Hastily written, before fact becomes myth, and the myth gets printed instead. In other words: badly written.
You know what it’s like. Winter driving. Don’t you? Everyone tends to forget how to drive in the dark and so they get cautious or they get dangerous. Slow or sloppy. So now the clocks have gone back we have a few weeks of recalibration to get used to. The roads are thick with drizzle, squints and fear and using them becomes a quick change lane lottery. Someone always comes out at the bottom and while I may be nothing like a careful driver I do know when best to keep it down a notch and take it a touch easier. Or I hope I do. The odds are on you won’t enjoy driving that much at this time of year, especially if you don’t enjoy driving at any time at all, but you should keep your eyes open and expect the unexpected: the one in front of you might not not know that, which makes it extra edgy.
So there I was, a slip road coming off the M25, later than I’d hoped but not far from home, yard by foot by inch, when the car in front stopped dead and the hazard lights popped on. Being the species we are, or the member of the species that we are that I am, my inner eyes rolled up and a curse pushed it’s way forward as the driver door slowly opened and a man got out. Only he didn’t really get out, not with a flourish, but more with a clunk and then started to slide along the edge of his vehicle, his limbs locked tight, his slow shuffle a style of unsteady you don’t see too often beyond a late night out. I can’t say for sure how long I sat there looking at him as my options and thoughts clustered together and then began to rearrange themselves into some kind of meaningful response. It wasn’t more than half a minute but it could have been, I hope it was, a little less.
Shit, I thought. This doesn’t look right. Better get out because if this guy was taking the piss before then he’s keeping it up far too long to turn it into some style of morbid joke. So out I got and when I got to him I asked what must be have been to him the most unnecessary question I could ever have mustered: “are you ok mate”. My hands went up to hold his forearms and he stuttered something that even with the four lanes of traffic next door wasn’t too hard to miss “I’m having a stroke”. Oh shit. Doesn’t really matter how I’m feeling, he’s feeling worse. We danced for a few seconds as I tried to think about thinking what to do next. With a bit of an insipid muscular tangle I spun him with his back towards me and he sunk down as I pulled him (he was bigger than me, and I’m no strong man) back to the space between our vehicles. I couldn’t remember the advice about strokes I saw on that advert three Christmases ago and so as I half carefully aided his crumble to the ground I reached for my phone as I thought whether I should lay him on his side. In all that noise and dark and cold the instinct to do the best thing first isn’t always the instinct that kicks in straight away. If it had just been me there, his guardian angel, he might have been dead ten minutes later. But there is good out there. Even now.
Again, seconds sort of went fast and slow at the same time, but as I was dragging him back a car slowed down in the fast lane (an act particular of a lunatic or a saint) and a man called out “you ok mate” (when a stranger calls you mate it’s never when things are ok) and I said “I think he’s having a stroke”. I was half way through trying to phone 999 and working out how to deal with this seized up chap hunched down on the tarmac and then suddenly there were three more people to lend a helping hand. One crouched down and laid him on his side and started rubbing his arms, putting a coat over him for good measure, while another looked at me and just said “I’m sorting an ambulance”. I took a breath and then we were a team of four and an invalid of one, and all of a sudden the odds seemed a hell of a lot rosier. Between us we managed the traffic and got his phones so we could work out who he was and all the other stuff you’d imagine would count and then, just as we’d been told an ambulance would be quite some time away an off duty paramedic appeared from nowhere, his car slapped on the hard shoulder without a thought, and it occurred to me very briefly that our man with the stroke may just be in with a chance.
Eventually some police officers arrived and the man who had maybe been on death’s door twenty minutes before was starting to look a bit more alive than he had ever hoped to be. I’m not one to get over sentimental on these occasions and I didn’t want a pat on the back either. If I’d have been the car in front I wouldn’t have know better and two cars behind I might have just left it to someone else. But I was glad I did my bit and when the police told us all we had to go so they could clear the road for the ambulance I went over to say goodbye and the man on the floor who thought he was the next worse thing to dead was looking a lot brighter and gave me the kind of thank you you shouldn’t really want to hear more than a few times in your life. I’m certainly not having some kind of existential crisis as I write this but I do have renewed faith in the good of mankind, when the circumstances offer the opportunity. I doubt that man had wanted a stroke but he couldn’t have been luckier to have had it right then, right there. I was ready, poised to fuck it all up and so whoever everyone else that turned up was and wherever they appeared from I’m glad that they were and that they did. Warms the cockles a little, I think. I shall try to remember this the next time I get grouchy in a long line of traffic: you never know what’s in front of you, and you never will until it happens. I shall also remember this so I can mention it to St Peter, just in case all that heaven crap turns out to be true.
G B Hewitt. 03.10.2021