Disasters during Disasters

An Eyewitness Testimony And Discussion

Through the entirety of the crisis that we have been living through, we have been trying to establish a new normal. We can all agree that it disrupts every aspect of our lives at best, and causes horrible decisions and losses at worst. As we try to find our new normal, we have to adjust to whatever life throws at us. No toilet paper. Zoom calls instead of hangouts. Cancelled trips, mandatory masks, trying to learn in a new way. Originally, I was going to adjust to this new normal, send a response to one of the writing prompts, and try to get back on track.

All of that changed with a sound heard from the many windows of my makeshift bedroom. The screeching of tires, a car horn blaring, and the crunch of metal impacting against brick.

Sorry for the portrait view on my phone.

As the old saying goes, accidents happen. I never got to talk to anyone involved, so I never figured out what caused the crash in the first place. But that’s not important. What was important was the 45 minutes of watching after running outside. With little exception, I was standing outside looking in shock at the state before me. I barely took photos or videos, aside from the moments that struck a chord. 

The first emergency vehicles to come on the scene were firemen, as seen in the video. The entire scene flooded with firemen in a matter of 15 minutes, wearing protective face masks along with their gear. Everyone seems to be relatively okay in the crash – the three passengers in the car are standing around outside, waiting to interact with whoever comes out of the house. No one does – these are the neighbors that dislike interacting with the outside world under normal circumstances, so during a pandemic I haven’t seen them once. However, the fourth member of the vehicle – the driver – emerges with no visible injuries, but cannot keep his balance when he walks. Assuming that this man has a concussion, I immediately wonder what is going to happen to him. 

Hospitals during this pandemic obviously have their hands full with people being treated for Covid-19. Throughout the news, the term PPE (personal protective equipment) is thrown around when talking about the shortages and hospital staff. Shortages across the country cause hospitals to carefully consider each procedure. According to my mother, at the hospital she works for, the process of putting on protective gear is too time-consuming for patients that remove their IVs. So, instead of risking great injury and possibly death, those patients are now being physically restrained for the safety of the doctors and nurses who have to treat them. Shortages have been on the news since February, when Korean officials imposed a fine for hoarding face masks needed in the medical field. In America, the shortages in equipment such as ventilators have made national news when Elon Musk donated non-invasive ventilators to hospitals, or facial masks now being required in NJ grocery stores. But all of it boiled down to this one man that I was watching, stumbling across my neighbor’s front yard: would he be able to get the treatment he needed and still be safe? Would there be spots in the emergency room, and would he be able to obtain personal protective equipment upon arrival (or beforehand) to limit the spread of the disease? Where would he be placed in triage? 

The ambulance took an extra 15 minutes to get there, at least 30 minutes after the crash occurred. This stuck out to me for many, many reasons. For one, I don’t live in a secluded neighborhood. My street is a busy street immediately next to Highway 36 – it merges with the highway about a quarter mile down the road. For another, I’ve had to have an ambulance called to my own house before for a severe allergic reaction, and it only took about ten minutes to arrive. Yet another was the fact that the ambulance they sent wasn’t from any of the local hospitals at all. It was an ambulance from the other side of town’s first aid squad. These abnormalities kept stacking on top of each other as I continued to watch. At this point, the fire chief’s truck had been joined by two police officers, two firetrucks, a fire safety officer, and other unmarked vehicles. The man was immediately given a face mask as he was taken into the ambulance to wherever his life was next headed.

So, what else was there to this accident? What was left behind besides a broken car and a broken staircase? I could never begin to imagine the stress that family was now being put under. All of this on top of a pandemic? What does one even do in such a situation? But another thought is how connected everyone is even with social distancing. All of my neighbors were up and ready to witness, keeping six feet apart as we talked about what we could do to possibly help. One of my neighbors was on the phone moments after it happened, keeping on the line as she watched. The firefighters are another example of humanity supporting each other. What really struck a chord with me was the treatment of a fifth, previously unknown passenger until the firemen reached in and ushered it out: a dog, scared of the unfamiliar people and circumstances. One fireman attached him to a leash, attached the leash to a nearby fence, and attempted to comfort him.

The moment of watching a fireman pet a dog with chaos all around didn’t make the tragedy on top of tragedy any better, but it made the mental weight less to bear. First responders during this time of crisis, especially the firefighters I saw flood the scene, are at the front constantly during this epidemic. I saw the need to support as much as I could, even donate if that was monetarily possible. But, more than anything, I saw the need to discuss what could happen if Murphy’s law decided to rear its ugly head. To the reader, I urge you to have a discussion with the mature members of your family about what would happen if there was a car accident, a food shortage, days without power. About who there would be to contact in case of an emergency that won’t endanger the people that you care about. Most families have plans about what to do in emergencies, but adjusting for the pandemic is needed until the worst is over. Until then, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay prepared.

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