an ambos life

Please just say something

Please just say something

Even from the front seat of the ambulance you could see that this crash was a bad one. Two cars becoming one for a brief instant on an open rural road. Head on they had met. Despite being in the dark of night, there were enough lights focussed on the scene already to betray the damage. They were no longer one now. One car sat wrecked but upright in the middle of the road. The other was some distance away, on its side. Shattered glass, pieces of twisted metal and engine oil were strewn between them as if thrown by an explosion. In a way that is just what had happened.

Another paramedic crew were already on scene with one member at each car. Fire and rescue uniforms were busying themselves for a nights work. My partner looked quickly at the scene and heaved the sigh of the knowing. She pointed to the car on its wheels and said simply that was my one.

The front of my car was pretty much missing. Much had crumpled inward as designed to do. Some of it was simply gone, part of the explosion of wreckage. A paramedic was leaning into the vehicle talking to someone and trying to take a blood pressure. Eyes filled with urgency met my brief hello.

There were two people in the car and they were pressed together. An older woman was the one being attended to by the paramedic so I tried to focus on the other. His driver’s side of the car was the worst damaged and there was no getting to him from there. Sadness ran through me as I suddenly saw the ‘L’ plate attached to the back window.

Looking closely now I could see that the two people weren’t in some sort of emotional embrace. Well there was surely emotion but there was nothing intentional here. The crushed cabin had pushed them together so closely that face was pressed against face, body against body. Neither of them spoke and they both sat stoic waiting rescue.

The woman passenger answered my colleague’s questions but with words or slow nods. Some would say she was in ‘shock’. Something about the young lad was wrong though. There was blood on his face and in his hair. Some was on her and her dress making it hard to tell if she was also bleeding. The lad had his eyes open staring at some item of interest. Then the realisation dawned for me. His eyes weren’t intent. They never would be again. These were lifeless eyes.

We worked for more than an hour to get her out of that car and away from that macabre posture. The woman spoke minimally, unwillingly. He was her son. She had picked him up from a party and let him drive home. He needed night driving experience and he hadn’t been drinking. They had been talking and neither had noticed the car drift onto the wrong side of the dark road. Just a bit. Headlights approached at country road speed. A last minute, panicked swerve of the wheel had not been enough. A few words all spread over the hour. At times part of us just wanted to be anywhere but here.

She couldn’t embrace him as a mother desperately would want. He was as much against her back as her side. She couldn’t escape him as anyone else would want. We tried to pry them apart but the wreckage held them steadfast. His dead face pressed against hers, his lifeless form pushing her over. So often we have to break the bad news. Not tonight. We never had to say and she never asked. She knew he was dead. Her grieving had begun even as the cracking sounds of the cooling engine had become the only noise left in that horrid silence that followed the collision. Long before we arrived.

The usual excitement at such callouts, the adrenaline coursing urgency that has to be overcome with discipline faded very quickly this night. We all wanted their embrace to be over as much as she did. She had injuries, was in pain. She didn’t care. Right then she probably felt she might never be able to care again.

Finally the side of the car was cut away, the roof peeled back to allow her to be free. Fire-rescuers and paramedics lifted her out onto the ambulance trolley. She looked back at her boy now still held in his lifeless pose by the wreckage. We wanted to scream ‘don’t look back whatever you do’.

You don’t have to use your whole body to display grief. Hers was quite inert in fact. But her face, oh her face. Not sobbing. Not wailing. No, just eyes filled with the horror. Her upturned mouth quivering, valiantly holding back a flood that must surely, eventually come. Someone else would have to be there later for that.

Jeff Kenneally

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