Friday, September 01, 2006

When 5 minutes mean the world

This is one of those stories that I don't share around the dinner table. Humour value, it has not.

It happened a while ago, while I was still a PC. I can remember it quite clearly. I was at the scene of an RTA- police speak for Road Traffic Accident. A 40 something woman was cycling home from work, as she had done every day for the last 12 years she had been living in the area. But on this day she never made it. She got hit by an articulated lorry and was dragged about 25 metres under the front wheel.

The truck driver wasn't going fast, not fast at all. But for reasons unknown he didn't see her for the 25 metres.

She was dragged along the road under the front wheel. Several tonne of lorry cab and tarmac acted like a giant piece of sandpaper from hell. There was a discernable tyre tread pattern on the roadway for the 25 metres. Out of her flesh.

The Fire Brigade and Ambulance staff lifted the truck off and hauled her out. She was still conscious until the moment the truck was lifted off. One of my colleagues went with her in the ambulance.

I meanwhile, knowing she likely had hours, maybe minutes left on this earth, was desperately trying to get hold of her partner.

Now I managed to get hold of him on the phone. I don't apologise for this but I lied to him. He was driving you see. If I told him that his partner was hanging onto life by a thread, he would panic. If he had another accident on the way back then what use would that be. I told him it wasn't too serious, she was in hospital, and I would wait for him at his house. (I'd found out where he lived, and was ringing him from outside his own front door).

He arrived after about 7ish minutes. When I saw him, I said to him I didn't tell him the truth on the phone. I told him to get a bag of what he needs as quick as he could, as things were serious.
I drove him to the hospital, about 20 miles, all the way with blue lights going and siren screaming.

I got to the hospital 5 minutes after she died. How do you comfort someone like that. Partner of 12 years gone, and you miss the final goodbye by 5 minutes.

It's one of the worst, and sometimes best things about this job, the perspectives it forces you to have. Whenever I say goodbye to my wife there's always that tiny, tiny little voice in the back of my head which says to me: "You might not see her again". It's been enough that for the last 7 years we've never parted on an argument. There's been our disagreements, but I'll never leave the house without it being sorted.

Sometimes people ask how I cope. Answer is I don't know. I just do. It's a job that has to be done, and it has do be done professionally for the sake of people like the guy above, to give them a fighting chance of seeing their loved ones should their nightmare materialise. But I do have a worry that one day something what might seem small, or insignificant, may trigger a landslide.
But for the meantime: my advice to you all is perhaps unsurprising. Cherish the times you have with your loved ones. You never know when you might wish all the world that you have another 5 minutes.