We all have moments etched into our memories – some like the gentle pattern of rain on glass, others like butterflies in a meadow, and some that are seared into our minds by the branding iron of hardship or trauma.
I just had an experience like that. I remember clearly a scene from the movie ‘Meet Joe Black’, where Brad Pit is crossing the road and a car smashes headlong into him, tossing him in the air like a child’s rag doll. I remember how shocked I was – the car came from nowhere and changed Joe’s life – or death, forever. I just witnessed a similar scene, only it wasn’t in the movies. It was real life, and it was my 13 year old boy.
Our family of eight enjoys the outdoors. I am a volunteer ski patrol at Mt. Baldy in southern California, and I have taught 5 of my 6 kids how to ski, (one is still too young) and we like to hike and camp. So when our church had organized a trip to the local mountains, we were excited about going.
We have many close friends there – much like family. All of us, and our kids were having a wonderful time connecting with nature and each other and appreciating how clear the stars are at night up in the mountains.
This morning two of my boys convinced me to go with them and some friends on mountain bikes to a lake because they needed an ‘adult’ to go along. My son Joel couldn’t find his helmet that morning so I made him wear his sister’s pink one. He didn’t care as long as he got to go.
We rode along the trail from our camp site that led to the main road – a ‘T’ intersection, with a blind curve on one side. Like most kids, mine had had it drilled into their heads never to cross any road or parking lot without looking both ways.
And when I am with them, my usual deal as a dad is to not let anyone cross until I give the go-ahead. We could all hear a distant vehicle approaching fast. The kids amused themselves by trying to guess the nature of the vehicle – one said a pick-up truck, another a car, etc. It turned out to be a loud pick-up truck.
I also noticed the sound of a car coming from the other direction – the blind curve. Before I could say anything, the other truck was speeding by and it was difficult to hear anything. I knew the kids were anxious to get across and start up the trail to the lake.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my son wait for the loud truck to pass and just dart forward immediately after. I shouted ‘STOP!’, but it was too late. He was in the middle of the road just as an SUV rounded the blind curve at 45 miles per hour.
We all heard the brakes screech and saw the car swerve away into the other lane to avoid Joel. And Joel, panicked by the SUV screeching, pedaled faster to get across the road. Unfortunately, that put him directly in front of the car for the impact.
You know you can do everything possible to protect your kids from danger. You can take all the safety classes and pray over them every night and make them wear bike helmets and drill into them constantly how important it is to look both ways before crossing the road, but the truth is, accidents happen.
And they happen to good kids who listen to their parents about being aware of danger. Sometimes kids just are too anxious to get to where they are going to remember to look both ways. Sometimes, when their father is right there beside them, and yelling at them to stop, they just go. And sometimes when all these fail-safes don’t work… Sometimes the thing that you thought would never happen to you, happens. To you. And you are powerless to stop it.
I am still trying to figure out the feeling I had when I witnessed my son dart in front of that car and get hit at 45 miles per hour. I heard the sickening THUD of his little body slamming into the grill. I watched the SUV plow into him, I watched him bounce off the hood of the car and then down and disappear for a moment behind the car as it passed by. It happened so fast and in slow motion all at the same time. I didn’t see what happened to the bike, though later it was clearly wrecked.
All I saw was my 130-pound son smashed by a 4000-pound vehicle like a cold slap in the face. As I stood there, I thought I was watching my son die right before my eyes. I honestly didn’t see how anyone could survive something like that. I felt crushed – as crushed as his body was, I felt.
And then just as fast as it happened, it was over. The SUV pulled over to the side of the road, the woman driving it jumped out, clearly shaken, and the other kids beside me were wondering what to do.
I looked across at the limp, seemingly lifeless figure crumpled on the side of the road. This is a parent’s nightmare, and I was living it. Thankfully, my OEC (Outdoor Emergency Care) training kicked in. I ran to him and started checking his injuries immediately. He was actually conscience and could respond to me. His helmet had flown off, and he said his back hurt.
I asked the driver to call 911, and thankfully she had decent reception because we were in the middle of nowhere. I posted the other kids up and down the road, instructing them to wave their hands to slow down any oncoming traffic. I carefully checked Joel’s back before laying him down in anticipation of being put on a backboard. The 911 operator was very helpful and asked all the right questions, asking me to have the driver move her vehicle to a place to protect my son and I with the emergency flashers on. We were still on the side of the road and I knew I didn’t want to move him because of possible injury to his back. I made sure he kept his head still while I checked him for other injuries.
I was relieved to see he was fully conscience, could wiggle his toes and squeeze my fingers and had no visible broken bones. His face was bleeding all over, but only from the literal ‘road rash’ he got after bouncing off the car. I knew those scrapes were superficial. His eyes reacted equally to light – which I knew meant less chance of a brain injury.
At that moment, my biggest concern was that he stay conscience – he laid so still I kept worrying that he might slip into unconsciousness, which would have be a bad sign. We knew that it was going to take at least 25-30 minutes before we would see an ambulance, but it seemed like they got there very quickly.
The first on the scene was a sheriff, followed by paramedics who started back-boarding my son. Since I was a trained responder and I was already managing his head, I was able to continue helping as we secured and loaded him onto a gurney. Joel was a trooper, and was taking this extremely well.
By this time, my other son that was with us had made it back to camp to alert my wife and the others from our group, and some of them made it up there to help out as they could. It was a good feeling knowing so many people were praying for my son so quickly.
The call was made to medevac Joel out since we were a good 45 minutes from the best trauma center for his injury and age. So I rode with him in the ambulance down the road to where they would land the helicopter. At this point, I am so relieved because of how well he seemed to be doing. My thoughts turned to wondering if he suffered any internal injuries. I was also anxious to hear about the X-rays of his spinal column.
His first experience in a helicopter probably won’t be in his top ten fondest memories – I guess it was a bit choppy and all he got to see was the roof. (He noticed a screw was loose in the ambulance roof) But he got to a great medical facility quickly where he could receive the best care.
A friend drove me down the mountain while my wife packed up the camp with the other kids. We arrived about 30 minutes after Joel, and I made my way to his room in the ER. I was very happy to see him lying in the bed – with no backboard or C-collar. I immediately knew this meant no problem with the spinal cord. In less than an hour, my son was walking out of the ER on his own, with virtually no injuries other than the scrapes all over his body from the road.
I believe this is nothing short of a miracle. I saw him get hit, I still don’t have a clue why he didn’t break every bone in his body other than to think his guardian angel was definitely ‘on the job.’
Our last name is ‘Garside’, but his insurance information had been typed wrong a while ago, so his last name read GODside. I could only think of how God was on our side today. I had to take a picture of that.
This day did not go at all the way I wanted or expected. I am so very grateful Joel is alive and well sitting on the couch playing with the ipad as if nothing happened. But something DID happen; something big. I was reminded of what matters in life and how important it is to live each day with thanksgiving and gratitude for what I have been given. What a gift!