It was 6:32pm.
I was sitting at my computer writing.
I heard a small screech, a couple loud thumps, and then a really loud crash as my building shook.
I knew what had happened. It happens every few days at my house, but just not to this degree.
There was a wreck outside my house on Pacific Ave.
I rushed downstairs and ran as fast as I could around the corner to help.
An SUV had been traveling north on Pacific Ave. had jumped the curb, taken out 2 street signs, a few trees in front of my place and slammed head on into my neighbors house.
No skid marks. Full on at probably around 50mph, which is how fast the cars travel down this stretch of road.
I was the first person on the scene and I assessed the scene. The vehicle did not look as though there was fire danger so I approached the car to find the man driver convulsing and seizing, still in the harness.
I got certified as an EMT last year and the training came back quick. I knew I needed to stop his head from moving as he very likely had a broken neck so I opened the rear door and tried to hold his head to secure his cervical spine. As I began, other people came over to help and I told the first person, Simon (my neighbor), to take my place so that I could asses him. We made the transfer and I began to check him out. He was sweating profusely and bleeding from his forehead. He began to seize harder and we were unable to hold him still. He wasn’t responding to verbal or painful (rubbing the chest) stimuli and his eyes we uncontrolled. Ultimately, his seizures became so violent that we were forced out of the car. I continued to stay by his side and try to communicate with him as he he came and went.
Ultimately, the paramedics got there and then the cops and then the crash truck and the wrecker and about 30-40 congregated around. Camera men were taking pictures and traffic was at a standstill on Pacific, where rush hour had it packed to the brim with the entire north bound lane shut down. They had it under control.
They got him on a stretcher and our of there as quickly as possible. That made me feel good. That they were there to help.
I walked back in my house. I paced in circles for a few moments and I called my roommate to tell him. My rugby coach called as he had driven past the house and explained in a voice mail “There is wreck in front of your place and I have a feeling you were involved. Call me back.” I did and spatted who knows what, but that I was ok. Another friend text me to see if I was ok. Reply – Yes, thanks for asking. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t sit down.
I needed to get some air.
I started on a walk to the beach and as I walked across Pacific Ave. down the 2 blocks to the sand, I started feeling weird.
I veered from feelings of excitement to sorrow. I thought about my girlfriend from college that had died while we were dating. I thought about my loving girlfriend, Lea, that I spend so much time with now. I thought about how much I love to be able to help. I thought about how powerless I felt as there was nothing I could do when.
I needed to walk more.
I took a seat on my favorite bench as the sun was setting over the pacific ocean and took a few deep breaths.
I thought about my mom and my sister and her baby and my dad. I thought about Lea.
I thought about how there was nothing that could’ve changed the events that had just taken place. It was determined that he started having a seizure while driving, jumped the curb and never hit the brakes as he hurled his truck into the house. Nobody at fault. No one to blame. A seizure.
What if someone had been waiting at that bus stop, like they do all day long. What if someone had been walking across the street. What if the girl in the house that he hit had been close to that wall? What if instead of veering right, he had gone left into oncoming rush hour traffic at 50 mph?
The thoughts made my stomach turn. I thought it was good no one else got hurt. I thought that he likely could die from the injuries he had just suffered and that was not good.
“Is there anything else I could’ve done?”, I asked myself. I didn’t like asking that question.
I called my Mom and as the first ring started, an angel appeared.
I met Whakapaingia David Luke 6 years ago when we both joined Santa Monica Rugby Club. We won our first of back to back national championships that year and we probably spent 6 out of 7 days together. Eating, training, partying, praticing, traveling..living together and we became fast friends. I was there the afternoon he met his wife on the beach and I was in the house to help deliver his daughter. To say he is a brother is an understatement.
Right when I needed someone to talk to that could hear me, in spite of my uneasiness and discomfort, there he was.
As I dialed my Mom, I looked up and Lucky, as his rugby buddies affectionately call him, said “Fancy seeing you here” with a great big smile behind the stroller a beaming Tahi, his darling daughter.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to kiss his little girl. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be next to my friend.
I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted..
But seeing him made it all better. We talked for a while and retreated into my favorite restaurant, where I eat nearly every day for breakfast, but had never visited at night, and had a beer. He called his wife to meet us and she was on the way.
He spoke to me as my friend. While about 90 minutes had passed since I first heard the loud crash, I was only starting to realize the progression of time..that is, the time where we live. Minutes are minutes and hours are hours. For the past hour and a half, it had been a blur. Lights..sirens..cars..horns..people, of all stripes, coming..going..looking..walking..muttering.
In all the words of empowerment he told me as he bounced his little girl on his knee, I only remember one thing.
“The universe doesn’t make mistakes.”
It made me feel better.
If I could have chosen anyone in the world to show up at that precise moment, it would’ve been him. His smile and his overtly positive persona.
Perhaps the universe doesn’t make mistakes..
I felt I should probably call my Mom back, as she would’ve seen the phone dial earlier.
In speaking with her, her voice eased me. Her tone and her tangible concern could be felt. We talked about hope and loneliness and the path of a warrior. We talked about how part of what makes me, me, is that it was my only instinct to run as fast as I could to help. She went on to remind me that while that has great value, it comes at a tremendous price, for I would always be there first to witness the bad as well. That was part of the deal but that I was equipped to deal with it.
My life has been always been full of the “front lines”.
We shared a laugh and she closed a much needed conversation with a quote from Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
I felt put back together. I felt capable and proud of myself, however still drained from the experience.
I walked back to my place with Waka, Sara, and little Tahi and made small talk. Soon after we got home, Chris got home as well and we all shared inthe joy of watching an 8 month old look around the room and giggle.
Waka and his family soon left and Chris and I had a chance to talk.
Chris’s Mom was an ER nurse so he has first hand knowledge of the effects of witnessing human suffering and sickness. We sat down for a few minutes and he eased me with his advice. He always has a way of rationalizing things. Breaking them down into separate parts so that they are more manageable.
We talked about accepting life and all that comes with it is in fact a part of life. How accepting that fact can help one to understand and move positively through events such as those that just took place. We talked about how part of my purpose in being able to help was “just being there at the man’s side, so he wasn’t alone.” We talked about how being emotional in the face of emergencies is important, especially when it involved another person.
Him talking to me was calming and comforting.
I suppose his ability to be a great listener and willingness to give sound advice is part of the reason I call him one of my best friends on this earth.
Its been nearly 5 hours now. I’m calm and tired. Drained.
I hope the fellow is OK.
I feel thankful for my Mom and my friends and my girlfriend and my rugby coach and little Tahi and this world.
I’m thankful I was able to help.