I was driving back to The Crater one Monday morning (on the weekends that I don't work, I go to Civilisation to visit The AdMan), and was just rounding the second-to-last corner before town when I happened upon a body lying in the middle of the road. Running towards me from the other direction were a bunch of men in overalls - he'd just flown off the back of a lorry. Statistically speaking, this had to happen sooner or later. South Africa has several thousand road deaths per year - with these figures it is highly likely that each of us will at some point in our lives be the first on the scene of an accident. You just have to hope that (a) you're not actually a part of the accident and (b) nobody is too badly hurt.
This guy was badly hurt. I put the palms of my hands over his ears and my fingers around the back of his neck to stabilise any possible C-Spine injury as we moved him to the edge of the road, but as I did this his major injury became apparent. As we carried him, hot, sticky, bright red arterial blood pulsed out of his ear and over my hand - a textbook skull-base fracture, and a massive one at that. He was still breathing when we lay him down, but it was already agonal, and his pupils were dilated. I called The Surfer to ask for help - we were only about three kilometres from the hospital and I knew he'd get there with tubes and bags quicker than an ambulance would, which I called immediately after - but I was already pretty sure it was a lost cause.
So we stood there and waited, and watched his gasps become more dramatic and less frequent (one of the Hollywood myths I detest the most is that of The Instant Death - there is no such thing). Around this time some other guy stopped and told me we should turn him on his side because he was drowning in his own blood (hope flared briefly inside me - was it really possible that we could fix this with a bit of suction?), but really, I knew better. The arterial spray was thinning out to a dark venous trickle, which followed the other six litres of the guy's blood across the road. A few minutes before The Surfer arrived he took his last breath - at this point my only option would have been to start mouth-to-mouth, but his faced was covered in blood and I had no guard. I don't think it would've helped much anyway.
The Surfer arrived, and then a few minutes later a police car was there, and then shortly after that the ambulance appeared. I went home to shower - there was blood everywhere: my hands, my hair, my jeans - and the ambulance took the body to the hospital where The Legend signed the death certificate and the rest of the men from the lorry were debriefed.
There really was nothing I could have done - the man sustained a fatal injury the instant he hit the road, there was nowhere for me to compress, and I had no tools with which to resuscitate him. And although I couldn't personally have prevented his death, it was preventable - he shouldn't have been riding on the back of an open lorry up a winding mountain pass, with no seatbelt on or even a roof over his head. When will we learn?
Originally uploaded by Dusan Bartolovic