A close family member had a car accident recently, which got me thinking in terms of how to deal with such an event. I have written an entirely fictional scenario, hopefully to point out a proper and an improper course of action in such a case.
A young woman crashes her car, driving it into the trees and shrubs beside the road. She calls a family member for help.
The family member and her partner rush to their car and drive to the scene of the accident, about 10 minutes away.
The family member (FM) calls the accident victim (V).
V: (weak voice) Hello?
FM: Hi. I just heard you had an accident. Stay where you are. I have some questions for you.
FM: Are you still in the car?
FM: Is anyone in the car with you?
FM: Is the car upright? Are you in a tolerable position?
FM: Good. Try not to move, ok?
FM: Is the car turned off?
FM: Is there a smell of gasoline?
FM: Good. You are safe where you are. Please don’t move. Although you may not feel it, there is a chance you injured your neck, so it is important to stay still. Can you do that?
FM: Good. Now I want to you to follow my instructions. We are going to examine you for injuries. Can you move your arms? Does anything hurt when you do that?
V: I can move my arms. Nothing seems to be broken.
FM: Excellent. Now without moving your head, I want you to feel your sides and down your legs. Feel for torn clothing. Feel for wetness. Feel for anything that seems the wrong shape, or is hurting when you touch it.
V: (a moment of silence) My sides feel ok, but it feels like there is something sticking into my leg. And it feels wet.
FM asks partner to call an ambulance, giving the nature of the accident, the exact location, the number, age and sex of victims and saying that there is uncontrolled bleeding.
FM: Ok, try not to move. You will be okay. An ambulance has been called and we are on our way.
FM and partner borrow a second phone, get in car and start driving toward accident site.
FM: We are on our way now.
V: Thank you
FM: Ok, it is important to remain calm. Can you do that?
V: I’ll try.
FM: Good. It seems something is imbedded in your leg. Let’s try to see how bad that is. First try not to move the leg. Can you feel around the object? How big is it where it is touching your leg? Try to describe it.
V: (breathing a bit more rapidly) it is a big piece of metal, and it is in my leg just below my hip. Blood is coming out under it.
FM: ok, do not move it. Do you have something you can push against where it is bleeding; a scarf or a shirt?
V: I have a bandana.
FM: Good, Fold it up and press it against the area where the blood is coming out.
FM’s partner is still on phone with emergency services. She reports that the victim is bleeding from an imbedded metal object in the leg, and her breathing rate is increasing.
V: There, I have it pressed against the bleeding area.
FM: Ok, hold on, the ambulance is on its way, and so are we.
A few seconds pause.
FM: Do you have a hand free?
FM: Ok, while we are waiting for the ambulance I have a few more questions for you. Try not to move your head, ok?
FM: Take a deep breath.
V: (breathing deeply and exhaling) OK.
FM: Did that hurt?
FM: Good. Now feel your face. Does it feel like you hit your face?
V: No, face feels fine.
FM: Good. Now run your hand very gently over your head. Try not to push against your head. Feel for any sign of injury.
V: Head feels fine. No cuts or bumps.
FM: Very good. Now very gently, feel your neck and throat.
V: Feeling neck. Ow. Feels a little tender.
FM asks partner to update emergency services. Sign of possible neck injury.
V: (very faintly) Ambulance has arrived. They are opening door.
FM. We are two minutes away. Hand the phone to an attendant.
Phone is handed off.
FM: Hi. Did you get our updates?
AA: Yes. We are putting a collar on her and are working on the bleeding. She is pale but still conscious.
FM and partner arrive in time to see AA’s extract V from car. She looks very pale and is on oxygen. They set up a drip before loading her into ambulance.
Back to Scenario 1: FM arrives to find victim unconscious and still in car. They call emergency services.
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate how important it is, not to just do something. The instinctive reaction is to rush there, hopefully to do what you can. But it is much more important to stop and think, before you do anything. The first priority is to assess the severity of injury, to determine if there is need for emergency services, and how fast they need to get there.
If the accident victim is only mildly injured, and not in need of immediate treatment, (as was the case with our family member) then they can stand to wait a few minutes while you properly assess the situation. If their injury is more severe, then they can’t wait for you to show up first before calling in emergency services. Always stop and think, before you act.
I invite comments.