Accidents and being first responders
We call it being the first responders to the scene. An accident gets reported, the Command Center calls it in, and the rescue team deploys. The team members arrive as the first responders to assess the damage, perform first aid, and recommend the next course of action based on protocol.
Me? I’m never the first responder. I’m never the one on the ground. I’m usually the one sitting behind the desk posting the advisory and encoding the data in the aftermath. By the time my team and I do the job, everything’s already been “responded to.”
I can’t imagine what it feels like to be the first one there, to see the damage as it has been done, before anyone else. I count myself lucky, because I never want to.
You see, an accident is the worst. No one ever manages to expect it. No matter how much you guard yourself, or prepare, or remind yourself and others to be careful, accidents manage to worm their way to you, your friends, loved ones, enemies, anyone. They happen more than we care to accept.
A while back I compiled a report on road accidents for the office, and despite the clerical nature of this particular task, I couldn’t help but feel robbed on behalf of the people involved in these accidents. One minute they are probably just thinking that the horrible traffic would be the worst thing they could experience that day, and then the next, their worlds are literally tumbling upside down. It’s life-changing, assuming you survive. And then after that, you just become part of the statistics and the day keeps going.
These things in life that you can never be prepared for and that catch you off guard, like accidents or the sudden death of a loved one, are the absolute worst, and dealing with the aftermath is not exactly something found in any handbook.
Days ago I received a text message from a very close friend of mine. Her dad had passed away. When I got the message, she and her mother were still at the hospital waiting for the funeral home to take her father’s remains. A couple of friends and I rushed there to be by her side. The wait for our friend at the hospital doors was miserable. As 24-year-olds, we’re not accustomed to heavy stuff. We became close friends back in college, where we were more used to late-night drinking, cramming for exams and thesis writing, binge-watching television shows, and more late-night drinking. We’re not used to death yet, sudden death at that. We had a vague notion of it, but never dwelled on it long enough to build up tolerance.
I remember not knowing what to say or do when we finally saw our friend, her eyes red and puffy, hair disheveled, looking utterly devastated. So I did the only thing I could, which was hug her tightly.
It couldn’t have been more than two hours that we were there huddled around our friend, but it felt much longer than that, the four of us seated around a small table in a café grasping at what to say while the café speakers blasted awful love songs. Only a week ago, the greatest of our worries were about getting VIP tickets to The Script or saving up for that Euro trip in 2016. Now it was this.
We sat in silence while we waited for her to tell us what had happened. It was supposed to be just a routine heart test. Barely halfway through it, her father asked to stop because he felt tired. Shortly after, he suffered a seizure. His heart couldn’t be revived, and that was it. Her dad was gone. There were no signs, no heavy gut feeling that something was wrong, nothing.
My friend cried as she told us the story. In the years that I’ve known her (and I’ve known her quite well) I had never seen her cry, save for a few times while watching movies, but those don’t count. She was visibly, heartbreakingly, in grief, and yet somehow it felt like it hadn’t sunk in yet. I was pretty sure that, aside from the immediate family, we were the first ones to come. It was unsettling to be there just as the tragedy happened. I had never experienced that, not when my grandmother finally succumbed to pneumonia (I was away in college taking my midterms), and not when another close friend died of aneurysm (I was away in college starting my junior year). Both times I received the news late, and only managed to attend the burial. I was just as heartbroken and lost as those times, but this was eerily different. I only ever arrived at the proverbial scene as it’s being packed up, but now, it was more of being the first to arrive at a hit-and-run scene in the middle of the night, the carnage still there, with no one else to figure out what was going on and to pick up the pieces.
I love my friend dearly and wouldn’t be anywhere else in the world except by her side at that time when she needed me, but having that experience scared me. That feeling of helplessness, of being totally unprepared to deal, was something I hadn’t yet seen first-hand. It shook me and I wanted to cry, run home to my bed where I could stay under my blanket until all the bad things had gone away.
I was shaken because I didn’t have the maturity to deal with the heavy stuff, because the closest I got to feeling grief and death and loss was through television, and because I never realized that one day, one way or another, I would be in the same position as my friend. Of the four of us, two had already lost their fathers (our other friend lost hers four or five years ago), which left me and our other friend who still had both parents. The fact that one day, I would be the first one at the scene, and I would be expected to assess the damage and deal with everything that came with it, from shock to denial to mourning and eventual acceptance, the latest of which I don’t know if I’m capable of yet, is something that just makes me want to shut down.
We’re getting old, my friend had said in a fleeting moment of levity; these days, (and from now on probably) we would only get together either because someone’s dead or someone’s getting married. I’m hoping it’s only going to be the latter, but even I, the immature person that I am, know that I will be disappointed with the odds.
I now find myself worrying and thinking about that one day, debating if I should prepare for it, whether I can do so, and how in hell I am ever going to survive it. Only time will tell, I guess, but I’d rather it didn’t.
Ria Anne Rubia, 24, works at the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. She is a staff member in the Office of the Chairman and the head of the Twitter and Traffic Navigator Team.
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