Friday, June 24, 2011

The Train

I was at the hospital today when "Code Triage Standby" came over the loudspeaker. This means, more or less, "get ready for a possible mass casualty." No one knew what had happened, but I checked the news on my BlackBerry and saw this story, which many of you have probably already heard about. Our local ambulance company gave the accident their highest emergency rating, and we heard that 150 people had been injured; although we knew the worst injuries wouldn't come to our hospital, we still expected a fair number.

As it turned out, the Code Triage Standby was cancelled, and we wound up getting only one patient. The most severely injured were airlifted to trauma centers; the most minimally injured were treated at the scene, which is about an hour from us. The paramedics who brought in our one patient told us he was the last person to be transported.

He had very minor physical injuries too, even though he was only one car away from the collision, but he was very shaken up. He'd felt the heat and smelled the smoke from the fire, and he helped carry another passenger -- someone much more severely injured, who wound up being airlifted -- away from the burning train. That person's blood was on his clothing; he repeatedly described the injuries. When he asked me for prayer, he wanted to pray for the other passenger.

He cried while we prayed. So did I. I told him to be sure to ask for help coping with this when he gets home. He has to take another train to get there; he was worried about getting back to the Amtrak station, whether they'd honor his ticket.

I'd never want to get on a train again (and it's not like Amtrak ever runs on time even without a huge honking disruption). I kind of hope Amtrak puts him on a bus, or, better yet, buys him a plane ticket. The accident wasn't their fault, but still.

The accident's really weird. How the heck do you run into the fourth car of a train? How do you not see the train? As Gary pointed out, most drivers of smaller vehicles who get hit by trains do so when they're racing across the tracks when the train's coming and don't make it in time, but in that case, they're hit by the front of the train.

The truck driver's dead, so I guess we'll never know, unless an autopsy turns up interesting toxicology. Gary said, "What do you want to bet he was on his cell phone?" but I dunno. Even if you're on the phone, how do you not see a train? It just doesn't make sense.

I've now, as of today's shift, volunteered 1,000 hours in the ER. I wish that milestone had been marked much, much less dramatically.


  1. What a kind and caring man he was to think of prayer for the injured rather than himself. He is a rescuer, there on that train in that moment to help save that life.

  2. Anonymous8:48 AM

    I doubt it was distraction on the driver's part -- sounds like a suicide to me.

  3. I dunno, Anon. My understanding is that people who commit vehicular suicide drive into an embankment or something, rather than another vehicle. Those are single-vehicle accidents.

    If this was suicide, it was also murder, unless the driver thought his vehicle wouldn't damage the train -- but he was driving an eighteen-wheeler, not a VW Bug.

    I'm wondering if he had a heart attack or stroke and blacked out at the wheel. A semi would have some momentum and wouldn't stop quickly (or at all, if the driver's foot was still on the gas pedal), so that could explain what happened. Actually, it's the most logical explanation (and the one that leaves the driver least blameworthy) but I don't know if we'll ever know.

  4. Susan, I appreciate that there's nothing quite like the possibility of a real mass casualty. And, if you didn't get many patients from the event, the one you got got what he needed from you. Well done - even with all the stress.


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