My precious husband is working on the highway at night this week, deeply ensconced in the nightmarish construction project at I-35 and SH-45. Since they have to close various lanes and pieces of the highway in order to get the work done, to keep traffic congestion and crisis to a minimum, this sort of activity occurs in the middle of the night... ironically when the "fewer" (not much fewer - it's I-35!) drivers on the road are most likely to be wasted and/or half asleep.
Clark, unfortunately, has seen more than his fair share of wrecks, including fatal ones, in his line of work. The strange traffic conditions provoked by construction (lane closures, traffic jams, machinery and workers everywhere), combined with the standard nighttime driving dangers, create an extremely treacherous environment where one mistake can mean catastrophe. Toss in a drunk or distracted driver and you are almost guaranteed a wreck.
Sometimes, Clark is one of the first on the scene due to his proximity to the road. He has seen horrific crashes. Once, he used a pocket knife to saw off a woman's seat belt in an attempt to extract her from her mangled vehicle and begin CPR; she was rapidly turning blue and ultimately died in his arms. Last night he saw a motorcyclist crushed by a drunk driver. The motorcyclist had stopped behind an 18 wheeler, but the woman coming up behind him was still going 60 mph on impact. I felt like crying when Clark reported impassively that the motorcyclist didn't die instantly, and rescue workers struggled to keep him alive for almost 30 minutes.
Clark's stories are always depressing, and the burdens he bears, the horrific things he has witnessed, build up inside of him and torture him. He doesn't like to talk about his feelings very much, and his pain comes out in angry outbursts, startling mood swings, statements of depression and worthlessness, and a look in his eyes that is difficult to describe... one that bears witness to suffering on a scale not experienced by many. Emergency workers and police officers can also become cynical and hardened... but in the name of resilience and health they have access to professional training and crisis counseling, things which are not made readily available to Clark. Clark is an electrician.
To add insult to injury, passing motorists often curse at Clark and throw objects at him and his crew as if they were solely responsible for the traffic jam, the closed lanes, and the construction. My husband and his crew may be blue collar workers, but they are out on the road risking life and limb to do their job, often in circumstances that most of us wouldn't dare attempt (you try fixing a traffic signal while hovering in a tiny bucket 30 feet in the air, with traffic roaring directly underneath you!), and often under adverse conditions like 100 degree heat, scorching sun, and sudden downpours.
Motorists, at least, have air conditioning and heat, air bags, seat belts, and tons of metal surrounding and protecting them. Motorists can listen to the radio and, even more importantly, they can sit down while they "suffer" through a little delay due to a lane closure. My husband and his crew are on their feet, sweating in the sun, dangerously close to fast-moving traffic, doing hard physical and mental labor all day (or night) long.
Before this devolves into some sort of preachy lesson about safe driving, I'll stop here. But I hope you will stop and think about my husband and his crew the next time you drive through a construction zone. Slow down and stay vigilant. Bad crashes affect more than just auto drivers and passengers; they take a heavy mental toll on everyone, from emergency workers to witnesses. I would give anything to see a flicker of innocence and freedom in my husband's eyes, but his dreams, hopes, and faith have been torn to shreds by the horrific images burned into his brain for the rest of his life.
Late at night, I lie in bed alone, the telephone at my left hand, and I worry. How long will it be before I get that fateful telephone call, the one that beckons me to my husband's side at the hospital? It is my worst fear... my worst nightmare. It is a totally unpredictable event and I will never be prepared for it. I can only hope and pray that it will never happen. Each night, I kiss him goodbye and say "Please be careful." Each morning, I sigh with relief when I hear his truck in the driveway. And when he tells me about the horrible car crash last night, the carnage he saw, the dead body and the spurting blood and splattered brains, I stay quiet and attentive because he needs me to listen, but my heart is weak and I want to cry and scream... Thank God it wasn't him lying there on the pavement.