and asked him if there was anyone else in the car.  He didn't answer--just stared at us.  I screamed to someone to call 911, but he was already on his phone.

We knelt down on the ground, our knees in the glass, and looked into the vehicle.  There were a lot of papers and water bottles, an open, busted cooler, bags of potato chips.  And a vacuum.  But no one else.  Just the three of them.

Over the next few minutes we figured out that the family was foreign, and only the son spoke English.  Mom and Dad understood a little.  They were all in shock.  The mother refused to stay on the ground and began walking around.  Me and another woman forced her to sit on the snow bank and I ran to her car to get a blanket that she told me was in her back seat.  I walked over to the son and asked him what happened.  He told me he had fallen asleep.  I told the father, who I had forgotten most likely couldn't understand me, that he and his family were so lucky to be able to walk away from this.  He looked at me with his sad blue eyes and said, "God is here." 

It took a few minutes for the cops to arrive.  And then the paramedics.  And the family kept telling us no, no, we are fine-we don't need to go to the hospital, but it was clear that the mother was in pain, and it looked like her shoulder was dislocated.  I looked at the woman driver who had stopped to help and when our eyes met she knew what I knew, and we just knew.

She said to the son, "It doesn't matter if you have insurance or not, the hospital will take care of you."

And I said, "Are you here legally?" 

He said, "No."

I said, "Just don't worry.  It will be OK."

I didn't know if that was the case.  I still don't.  But I just wanted that family to be OK.  They were all in shock, not one of them crying over what had just happened, just scared to death of what might happen.  They kept looking at each other with terror in their eyes, occasionally saying something to each other in their native language.  They kept telling us they were fine, but when I would look at the mom when she didn't know I was looking, I would see her wince in pain.  And her shoulder--it was not right.

The other woman who had stopped to help asked me if I was a nurse, too.  I said, No, but my mom was.

In the end, a cop asked us witnesses, who were down to three, what had happened, and I didn't mention that the son told me he had fallen asleep.  He escorted us back to our cars on the highway.  And then--

I drove away.  Headed back to work.  GPS listing my destination arrival as 11:25 a.m.

I will never see those people again.  But I will wonder for a long time what happened to them.  On a day they planned to go on a picnic.  With their vacuum.  But never made it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i am proud of you