Monday, 29 June 2009

Heroics

It's always rather shocking when real life suddenly spins off its ordinary route and takes a more dramatic turn, isn't it? Shakes you up a bit. Makes you think about the what-if and the what-could-have-been in a surreal, did-that-actually-just-HAPPEN? kind of way.

We were coming back from a weekend in Brighton last night on the M4 when all of a sudden a tyre blew on a van about 100 metres ahead of us. The van skidded and swerved and then just flipped right up into the air and overturned, crashing down to land upside down across two lanes. I was still in absolute oh-my-GOD shock but my husband was amazing. He pulled over, stopped the car and got out. "Call an ambulance!" he yelled and sprinted up the motorway to help.

That was his instinct - run and help - while I was in this sort of stupor, stunned, fumbling to get my phone, dialling 999 and still trying to process what had just happened. There's something horrible about calling the emergency services - I've only had to do it a few times and it's one of those highly charged, intense experiences that feels like a dream. I just kept thinking, I bet the driver has died. Surely they can't have survived, the way that van slammed down like that. Is it going to burst into flames? Oh my God, I'm going to see a dead body. I don't want the kids to see a dead body... - and all the while trying to be coherent, saying that the accident had happend just before junction 7 on the M4, no, I couldn't see any smoke coming from the van, I'm running up there now to have a look...

My husband and another guy had managed to get the driver out through the (smashed) window of his door and incredibly, he wasn't hurt at all, just shaken up (understandably). Fire engines and paramedics arrived and dealt with everything brilliantly and after half an hour or so, we were on our way again, all a bit twitchy about what we'd just seen.

I couldn't get over the way my husband reacted though - just running over to help without a second thought like that. I don't want to gush or be melodramatic, but I do find that truly heroic and brave - and just so good. My instinct was far more cautious - I was worried about the van blowing up and I didn't have that same strong urge to spring into action, to run. But he did and even though he shrugged it off a bit later, saying it wouldn't have been so heroic if the van had burst into flames and he'd been injured, the fact was that he didn't consider himself while he was sprinting up the motorway, his basic urge was just to get to the driver. The kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. I'm dead proud of him.

Funnily enough, I wrote the opening scene of a possible new novel the other day which concerns the business of heroism. It's good dramatic stuff, isn't it, someone saving a complete stranger's life, but somehow it's much easier to write about than go through...

16 comments:

bookchildworld said...

OMG, what an experience!! Your husband was great, but I think I'd have been just like you. So glad the driver wasn't hurt. Bet your kids had lots to talk about at school for the next week...

Caroline said...

And from now on I will think of your husband as a prince, on a stallion, whisking you off into happily ever after. You're right to feel proud.

I think that those split second decisions give us such flashes into the true self.

Hope you're all ok x

liz fenwick said...

Well done to your husband.

lx

Lane said...

People like your husband are few and far between. Most people's reaction is to freeze and waste time (mine included).

That van driver was a very lucky man!

Lucy Diamond said...

Bookchildworld - I know. I've never seen an accident like that and it was truly shocking. My eldest (aged 8) was quite traumatised - she burst into tears when I was phoning the ambulance and couldn't sleep last night because she kept thinking about it. My son (6) was more excited than anything else - he thought it was like a computer game, seeing the van go over like that (*sigh*). Youngest child just moaned that it was taking ages to get home...

Caroline - oh, he's a total prince! And I agree absolutely about seeing a person's true self in a crisis situation. I am totally in awe of anyone who works for the emergency services; I know they are trained to deal with trauma but it takes something pretty special (cheesy word but appropriate here) to act calmly and bravely in such circumstances. (Mind you, my husband delivered our third child when she arrived very fast and the midwives hadn't got to us, so he is experienced in dramatic situations!)

Liz - I will pass that on. He is being very modest about all this.

Lane - he said later that he was surprised more people weren't running forward to help with him - most people were just staring from their cars in shock. Strange how you don't really know how you'll react in an emergency until you're in the thick of one...
(And yes, the driver was very lucky indeed!)

Brian Clegg said...

It's wonderful when people can think so effectively under pressure.

My wife was involved in something similar, except she was driving the vehicle that flipped over, with our 2-year-old (at the time) twins in the back.

Thankfully no one was hurt, and a lot of that was down to two resourceful van drivers follwing my wife on the M4, who pulled across the white lines, blocking the motorway, so other cars wouldn't come crashing into her. I think without them it could have been very different.

Lucy Diamond said...

Oh Brian, what a story. Thank goodness she and your twins were okay, and that other drivers could act so quickly to protect her. That must have haunted you both for a long, long time.

wontletlifedefineme said...

Well done to your husband! You shouldn't feel guilty about how you reacted though, the first reaction to such events is dictated by instinct - caution can be good in certain situations!

Debs said...

What a hero! It's good to know that there are people like your husband out there. I have to admit that I would react more like you, and be rather stunned by the whole thing.

Glad to hear the chap was okay too.

JJ Beattie said...

OMG, what a story. I hope you don't feel guilt that your reaction was as it was... Your husband reacted brilliantly - truly heroics - but your reaction for your children is totally normal too. I think it's one of many reasons why men and women are different.

Lucy Diamond said...

Won'tletlifedefineme - I had been feeling a bit bad actually - not super-guilty, just a bit inferior to my go-getting man, I suppose... But yes, caution can be good too - thanks for pointing that out.

Hi Debs - I'm going to have to embarrass him by passing on all these nice compliments, I think!

JJ - thanks for saying that. My reaction was definitely more protective than active, but yes, that's okay too as you say, and it's impossible to do anything about instincts like that. PS Absolutely loved your train story on the blog today!

B said...

thank goodness everyone was ok.

someone needs to be the one who hangs back and phones the ambulance/police. that's just as important.

Emily Gale said...

Truly brave, I admire your husband. And you, because I'm pretty sure if it had been me I wouldn't even have known what road we were on let alone which junction. So glad the story ended well.

Captain Black said...

Good on your husband and on Brian's wife's helpful van drivers. One in the eye for ambulance-chasing lawyers who would try to suck such humanity out of us.

claire p said...

Wow! Can't really think of anything else to say!

Beleaguered Squirrel said...

Wow.

I am very impressed. You have a super husband, you are rightly very proud.

I suspect I would have been all cautious and scaredy. It's funny though, you can never predict what you'll do in a situation like that. I always thought I'd be super-calm, but when I set fire to someone's house (I was fourteen, babysitting, two small children asleep upstairs, I didn't know how to deal with the real fire in the grate, was trying to get it going again, all pretty awful) I rejected the idea of ringing the fire brigade cos I thought they wouldn't be quick enough, and instead I jumped up and down in the middle of a sizable area of flame until it had gone out. My hair and feet caught fire. It was a bloody stupid way of dealing with it. I was very lucky. I should at least have got the kids out of the house, and I wasn't at all calm. Apparently I screamed a lot too, but I didn't know that until one of the kids called down saying he couldn't sleep cos there were people screaming in the street.

And then when I got trapped under a bus (it had knocked me down in the street) I was super-calm until someone told the driver to keep going forward and drive over me (or so I thought, I'm sure they didn't really) at which point I started hysterically screaming, "REVERSE THE BUS! REVERSE THE BUS!"

God I hope nobody ever needs to rely on me for their life to be saved. And I'm SO glad I'm not a surgeon or ER nurse or anything scary like that.