Last Saturday, I got up super early, quietly dressing for a half marathon race just over the border in Wisconsin. It would be the third of three races in three weeks, and first races in my new age bracket of 50-54: the Lakefront 10-miler, 4/21; the Ravenswood 5K, 4/2; and that day the Wisconsin half marathon in Kenosha, where I ran my last full (miserable) marathon pre-hip surgery in 2016.
My friend Shaun picked me up at 4:45 -- we are used to very early runs together, so it's not unsual for us to meet at this hour. It was a warm-ish, windless morning -- really gorgeous out.
We were driving northbound on I-94 -- the Edens Expressway, as it's called locally. It was just past the first light of the day, but overall still dark out.
As we casually talked about our weeks, we came up upon what were two undistinguishable, large dark objects on either side of the freeway, not moving, with small dark objects strewn across the lanes.
It quickly became clear that something very bad had happened.
We stopped talking and Shaun pulled over to the right side of the road. The car accident must have just occured, because no one had yet stopped. It was a little eerie that no one was around, even at that hour.
I got out and walked over to the truck behind our parked car, while Shaun called 911. I didn't think about what I could be walking up to or if I could even open the door of an overturned car. As I approached, the door suddenly opened, the top of it scraping hard on the pavement and a man with a goatee burst out. He had blood on his face and teeth and stumbled as he unsteadily stood up and started toward the freeway. Right after him was a woman, who crawled out. I steered them both away from the road, worried they would walk into traffic.
The man fell over into the grass, and laid still. She followed and leaned over him, crying "Babe! Babe! Wake up!" I asked them if they had anyone else in the car, and she said no. I learned later that they have a two-year-old daughter together who, thankfully, was not in the car.
I have no medical training, but I didn't want to leave them until emergency responders arrived, so Shaun and I agreed to stay. It was growing more light out by the minute, and it seemed suddenly there were more people pulling over, wanting to help.
The car on the other side of the northbound lanes was pretty smashed up, and I was relieved to see that someone was moving around in there. I learned later that the person was trapped, and I don't know the condition of the second person in the vehicle.
The man with the goatee, a young-ish Latino man, groaned in pain as he laid on the grass next to the freeway. His right hand was an indistinguishable bloody pulp, and I could see his wrist bone exposed.
I didn't want his life partner -- that is how she described herself to me -- to have to look at it, and felt I should cover him to protect him, so I grabbed one of my clean shirts (I always have clothes to change into after a race) and gently covered him up, even as he cried out. God, it was awful, listening to a human in so much pain and being able to do so little.
HIs partner was so pretty, longish black hair and wearing a leather jacket, spots of blood all over her. She was anguished that she was driving. He kept moaning "I forgive you babe, it's not your fault!" They both said that they never saw the other car, and indeed, the other car didn't have any headlights on.
I gently hugged her and reminded her that she did her best . I didn't know what else to say.
It felt like an eternity that we sat there. He was now bleeding thru the gray t-shirt and both he and his partner moaned about why an ambulance wasn't there. Finally, a fire truck pulled up and ambulances began to arrive. I hugged her and said good-bye, that I would pray for her. I haven't stopped thinking about them all week.
Later at the race, when we met up with other friends running the race, we heard about this bad accident that snarled traffic and, purportedly, some runners couldn't even get to the race.
It was surreal that for the grace of God, we got there when we did. If it had been sooner, who knows if we could have gotten caught in it. If it was later, I could have been a disgruntled runner annoyed that I couldn't get to my race.
The race itself was fine -- it was hot and sunny and I was nauseous the last few miles. It was one of my slowest half marathons at 2:25. I just didn't care about the race and kept wondering about the couple. Did he lose his hand? I couldn't tell from all of the blood, and hoped that that wasn't the case. Did they have insurance? Would they be OK?
I sent an email this week to the suburban fire chief for the town that responded to the accident, after googling what skimpy news reports there were. It was a long shot, but I had to ask.
He actually answered me with a really nice email, citing HIPPA laws and said even fire departments can't find out from hospitals whether victims make it and how they're doing. He said if they contacted him, he'd let them know that I want to check on them and see if they need any help.
I hope they're OK.