Archive for November 2005

Movie DiariesĀ 14

November 4, 2005

Getting the job done

Working on the movie was an interesting experience that even now, eight months after the project dropped into my existance, continues to circulate in my life like the housefly whose buzzing intrudes when you’re trying to go to sleep.

Since the project started as a “maybe” sort of thing, I’ve acquired a couple of tasks, one by accident and not saying “No” fast enough, one very much on purpose. Those are for another time, though. Today, it’s about Murphy and Kate.

It’s about getting the job done.

I’ve known Sean a long time, almost twenty years. I’ve known he was an EMT for a lot less than that, and it was always a sort of intellectual knowing: I’d never experienced it for myself. It was while driving between locations for the movie that I got to see first hand what that meant for him, and, as it happens, for me.

I’ve known Kate less time than that, and only since the movie began did I get to know her well. Between the two, I am richer for the knowing.

For the record, I wasn’t the patient, merely an observer. This was the day of the cemetery and the little girl, a day when I was already long gone emotionally: physically exhausted from trying to stay warm, underdressed for the rain; worried that – as my day lengthened – my reception at home when it was all over would grow cold. (Which it did, but that discussion is done and the issues addressed.) From Excelsior Springs to beyond Tonganoxie, Kansas, from the real cemetery to a fake one, created for the movie since we needed to dig a rather large hole, and unless you plan on putting someone who’s actually dead in it, cemeteries don’t like you digging. Go figure.

We exited the Turnpike at Lawrence and started the journey northward. Once out of town it became a winding two-lane, a really pretty drive, actually. We travelled caravan style, about six or seven vehicles. Murphy led the column, I was somewhere in the middle behind Kate, with Gunslinger in his truck behind me. I was drifting, trying to get a handle on my experiences from earlier in the day. It was about three in the afternoon.

Murphy pulled off the road into a field on the west side of the road. Every other vehicle ahead of me pulled over and stopped. I wasn’t sure why, but obedient to the herd I pulled over as well. Once I was parked, I saw it: debris scattered across the width of the road at the end of a long wavy line of skidmarks, an SUV, it’s top crushed to the level of the doors, windshield and all windows blown apart. Steam was still rising from the engine compartment under the hood, which resembled a crumpled sheet of foil. It couldn’t have been there more than five minutes.

As I got out of my car, I watched Murphy digging in the back of his vehicle, coming out with a black bag with a white cross on the side, and walking purposefully toward the wreck. What followed was the most astonishing half-hour that I had experienced to that moment.

The victim was a woman, thirty-ish, thin, brunette. By the time I’d gotten close enough to Murphy to speak to him without shouting, I could see the blood. Not a lot of it; she was injured but not devastatingly so. Sean had already put her in a neck brace and was doing a quick survey, trying to find out where the injuries were and apply first aid where he could.

She was crying, and why not? I know first hand what it feels like to roll a car. Even if nothing obvious happens to your body except a broken nail, possibly a little scrape here and there, the physics of being inside a ton and a half of metal rolling wheels over roof at speed beats the living shit out of you. It hurts.

Our assistant director was wearing gloves, kneeling beside Murphy, acting as nurse. I placed myself where I could be seen but not intrude, making myself available, and Murphy saw me. “Walk the debris,” he said, “see if you can find this lady’s I.D.”

Up onto the road, then, following the trail. It’s amazing how much detritis we carry in our vehicles. The tissues that fall down by the seats; the boxes in the back seat; the empty cup we forgot to throw out; the french fries that fall from the bag to the carpet.

In the debris, I found a small canvas bag with a brown fabric shoulder strap. In shiny paint in a child’s inexperienced hand was grass and a tree, and a yellow sun, and a girl’s name. In the bag were books, Dr. Seuss and If You Give A Moose A Muffin. A little further along, a couple of diapers spilled out of the top of a torn diaper bag.

I went cold inside, really physically cold, in spite of the warm day. Beginning to shiver, I spun and ran back to Murphy. “Sean,” I called, clenching my jaws to keep from shouting, “who was in the car with her?! Sean, there are diapers and children’s books. Where are the children?!”

The victim was in shock, and wasn’t really in a position to tell us. Murphy instructed those of us that weren’t doing anything else to walk the path of the accident, looking for anyone else who might have been thrown from the vehicle. I checked inside it first: two carseats, but loose, not tethered. A good sign: a properly installed carseat can’t be removed, not even by a crash, unless the object it’s tethered to is gone. The back seats of the SUV were intact, and the carseats were behind them in the cargo area

I grabbed the Gunslinger, the Scholar, the cameraman, and we “walked the grid” through the field beside the road. We never did find anyone – we would learn later the driver was alone, coming home from having dropped off her daughter at the mother-in-law’s house.

I returned to the crash. The victim was calm, now, talking through her tears more or less coherently. She had two people over her now: Murphy, whose soft voice I could hear over the buzz of the insects in the field, and Kate, kneeling beside her, holding hands, one hand over the victim’s forehead. Kate had a look in her face I’d never seen, a look of intense concern and concentration. She spoke in soothing non-words, and the young woman looked into her face and found comfort there.

An ambulance had arrived, but the techs who’d come with it had nothing to do except bring in a backboard and load the victim onto a gurney; Murphy had already done the rest. It wasn’t long before a LifeFlight helicopter came and took the young woman away. Kate stayed with her as long as the techs allowed, then disengaged murmuring assurances as the gurney was loaded onto the helicopter.

Kate staggered a bit as she stepped away. I stepped up to her, put one hand under her near elbow and one on her waist. We walked back to her car, with Gunslinger drifting closer. She sat on the edge of the hood of her car, and slowly, ever so slowly, sank to the ground. I ran to my car, grabbed a PowerBar and a bottle of water: I knew what she’d done for the young woman from the SUV and she needed the sustenance.

She stood, grateful. A single bite, a little drink, but she wasn’t there, not yet. I held my arms open and she stepped into them and began to cry, sobbing harshly, clinging to me with her hands clawed as she fought to ground the pain and fear and confusion she’d helped absorb. Gunslinger stepped up, his rough hands gentle on her back. Between the two of us, she quieted, finished the water and the bar.

Murphy joined us. The four of us stood, watching LifeFlight disappear. He asked Kate, “You okay to drive?” She nodded. Gunslinger and I nodded. We left the scene as soon as the road was reopened.


Because of HIPPA regulations, we were never told what happened to the young woman. We never learned that the only broken bones were several in her foot and a sprained wrist. We also never learned that she had no memory of the accident and how it happened. The contact that we didn’t have at the hospital never told us that she would be fine.