Earlier this week, while driving to work during a moderate snow storm, I came up on an accident that had just happened. I did not see it happen but it was obvious that it had occurred just a minute or two earlier – traffic was not backing up yet; no police or EMS on scene; and only a car or two had stopped.
It looked like a pretty bad accident. A single car had rolled down a very steep embankment a good 30-40 feet. I’m sure the car had to roll at least twice, maybe three times, before coming to rest at the bottom. I did not see anyone out of the car yet.
So, what did I do? With my paramedic training and more than a decade of experience? What did I do? I kept driving….
I could not stop. I had to keep driving.
By the time I got to work about 10 minutes later, I was shaking and on the verge of tears. I felt horribly guilty for not stopping. I still do. It rips me up to think that someone could have been seriously injured – maybe even on the verge of death – and I could have helped them. Or maybe prevented someone with good intentions from doing something to cause more damage. But I didn’t. I kept driving.
I was overwhelmed with memories and emotions from my experiences working as a paramedic. It has been more than 12 years since I ran my last call, but looking at the car at the bottom of the hill brought me right back to it. It was a roll over accident. A pregnant woman with a head injury trapped in the back of an SUV. I spent an eternity in the back of that vehicle with her punching me while the rest of the crew cut the car apart to get her out.
I have no idea what happened to her – it was truly the very last call of my career. Now, I have no idea what happened to the occupants of the vehicle I drove by last week. Of course, my emotions tell me the worst possible outcome is the only possibility.
How did I go from thriving on jumping head first into the worst of the worst, to driving by without hardly slowing down? I spent years doing every thing I could to help people – now, thanks to PTSD, I can’t.
Will it be like this from now on? Will I ever stop for another accident? Will my kids, knowing what I used to do, insist that I stop to help? What will I do then? Will I stop? What will they think of me if I don’t?
It is a feeling of true weakness.