Once I was driving down a fairly remote highway and I passed a guy stumbling down the highway with his arms stretched out like a zombie. His hair was all black and blown back cartoon-style.
I was thinking, 'Whaa…?" I assumed he needed help so I came to a stop. But I was going about about 70 mph and this was all on a heavily forested bend in the highway, so by the time I had pulled over and jumped out, I could not see the point where I had first spotted him. I started to jog back down the highway and found a small lane. It was the only place he could have gone, so I ran down the lane and found him.
Warning. Gross and Horrible.
He was stumbling down the lane and I could only see him from behind. Something was really, really wrong but I just hadn’t figured it out yet. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Hey man, are you ok?”
He turned to face me and I recoiled involuntarily. My fight or flight instinct kicked in instantly because I was looking at a monster. After about a second, I gathered myself and realized that I was looking at one severely burned person.
His face was like a cheese pizza. It had big bubbles on it. His lips were fused into a hard slit that remained motionless when he tried to speak. His hair was melted into a single piece with spikes coming off the back and looked like it could be popped off in one piece like plastic Lego Man hair. I literally could not tell if he was eighteen or 80.
All of the clothes had been blown off his upper body. Just blown right off. But the worst part was his skin. All of the skin on his torso had come off, too, and it was hanging over his belt in ribbons, front and back, and down to his knees. The skin on his arms had separated as well, and had formed translucent, wrinkled tubes in which his arms twisted and slid. Like a snake within its newly shed skin. It was insane and horrible.
I was thinking, ‘Holy FK Holy FK, what do I do?!?!?’ I collected myself and called 911. I was amazed to get a signal. Still, it would be a while before help would arrive.
Beyond that, all I could do was to try and keep him as relaxed as possible and prevent him from panicking. At first he was stunned and moving and mumbling randomly, but after a while his eyes were wild and fearful as he came to terms with what he had just experienced. I almost started to cry when our eyes locked, there was so much fear and pain in his eyes.
I sat him down and tried to comfort and soothe him, assuring him that everything was going to be ‘ok’, to just hang in there. I couldn’t really make out what he was saying, but I did figure out that he had been welding. I waited for him to slip into unconsciousness, and prepared myself to perform rescue breathing and CPR should it be required, but that never happened.
Another driver on the highway had seen the victim stumble up the lane and had seen me give chase. She found us in the lane and then went back to the highway to direct the ambulance when it arrived about a half hour later.
The EMTs were amazing, You could see the “Holy Shit!” look in their eyes, but they quickly and professionally took control. I have so much respect for EMTs. These people have to deal with this stuff all the time. They save lives for a living. True Heroes.
Anyway, the ambulance took off flashing and screaming down the highway, and I had nothing else to do but continue on my way, behind the ambulance. I basically followed it home. The hospital is only six blocks from my house. So, I had a long time behind the ambulance to think about things, life, and the delicateness of it all.
The next day I check the paper. He had been air-lifted hundreds of miles to the burn unit in Vancouver. I check all the papers for two weeks after that. How was he? Who was he? Did he survive? There was no word. Nothing. I never found out.
I should point out that while the EMTs were preparing the victim for transport, I started to wander around the area and actually found the guy’s house at the end of the lane. There was a crater in the front yard. A freshly-exposed crater, with dark, damp earth all around. He had been welding on an underground propane tank.