So I’ve been a career paramedic, but this happened when I had only been one for 5 years. This has never left me to this day, and I shit you not… it happened exactly like this.
I was driving home on a rural highway one rainy afternoon. It was really pouring and traffic had slowed to about 50 mph. I was following two vehicles, and we rounded a bend in the road as a small sports car on the opposite side crossed the centerline and hit the small SUV that was leading the three of us vehicles on my side of the road. I immediately pulled over and called 911… it was a bad one. I got out to check on everyone…
There was wailing coming from the SUV on the side of the road… That’s always a good thing, because people are breathing. So I went down into the field past the ditch to check on the sports car.
There were two young guys in the car: the force of the impact had driven the engine to where the front passenger seat should be. The passenger was still buckled, his crumpled hand grabbing the “oh shit handle” overhead, the entire section of car shoved into the backseat area. The back of the car had peeled away, as had the passenger’s top of his head. His jawbone jutted out raw and jagged. He was clearly deceased, but I felt for a pulse anyway, all while listening to the gasping, ragged dragging breaths of the driver. No pulse on the passenger, I tried to figure out how to deal with the driver, but there was nothing I could do. The car had literally wrapped around him, and it would take an extrication team time to get him out. Listening to his dying breathing, I apologized out loud to him that I couldn’t do more, told him I was sorry to leave him, but others needed my help too. In my heart, I knew he’d never make it, so I went to render aid where it was needed. (In triage, we call this “black tagging” a patient who isn’t going to survive).
I did what I could for the family in the SUV. Emergency medical people and fire services got to the scene and took over. (The entire family had injuries, but all survived. The mother had permanent brain damage and lost an eye).
But the whole day, those two guys in the red sports car stayed on my mind. That night, I was home alone and getting ready for bed with just the bedside lamp on, and I heard something in the hallway. It got louder as it came closer down the dark hallway toward my open door. It was like a “thump… drag… thump… drag…” I absolutely froze. A broken hand curled around the frame of my doorway. And then, that kid from the passenger seat was standing there, busted up just like he was in the car. I’m totally serious.
He looked at me and I can’t recall the exact words of what he said, but it was something along the lines of, “ Hey. My friend wants you to know he understands. He wants you to know he’s okay. We both are. Thanks for trying.”
He stood there for a few more seconds, just looking at me. And then he stepped back into the shadows, let go of the doorframe, and I listened to him drag back down the hallway into nothing.
I turned on every damn light I could. I slept with the lights on for two full weeks. I clipped out their death notices from the paper later that week. Turns out they were both high school seniors, on their way home from a wrestling tournament. Their car hydroplaned, from what the investigation determined.
I’d never have recognized the blonde headed kid had he come to me as his healthy, unwrecked self. Freaked me the hell out that he came to me busted up. I still have the newspaper clippings. I’ll never forget them, nor the ghostly visit.
Anyway, that’s my experience. I’ve seen a lot of shit in my 29 year career… but nothing quite that visceral before nor since.