Accident Up Ahead!
Answer questions #1 and #2 and then answer #3 or #4.
1. When an accident or disaster occurs, many people will panic or just stand there looking. Why do they react that way? (Answer using a short paragraph.)
2. What fears and doubts does Jody have to overcome as she works? What helps her to keep going? (Answer using two short paragraphs.)
3. Write a paragraph about an accident that you experienced as a victim, an observer, or the person who helped the victim.
or 4. As one of the Fortins or Jodouins, write a letter to Jody Stevens thanking her for what she did.
THE NORTHBOUND BUS had scarcely left North Bay, Ontario, when-at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 11, 1975-it came to an abrupt halt. Peering out the bus window at Highway 11, Jody Stevens saw a line of taillights stretching into the night. “There must be an accident up ahead,” she said to her seatmate. “I had better get out and help.” Jody, a young nurse from Toronto, was on her way home to spend Thanksgiving (and celebrate her twenty-fourth birthday) with her family in Timmins. An October drizzle soaked her shoulders as she trudged past a quarter mile of stopped traffic to an eerie scene. In the flickering light of Coleman lamps and road flares, she saw the two-lane highway spattered with blood. An old school bus converted into a camper lay on its side in the ditch. A hunter’s pickup truck was stalled in the left lane, the bodies of two moose lolling grotesquely from the back. Off the right shoulder was a silver Mercedes-Benz with a smashed hood. In the lane between them a silent ring of people had gathered round a fourth vehicle-a blue 1973 Ford, a crumpled wreck, with four people in it.
“I think they’re all dead,” a burly man told Jody.
She caught her breath and thought, Well, Stevens, what do you do now? Jody had packed a lot of experience into the two years since her graduation as a registered nurse, most recently at the Toronto East General Hospital. She threw off her corduroy coat and crawled into the back seat of the crushed car.
While Jody was riding north, twenty-six-year-old Charles Jodouin, his wife Jeanne, and her parents Omer and Lucie Fortin, were driving south from Timmins to visit Jeanne’s sister in Kingston. Despite the late hour, traffic in both directions was fairly heavy. They were less than three miles out of North Bay when, suddenly, the left rear wheel spun off an oncoming converted school bus: it flew straight into the grill of a pickup truck moving south just ahead of the Jodouins. Then, out of control, the camperbus skidded across the centre line and sideswiped the Jodouins’ blue Ford. A split second later a brand-new Mercedes, travelling behind the camper, also slammed into the Jodouins.
Scrambling into the wrecked blue Ford, Jody found herself in a welter of blood and splintered glass. Trapped in the driver’s seat was Charles Jodouin, with the steering wheel lodged in his abdomen, and a gash between the ribs under his left armpit. Beside him, his wife lay unconscious. The lower parts of both their bodies were trapped under the dashboard. Jody could hear one faint voice. In the back seat, Lucie Fortin, deep in shock, her legs buckled under her, was conscious and talking incoherently. Beside her slumped her husband, blood streaming from a massive head wound.
Horrified, Jody summoned up the discipline and skills learned in the hothouse of the emergency department. Rapidly she determined that all four were alive by feeling their thigh arteries-more accurate than a wrist pulse. Then she decided her priorities. Jeanne Jodouin’s face was badly cut, but her ears and eyes showed no signs of intracranial bleeding. Her mother appeared to have leg fractures and was verging on panic. Omer Fortin had a possible fractured skull and, Jody suspected, noticing his irregular pulse and poor facial colouring, a weak heart. Most serious of all, Jody feared that Charles Jodouin’s left lung might have been pierced by broken ribs. If it collapsed and absorbed fluid, he might stop breathing.
Jody quickly organized bystanders to help. Several holidaying cottagers produced life jackets; these she used to prop up her patients’ heads to keep them from choking on blood and saliva. “Has anyone got blankets?” she yelled. “Coats? Rags? I’ve got to pack this man’s chest.” A woman handed her an unopened package of disposable diapers-perfect sterile dressings! Jody burst into tears of relief.
Spreading her fingers, she packed diapers between Jodouin’s bulging ribs and used a life jacket as a pressure dressing. He began to mutter-in French. Fighting time, Jody fell back on high school French and sign language. “No arreter, no arreter,” she stammered. “Don’t stop breathing!” Gesturing, she showed him how to use the muscles between his ribs and pull in air. With relief she saw that he understood. As Jodouin relaxed, she turned to Omer Fortin.
In the semidarkness, Jody examined his torn scalp and could see a severed vein pumping out blood. She called for something to close the wound, and gratefully grabbed an unopened package of small clamps used for stringing a catch of fish to a line. With them she sealed off the vein, then bandaged the exposed cerebral cortex with diapers.
