First Aid

Have you ever noticed that when you experience something new you suddenly notice similar events all around you? For instance, nearly every time I’ve purchased a different car, I began seeing the same make of vehicle everywhere I turned. Also, since I began law school, every social transaction has taken on legal connotations. I now find myself reading all of the “small print” on everything I sign. Every time I make a purchase, I consider when the contract is formed, or when the property passed. What used to be messiness is now the “prior creation of a hazard” with tort action likely to follow. And news announcements generate internal debate regarding Criminal or Constitutional Law.

A similar situation arose after I acquired an Industrial First Aid certificate in 1985. Soon after the exam I became a magnet for serious accidents, very few of them in the workplace. Actually, most of the workplace accidents I attended were run-of-the-mill scratched eyes, blood blisters, slivers and the like. Once, before I was an industrial first aid attendant I witnessed the aftermath of an accident where a sawmill worker got his hand crushed in a scrap-chain; that was pretty nasty. Another time, when working in a northern BC logging camp, I had the unfortunate task of informing a worker that his malady was a terrible case of viral herpes”?he was off work for six weeks. Another fellow in the same camp was lifting a large tool-chest into the back of a pick-up truck with some other workers. The chest weighed about 500 lbs and when something slipped his head was caught between the chest and the truck cab. When I saw him his jaw was locked and swollen badly. I recommended that he be attended to by a doctor but he refused, took some aspirin, and suffered until his next days off (and long after that, I imagine).

As a trainperson at CP Rail, I was on a train that hit a fourteen year old boy that was walking across a trestle bridge. I was leaning over the front of the locomotive yelling at him to get up on the side of the bridge because I could see that he wouldn’t be able to outrun us (the train had its emergency bakes applied, but wasn’t stopping fast enough). Unfortunately, he was too panicked to hear me and the locomotive hit him just as he cleared the end of the bridge. I thought he’d be finished but he had been tossed off to the side of the track and rolled down the ballast. He was staggering toward me as I made my way back to him and I applied first aid on the caboose until an ambulance met us at a highway crossing. That was one lucky kid, as he hadn’t even broken any bones; he’d just incurred cuts and bruises.

My first aid training has come in very handy in the domestic setting as well, particularly with children around. There are always cuts and scrapes to deal with but I’ve even had to contend with a couple of choking episodes where the training took over before my conscious mind caught up. These days at home I take a back seat to my wife, who holds her B.Sc. Nursing:

Ironically, the first aid training that I took for use occupationally has been far more useful to me away from the workplace. I have done a lot of driving over the years, both urban and rural, and I suppose that is why I have witnessed so many motor vehicle accidents, or been first to arrive on-scene. Of the many accidents that I attended in BC’s Lower Mainland, two stand out in my memory.

The first was a t-bone accident at an intersection. The female driver of the car that was hit on the driver-side was conscious when I got to her. There was a hole right through the driver-side door and the top of her femur was exposed and perfectly framed by that hole”?a memory that will stay with me forever. She was still conscious and talking when the ambulance crew took over from me.

The second one was a seemingly minor rear-ender. I arrived after the accident but before the ambulance came on the scene. A female driver had been rear-ended at a stop-light in Port Coquitlam. After the impact she attempted to get out of her car and collapsed. She was laying face-down on the road when I got to her, with her feet suspended awkwardly from the door-opening of her car. She was conscious and speaking to me but had no feeling below her neck. I stayed with her until the ambulance took her away and I have always wondered if she became a quadriplegic that day.

In the Fraser Canyon I came around a curve in the highway to find a man lying in the middle of my lane. He was a motor-cyclist and had hit some gravel while leaning into the curve. His ride had flipped out from under him and he’d skidded along the pavement for some distance. There was already a crowd of onlookers there when I arrived and the ambulance took him away shortly thereafter. It appeared as though his leather jacket and chaps had saved him from further damage, but the bones on all of his fingers were broken and exposed from when his bare hands had made contact with the pavement.

In a separate incident I was driving south on the Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Merritt. It was summer and the tourists were out in force. Suddenly the small car that was in front of mine swerved to the right, hit the ditch, and flipped back out across the two southbound lanes. It came to rest on its roof in the green space between the north and southbound lanes. When I got to the car the engine was still racing and I could see that the driver was still strapped upside-down in her seatbelt. There was also a girl of about 5 years crying to get out and an infant strapped upside-down in his car-seat. My first priority was to get the engine off but the car doors were locked. The driver was conscious but in shock and it took some time to get her to turn off the key and unlock her door. By that time there were many people stopped and willing to help. As usual, the last I saw was the victims being loaded into the ambulances and driven away. I have no idea what level of recovery they ultimately made. I’ve come across several other roll-over accidents, none of which left the same degree of impression on my mind as that one. I often recall the look in that little girl’s eyes as she reached for me through the glass of the car.

Once, while driving from Mackenzie to Prince George after an afternoon shift on a yard engine, I came across a pick-up truck lying in the ditch. I would have driven right by it but the dome-light was on, which drew my attention. It was winter and the snow was fresh and deep. I walked to the edge of the highway above the vehicle and noted that there were no foot prints leading away from the wreck. I climbed down the bank and into the box of the truck. The back window was missing and when I leaned into the cab I found that the steering-wheel was distorted from the impact of the driver’s body and blood and tissue was on it and the windshield. A streak of blood was also on the roof of the cab and led out the back window. I knew that the driver had been thrown out of the vehicle and must have been very badly inured. I returned to the highway and flagged down another vehicle to go for help and then began searching the area for the driver. The snow was deep and fluffy and I thought that he or she must have landed in it and was buried out of sight. Other drivers and I searched through the snow until the RCMP canine unit arrived over two hours later. The driver had still not been found when I left the scene in the capable hands of the professionals.

Days later I learned the rest of the story. The driver of the vehicle had been heading south (the same direction as myself) when he lost control of his truck and hit the ditch right where a side-road connected with the highway. There had been a rebuilt transmission out of a logging truck sitting in the box of the truck which flew forward caving-in the back of the pick-up’s cab. Upon that impact the driver was thrown out the back window and landed in the middle of the highway. A northbound vehicle found him there, picked him up, and drove him back to Mackenzie’s hospital. Minutes later I arrived on the scene and initiated a search for the driver who had not walked, but flew, from the wreck; the reason why there were no prints in the snow leading away from it.

On a summer evening I was driving from Prince George to Mackenzie for a night shift on the yard engine when I was first on the scene of the worst accident that I have witnessed. I came around a curve and stopped short of a scene from Hell. A car with three individuals had been travelling southbound and had attempted to pass in the wrong spot. A chain-reaction collision took place involving four vehicles. One of the passengers from the car had been thrown through the front windshield and had landed in the middle of the highway. Other victims were crawling around in the wreckage. I tried to help the victim lying in the road but she had obviously expired. I and numerous other motorists did what we could for the others until the emergency services arrived”?the highway was closed for five hours.

Although I haven’t kept my industrial first aid certification current, I make a point of acquiring some level of training annually, and the knowledge tends to come back amazingly clearly in times of need.

I submit that everyone should acquire some level of first aid. You never know when you may need that life-saving knowledge and the casualty that you save could be one of your loved-ones”?most certainly will be someone’s son or daughter.

Wayne E. Benedict has a varied career history and strong links to the Canadian labour movement. He is working part-time toward his Bachelor of Human Resources and Labour Relations at AU, and is a fulltime first-year student of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. For a more detailed writer bio, see The Voice writers’ feature page. Wayne can be reached at

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