Miracle, Tragedy

Posted on August 14th, 2005 by George.
Categories: Uncategorized.

So I was all set to bask in the afterglow of a sunny Saturday and maybe send a little sunshine your way. It was gonna be great, too, since the punchline would be a small miracle. I planned to describe it all in detail, down to salty sinuses, the face in the sand, the wave-induced head over heels somersault that tore my strapped-on sunglasses from my face. I suppose I still have to dish, since I’ve already set up for it: five minutes of searching with my feet and legs in the vast, surging opaque surf and I came up with the glasses. Hooray. But it seems so anticlimactic now.

I went to a party tonight at the beach (couldn’t get enough, obviously) and just as we were leaving heard a loud, clattering thud. No tires screeching, just the crash. We walked out to see what had happened, as curious humans are wont to do, and found not a harmless auto accident but a serious wreck between a motorcycle and a car. Everyone immediately reached for their cellphones and 911 had about five calls in the span of two seconds. It was around 2am, so there wasn’t much traffic on the road. But then a red light turned green down the way, and I had to run out into the street, arms waving, to stop the oncoming traffic literally racing down the boulevard (you know how people drive on Saturday night). I knew any time bike meets car that the outcome is not good, but I saw the helmetless rider stumbling before falling back to the pavement. This was a good sign, at least he could move. The driver of the car was screaming hysterically, running back and forth and crying, repeating that she didn’t see him when she pulled out onto the highway. We later gathered that alcohol could have been a factor. It only took about two minutes for the cops to arrive, then another five for the firetrucks and EMTs. I kept stopping cars while several others tended to the rider. It was in the interim I realized that the biker was not alone; his passenger had been catapulted over the car and was out of my immediate sight. As the scene unfolded I was glad that I hadn’t gone for a closer look; she too had not been wearing a helmet, and her head trauma was more than a little severe. The details are not something to be shared here, but suffice it to say the CPR the medics performed seemed cursory. After 15 minutes of intermittent compressions they put her into the ambulance and slowly drove away with no lights. The driver of the bike had long since been rushed to the hospital.

I could only pray for a miracle–that her condition was actually better than it looked. In reality we all knew she was dead at the scene.

I try to remain aware of my own mortality every day. But watching someone die drives the point home better than any philosophizing ever could. You have no control over your own end. The life you are living at this very moment had better be the one you want. You had better make yourself content, because today might be your last. I know this. I think about it every day. It’s a routine that practically runs in the background, continuously chugging away in my subconscious. Did you make every decision count today? Did you learn from your mistakes? Are you happy? Because tomorrow is not a guarantee. And even if you’re planning for it, which is good, remember to enjoy the path. Because the fog of the future refuses to reveal when it’s your time.

And for God’s sake wear a helmet.

UPDATE — August 16, 2005 10:30pm




Comment on August 14th, 2005.

Oddly enough, the more exposure you have to death, the more routine it becomes. At work, it all boils down to an algorhythm in a code; even management of the body becomes a series of steps once you’ve determined you can do no more. Being so close to it, making the decisions that could change it, just getting your hands covered in blood and vomit gives you an “in” of sorts. You feel as if you are part of a big secret–taking a peek down the rabbit hole, if you will.
Seeing death on a daily basis certainly warps your world view. You think twice about everything you do b/c you can see the checklist of injuries that could result. On the other side of the coin, though, there’s an odd sense of immortaility that results from having such a close relationship with death. There’s no fear of that final moment. You’ve been there a hundred times.

And 99.9% of the time alcohol is involved. Still want to be a trauma surgeon, G?


Comment on August 14th, 2005.

Mortality is not something many of us like to dwell too much upon. For me it brings to mind lists of all those things I want to do before I die. My lists are quite long.

On the otherhand, I found it odd so many people oppose wearing helmets while riding motorcyles and bicyles.


Comment on August 14th, 2005.

Wow, George, what a harrowing thing to witness. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone die before, though I have seen those who are dead. Could you sleep after all that happened?

Also, glad you found your glasses. That is quite a miracle!

doctor vince

Comment on August 15th, 2005.

Some day George, when David Lynch directs the film based on your autobiography, this will be a harrowing scene.

Not to take away from your good fortune, but I’ve got to say that the real “miracle” would have been if the girl who may have died had instead spontaneously recovered from her head injury, preferably after someone had prayed over her while invoking the name of “Jesus” (two or more someones, actually, but let’s not split hairs, this was an emergency right? I’m sure “God” would have made some allowance).

After that Airbus skid off the runway in Toronto, that too was described as a “miracle,” even by some reporters. IMHO we’re getting way too sloppy with our language, and the idea of a supernatural source directing random events that happen to roll in our favor is gaining unwarranted credibility among a certain segment of our community. I know what you meant, but words matter – language defines reality (we’ve had this and better conversations off line, but hey – you said I should post more.)

Anyway, let’s not quibble. Glad you found your glasses. :-)


Comment on August 16th, 2005.

Mandar: Sounds as though the rapid-fire checklist of trying to bring a life back from the brink would appeal to the engineer/problem-solver in me. If it truly does offer a peek down the rabbit hole (not to mention a personal acceptance of death) then as a surgeon I might be able to put up with the knowledge that most of the victims I saw could have avoided their plight if it weren’t for alcohol. But the escape that alcohol provides them is merely symptomatic of the larger ills of a lack of fundamental awareness…I’ll stop before I get too deep. :)

Ez: Mortality is practically my favorite topic. I have the same lists, which is precisely why I try to make each day count in two ways: working toward the things on that list while being ultimately satisfied with my life to this point and the decisions I made today. As far as helmets go, there is no excuse. They aren’t really that uncomfortable and you’re not proving anything by not wearing one. Sometimes I think there should be a universal helmet law. Then I realize it should be your own choice to be that stupid.

Lacey: As I mentioned to Ez, my own death has been a daily thought since I started questioning life. So the only sleep I lost was in recording the event. Still, there’s no denying how firmly your feet feel rooted to the ground as you watch a life flicker out.

Vince: I ask for amnesty for sensationalizing the first event. I thought about replying that I was using the lower case “miracle” but it would be more accurate to say I was extremely lucky. I was just trying to contrast the events. Point taken.