27 January 2006

J'ai vu un accident terrible

I was all set to blog about Didge and his new "girlfriend" today when my afternoon took an unexpectedly gruesome turn. Didge and I were nearly to our apartment when we witnessed a traffic accident unlike anything I've seen before. This took place on av. du Général Leclerc, no more than 100 yards from my front door.

To simplify what happened: a motorcycle swerved too hard and fast while trying to avoid a car that had stopped suddenly in front of him. The cyclist lost his balance and fell sideways, launching him and his passenger into the air. The cyclist flew/skidded about 10 to 15 feet on his side, but his passenger wasn't so lucky. She flew under the back bumper of the car and firmly collided with its back end and tires. I heard her hit, and watched as she bounced back a bit and rolled over.

The cyclist got up almost right away, but his passenger didn't. In fact, I never saw her move a muscle after the accident. Everything else around her, however, moved at lightning-fast speed.
  • The driver of the car that she hit was phoning for help before he even got all the way out of his car.
  • Almost immediately after the impact, a person in a nearby car got out and covered the injured woman with one of those shiny silver emergency blankets that fold up to the size of a credit card.
  • Within a minute of the accident, a traffic-controller police car pulled up with its lights flashing (I'm not exaggerating on the time lapse here). The officer assessed the situation quickly and went straight to work.
  • A man on the sidewalk next to me - presumably a doctor - crossed the street at the same time that the officer arrived, and went over to check the woman on the ground.
In the 10 minutes time it took me to take Didge home, sit down to process what I had seen, and then pass the accident scene again on my way to the grocery store:
  • The car and the motorcycle from the accident had been moved to the side of the road;
  • There were two more emergency vehicles on the scene;
  • The traffic controller who was first to respond was now directing cars around the crash sight on the busy road; and
  • None of the people in the accident were anywhere to be seen.
When I came out of the grocery store, it was barely 35 minutes since the accident had happened, and everything was completely gone! No car. No wrecked motorcycle. No emergency vehicles. No traffic cop. In fact, the only remnant of the whole event was a small pile of broken plexiglass shards from the windshield of the wrecked motorcycle.

I'm not sure if I was more shocked because A) I witnessed such a dramatic event, or B) I have never, ever seen such an efficient, effective handling of an emergency situation, much less by a set of government workers. I take back all the nasty things I said while waiting in line at the police station - when it really matters, those folks have their act together.

I remember that one of my first thoughts almost immediately after the crash was, "Wow, no more violent movies for me." I mainly thought this because I was troubled at my lack of a real emotional response. It was the same for everyone around me, too. No one panicked, cried, yelled, or even looked mildly upset at the whole thing. Amazingly, not even the people directly involved in the crash argued or looked the least bit upset. It was like being in a surreal dream sequence. Had we all been exposed to so many horrible scenes on TV and in movies that nothing could phase us anymore? How callous has our society become, when the sight of two bodies hurling through the air hardly raises an eyebrow?

My faith in myself was restored a few minutes after the accident, when I stepped into our apartment building and teared up a little bit. I didn't break down and cry, but I was definitely relieved that I was starting to have a more appropriate emotional reaction to what I had witnessed. I guess "big city life" hasn't jaded me completely!


At 28/1/06 01:12, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we have become too de-sensitized...your description alone of the accident was enough to upset me. Hopefully, everyone was just concerned and had been flipped in 'emergency mode' when they didn't have time for emotions, only to make sure that the motorcycle passenger received help. Plus, if everything happened in the quick time that you suggest, perhaps there just wasn't time for it all to soak in for everyone.

What a disturbing things to see! On one hand, it's great that everyone was so efficient in getting everything cleaned up, etc. but on the other it's a little strange to think that such a big accident happened and there is so little sign of it. Maybe if there was more of a reminder of such events people would drive like lunatics all of the time.


At 28/1/06 01:12, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Err...that is would NOT drive like lunatics all of the time.


At 28/1/06 15:29, Blogger Lazy Susan said...

I started crying just reading your description, but then I am kind of hormonally out of whack.

At 28/1/06 18:44, Anonymous Rachel said...

Holy cow. I think that everyone was probably just as shocked at the whole things as you, Amy and I would not think twice about your reaction. Everyone responds differently.
A few months ago, I know that when I saw a biker skid sideways in the middle of an intersection and fall off (he did not immediately get up), I did not realize what happened either... one just stands there and doesn't know what to make of everything. Also, it was not until a day or so later that the fact hit me that my friend here in Paris was horribly hit by a taxi just last Tuesday and is terribly banged up and hurt... stuff like that sometimes takes a while to sink in. But everything like that reminds us of 1)how fortunate we are to be safe! and 2)to be damn careful of our surroundings especially in a traffic situation.

At 30/1/06 11:02, Blogger petersonet said...

I think that most people just do what you have to do at the moment and process it later. it's actually good that it works that way; the time to really analyze what is going on is not there on the scene. There are other things to be done.

Keep up the great blog; you write wonderfully.

Ramadi, Iraq


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