September 12, 2011. I was waiting for a bus back home from college at my usual Siri Fort stop on the BRT (back when it still existed) in Delhi. After having spent 3 hours at dance practice and in no mood for sweaty armpits in my face, I decided to wait for an A/C bus.
It took a while, but the bus finally got here. I was about to get in from the rear door, when the driver shut the door, trapping my left leg. The next few things happened within seconds, but they play out in my head in extreme slow motion whenever I look back at this moment.
The driver started the bus, and with my leg still trapped in the door, I got dragged on the road a bit. Luckily, the passengers had noticed and raised an alarm to get the driver’s attention. But here’s the thing – in panic, the driver opened the door of the bus before he hit the brakes. This led to the rear tyre of the bus going over my left leg.
It sounds terrible, I know. I’ve seen the look of shock on people’s faces. But I got lucky, really really lucky. While I did suffer severe burns on my leg because of friction (a physics lesson I didn’t want), and some damaged muscles – I got away alive, no loss of limb, no broken bones. My leg is completely functional, heck, I could dance circles around quite a few of you.
While there are many moments in this journey that I will never forget, there are two things I want to talk about today.
Like I said, I got lucky. I got immediate help from a lot of people. Someone lent me their phone to call my parents, another person called up for help, someone tied a hanky around my ankle to stop the bleeding. Even the driver of the bus stayed with me till help arrived instead of running away. A very kind lady accompanied me and waited until my family came.
If you’ve ever lived or been to big cities like Delhi, you know the pace they run at – everyone is so caught up in their own lives that they barely stop to give another person a second look. We’ve read multiple stories, seen shocking videos of accident victims lying on roads, being ignored by passersby. So many people have lost their lives because people are afraid to come forward to help.
This fear stems from the harassment the many have faced for helping a road accident victim. Instead of encouraging and thanking the brave people who go out of their way to help a complete stranger, the police often turn the heat on them and badger them with endless questions. The woman who had come with me, vanished without a trace the moment police officers arrived to record my statement.
The Good Samaritan Law, implemented in 2016, provides legal protection to bystanders who come to the aid and rescue of victims of road crashes. Which means that neither the police nor hospital staff have the right to detain or harass you for helping a road accident victim. Sadly, hardly anyone knows about this extremely helpful legal aid. According to a survey conducted by SaveLife Foundation, 84% people still don’t know that it exists and 74% said they wouldn’t come forward to help in case of a road accident. Over 70,000 lives are lost only because of delayed help.
Another thing I got lucky about was the kind of injuries I suffered and the medical help I received. All my injuries were limited to one leg and while they were severe, they were life-threatening. Which means that it was not a big deal that the vehicle that came to take me to the hospital was a PCR van instead of an ambulance. The BRT corridor, which received mixed reviews, actually helped them get me to the hospital faster. I was taken to the AIIMS trauma center where I got the best medical care possible within seconds of reaching. I owe this to the fact that my father is a doctor and many of his former students, now doctors, had already been alerted of the situation and were waiting for me.
This definitely not the kind of stuff you want to leave to luck. According to the WHO, the ‘Golden Hour’ – right after an accident plays a crucial role in survival. Your odds improve by 70-80% if you get help within the first hour. In India, 30% of road accident-related deaths in 2016 took place only because an ambulance got delayed. Bad traffic management, road design, sheer tardiness and inconsiderate vehicles on the road contribute to this in equal measure.
Even when ambulances do make it to a road accident victim on time, the people who are providing you with the first medical care (also called first responders), are hardly equipped to administer proper care. The hanky that was tied around my ankle to stop the bleeding actually ended up cutting off blood supply to the skin on my foot which cost me. It was only a little bit of skin and I can live with that. But for someone with a severe spinal or head injury though, even moving them can come with major consequences.
Small efforts from both the public and the government are all we need. Basic workshops in schools and colleges can provide active first responder training, awareness of road safety rules and regulations and also the legal aid that protects them. It’s crucial for us to inculcate civic sense in our daily lives, not the civics lessons we had in school but important, life-saving ones. Better road designs and traffic management can ensure that help reaches fast.
Luck shouldn’t be the only thing on our side.