This isn’t one of those stories constructed using “emotion recollected in tranquility” (to use Woodsworth’s charming phrase). I am shaken by what I’ve seen, my hands still shaking a bit.
It’s almost 7:15 as I type this in Word (and will then upload it to the blog at some point). Sometime between 6 and 6:30 my ritual drive home was stopped by an incident in front of me. The slow-moving traffic had just passed Broadview, east-bound on Gerrard.
In front of me I watched a cyclist seeming to manoeuvre around the mirror sticking out of the side of a big truck. And strangely I watched his front wheel turn sideways. Did I see him bounce of the side of the truck? I was a few car-lengths back. I did see him pitch over the handlebars, landing on his head.
I moved the car slowly forward, then stopped the car still a car-length or so away. As I got out, a few people rushed past me to look. There was lots of bustle. For a second I was distressed to see the phone come out: for a voyeur to take an exploitive photo? But no, she was calling 9-1-1, and as I listened I could tell she knew what to say.
I relaxed somewhat, even as I looked in closer. As she described the cyclist, I saw that his eyes were wide open as if he were unconscious. There was blood and other wetness. Was he even alive? Yes, but…
I went back to the car, realizing we were all very vulnerable, particularly this unknown guerrilla cyclist, lying wounded on the asphalt. I pulled the car close enough that no one could possibly hit him going around me; but I was still 5 feet away.
Emergency vehicles soon arrived. First the EMS vehicle. Two calmly competent professionals came into the picture. As I looked down, the ambiguity of it bothered me, that he wasn’t moving, and maybe was in very bad shape.
One of the EMS people engaged with the cyclist and suddenly he came to life, clearly in shock, complaining and angry. He tried to get up, dizzy and bloody, trying to escape the freak show that, alas, he was starring in. All of our attention was unwanted. But he was very groggy.
The fire truck also arrived, followed by a police car. The additional bodies meant the cyclist could go on the board, once he’d been disentangled from the bike and his backpack. As I was nearest, I helped separate him from the bicycle, which he still clutched ferociously in one hand, as if it were his last dollar. He was simultaneously, so strong, so cranky, but so beautifully alive in all his messy glory.
The policeman said authoritatively “any witnesses?” No one replied and then I realized, that I was the witness.
We stepped aside while I gave him my statement. I was disturbed that I wasn’t really sure what I’d seen. In fact I’d been easily 3 car-lengths away. The narrow fore-shortened view from behind? I couldn’t tell, really, whether he hit the truck going by, or simply flipped due to the railway tracks. His front wheel did turn, that I know.
And he’d landed on his head.
Oh yes, the policeman did his evangelical thing at that moment and I have to say, it was gently heroic. Quiet but firm he said “no helmet.”
And yes, I realized, there was all that wetness, blood and sweat all over the guy’s hair, particularly on the side of his head that he landed on. My first sad impression when his head was lifted was that his skull had been caved in a bit. At the very least he’d landed right on his head, even though his bicycle was moving in slow motion.
The policeman continued. “If he’d had a helmet he’d be in better shape… maybe he would have got up without any injury.” I was freaked out at what a little thing it is, the margin between that guy continuing his ride home, and the lengthy detour he’s taken to a hospital via the EMS vehicle. I’m hoping he’s okay. He was a strong man in excellent physical shape. And yet he was in shock, after having been unconscious.
I was reminded of a phrase from What’s Opera, Doc, the old Bugs Bunny Cartoon where Elmer Fudd wants to Kill the Wabbit.
Bugs: Oh mighty warrior of great fighting stock
Might I inquire to ask eh… what’s up doc?
Elmer: I’m going to kill the wabbit!
Bugs: O mighty warrior, ’twill be quite a task
How will you do it, might I inquire to ask?
E: I will do it with my spear and magic helmet.
B: Spear and magic helmet?
E: Spear and magic helmet.
B: Magic helmet?
Nevermind Wagner or incantations. I was thinking that a helmet that can save a life is certainly magic. Any helmet for a cyclist in an accident is better than meeting the pavement with only hair and skin to protect your precious brains.
I am pretty sure this fellow will survive. He was saved largely by the excellent performance of the Toronto emergency staff (two wonderful EMS technicians, a policeman and policewoman, and four firemen). Perhaps the key in all this was an unknown bystander who took first aid training, the woman who came galloping in to phone 9-1-1, directing the swift emergency response. She definitely made a difference. I hope she knows that.
She’s my hero.
Too had that cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet, though: magic or otherwise. Pardon me if i seem to be making light of things, mentioning Bugs Bunny. If you’re a cyclist wear a helmet, unless you really have magic, because when push comes to shove, we’re as fragile as little wabbits when we take a spill on the streetcar tracks.