As she worked on Fortin, Jody worried about his wife, who was now screaming loudly. Jody asked two men to put their hands through the right rear window. “Make her feel warm and secure- hold her like she was your own mother,” she told them. As they hugged her, Lucie Fortin’s screams subsided. If I can drain away the fear, Jody thought, theirs and mine, maybe we can pull through this.
When the Ontario Provincial Police arrived at 1:52, Jody slipped out of the car, her knees shaking. “I didn’t realize then that she was a nurse,” says Constable Robert Jolley. “But she sure had the situation in control. I didn’t tell her what to do. I asked her what I could do to help.”
The police gave Jody what she needed at this stage-confidence and elbow room. They held back the gathering crowd and urged the young nurse to carry on. As Jolley picked up her sodden coat and laid it on the back seat of his cruiser, the homely gesture reassured her. They trust me, she thought. It’s gone this far; I’ll see it through.
The first ambulance came wailing in from North Bay, and Jody summoned up the courage to instruct its crew. “Don’t give the driver pure oxygen,” she insisted. “If his lung is damaged, it could kill him. I need oxygen for my man in the back.” Seizing the mask, she gave Fortin six litres-a heavier dose than the ambulance attendants were allowed to deliver-and she saw his colour improve. Then she picked up the ambulance intercom.
“Lady, I don’t know who you are,” the voice at the hospital replied, “but keep talking.” Automatically she began her instructions with “stat,” the medical signal for urgent action. “Get the operating room ready and call a surgeon and anesthesiologist. The driver may need surgery to repair his thorax. He’ll need a chest X-ray, an Emerson pump to drain his chest and equipment to check his blood type. His wife is unconscious. She’ll need a skull X-ray and an LV to stabilize her. The older lady is in shock. She’ll need an LV, blood-typing, a monitor to watch her heart and traction in preparation for orthopedic surgery. Her husband has a possible skull fracture with massive hemorrhaging.” But there would be no time to cross and type Omer Fortin’s blood. So Jody instructed the hospital to prepare pack cells (frozen red blood cells that can maintain a patient for a short time, regardless of his blood type).
By now, hundreds of stalled travellers were huddled on rock outcrops beside the road. Jody glanced round quickly. No one else seemed seriously injured, but one of the passengers from the camper-bus had a flushed face. So she felt his wrist; he had a rapid, irregular heartbeat. The man, Robert Mack, had smashed his nose against a handrail as the vehicle jolted sideways. Jody asked one of the ambulance crews to take him in.
The last ambulance waited for the Jodouins, still trapped in the front seat between the buckled hood and the front doors. While firemen tried to pry a door open with hydraulic jacks, police were unsnarling the jammed traffic. Gradually, cars began weaving a one-lane path past the accident. Jody’s bus rumbled through, but the police asked her to stay. Rain-soaked, shivering, aching to go home, she looked down at her shirt and jeans, spattered with the blood of her patients. “I’ll stay,” she said.
In the end, the Jodouins’ car had to be wrenched apart by a tow truck. Charles and Jeanne Jodouin were lifted into an ambulance, and Jody rode in the police cruiser that escorted them to North Bay Civic Hospital After washing up in the police station, she accepted a constable’s offer to speed her north on Highway 11 to catch up with her bus.
Her parents met her at the Timmins terminal. Home at last, she stammered out her story, then shucked her blood-splattered shirt and jeans, had a hot bath and went to bed. She slept through Saturday. A week later she was still brushing glass from her hair.
The Fortins and the Jodouins went from emergency into the intensive-care unit at North Bay Civic. The doctor on duty said later: “They had significant injuries, but the initial management had been good. Orner Fortin had virtually been scalped, but the hemorrhage was controlled.” Jody’s earlier suspicion that he might have a heart problem was close; he suffered from high blood pressure.
Lucie Fortin had a broken hip, two broken wrists, and a displaced bone in her right shoulder. She has since had three operations. Charles Jodouin had a broken collarbone, a broken right wrist and a torn left forefinger that required twenty-four stitches, but, despite the impact of the steering wheel, no internal injuries. Jeanne Jodouin had multiple lacerations on her face and legs. Robert Mack was treated for shock and discharged.
During the three hours she spent at the accident scene, Jody had fought back her own fears. I’m young-can I handle this? she thought. If I make medical decisions I have no legal right to make, will my nursing career be over? When a policeman knocked on her door last June, she thought she was being summoned to testify about the accident. Instead, Jody was invited to a dinner to receive the Ontario Provincial Police’s Commissioner’s Citation, in recognition of the remarkable job she had done that rainy night on Highway 11.
Strangely, a year after the accident, none of the injured knew her name. But the Fortins and the Jodouins knew what they owed her. “Without her help,” says Orner Fortin, “it’s not likely that all of us would have survived.”
© 1977 by The Reader’s Digest Association (Canada) Ltd. Reprinted by permission.
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