I didn’t know if I would write about this publicly but I think doing so will help me process everything, and that is something I’m struggling to do. Also, I think this story can teach at least two important lessons.
We woke Sunday morning before the boys. Carlos headed out to the driveway to work on the car and I headed to the kitchen to work on breakfast.
There wasn’t much of a plan that day. As we lay in bed with the sunlight streaming through the blinds I had mentioned that it might be a good day to go swim in the river, but had the day progressed normally, we probably would have stayed home. I had already done the grocery shopping the night before and planned several recipes I wanted to make and photograph to share here on my blog.
As I set to work in the kitchen I heard Carlos call my name from the driveway. I don’t know how I heard him and today I’m plagued with the thought of what could have happened if I hadn’t. Carlos often calls my name from outside and I often don’t hear him – but yesterday I did. Yesterday, the way he said my name, it was urgent, strange. My first thought was that he wanted to show me something, but I knew that couldn’t be right. Why was his voice like that? I’ve never heard his voice like that before.
If I could have flown to him, I would have. I ran so fast that my chanclas came off my feet and I abandoned them, running faster barefoot. Halfway to the car I knew what I would find but I didn’t want to believe it.
Carlos had jacked the car up and was working under it. He’s not sure if the jack simply failed, if he bumped it, or if the car rolled, but when the jack fell and the car fell on top of him, he somehow managed to get enough air in his lungs to call my name.
I crouched down. I thought I said, “Oh my God,” over and over but I realize now that was in my head. Carlos later reminded me that what I actually said, is “What happened, baby?” in a weak, strangled voice. Carlos responded, “Tracy, I can’t breathe.” I remember that he said that very clearly because that is when I began to tremble. Even today, twenty-four hours later, my hands feel weak and begin to shake when I think of how I tried to work the jack and I couldn’t. Even if the jack wasn’t jammed, I don’t know if I could have made it work. My hands were trembling so much that I couldn’t hold onto it.
As my hands fumbled, I began to scream like I’ve never screamed before. “Help! Help me!” … I was hoping one of the neighbors would come get the car off Carlos – I was failing. Carlos was dying and it was going to be my fault. I replay it in my mind – why I didn’t call 911 but that would have meant leaving Carlos’s side when he couldn’t breathe. I wanted the car off him, I didn’t want to abandon him for even a minute. The screams that came out of me sounded like another person. Carlos managed to tell me “Calm down,” and even reached a hand down to try unsuccessfully to turn the jack. I kept screaming over and over again.
Inside the house, our dog, Chico, began to panic. He scratched frantically at the door and barked in response to my screams. It was Chico who woke our sleeping sons. My older son came outside when he heard the screams. He looked about wide-eyed, “Mommy, what’s happening?” he said.
When I spoke, I stuttered. I couldn’t speak clearly. “The car fell on Daddy,” I said, “I can’t get the jack to work.”
My older son grabbed the jack but he couldn’t work it. “I can’t work the jack! I don’t know how!” … He began to panic, too, and I started to scream again as a big, black pick-up truck stopped in front of our house and a man I’ve never seen before, ran to us. He later told me that he lives down the street, that he heard my screams. He thought it was kids playing at first, but decided to check. I wonder today if he hadn’t heard my screams or if he had ignored them – what would have happened.
The man tried to lift the car, my son and I joined in. I still don’t understand how we couldn’t lift it even a little. My son’s head left a small dent in the side of the vehicle – that’s how hard he thrust himself against it as he lifted. We cut and scraped ourselves, our bodies are sore today – but the car didn’t budge. Assured that my son and the man were actively trying to save Carlos, that Carlos wouldn’t be alone, I ran to the house, dialed 911, and brought the phone back with me outside.
The dispatcher told us not to attempt to move the car. I had worked very briefly as a dispatcher-in-training myself many years ago, and knew the dispatcher knew better than I did – but the man somehow managed to get the jack working and Carlos’s voice and breathing were weakening. I told the dispatcher we were going to jack the car up, that we had to, that my husband had a thick chest and the car was low to the ground, that he couldn’t breathe. The dispatcher told me again that she was advising me against moving the car in any way and that the ambulance and fire truck would be there soon.
The man worked the jack and the car lifted enough to take the pressure off Carlos’s chest. Fearing that the jack might fail again if he jacked it up enough for Carlos to get out, the man said we better just stop there. A minute later, my younger son flagged down the ambulance and fire truck. Within a few more minutes the first responders had used a tool I don’t know the name of to lift the car the rest of the way.
At one point the car started to slip again because a rock at the rear tire wasn’t doing a good enough job to keep it immobile. Carlos didn’t wait for the EMTs to slide him onto the board while he was under the car – he says he doesn’t know how he did it but he didn’t want to be under there anymore and he pulled himself out. An EMT grabbed his legs and pulled him the rest of the way onto the board and put a neck brace on him.
Carlos was airlifted to a hospital with a trauma center. I gave the boys some instructions, grabbed a few things and drove to the hospital. Because it wasn’t our local hospital, I got a little lost and that is when I finally started to cry actual tears. I had barely held it together until that moment but it’s usually Carlos who drives – he’s so good with directions, and I often get lost, and he wasn’t there to help me and I couldn’t find my way to him. When I finally arrived at the hospital, he was in for CAT scans and x-rays to check for internal injuries. The nurse reassured me that he was still conscious and talking, soon I was able to see him.
When I came into the room, Carlos was hooked up to all kinds of things. He still had the neck brace on, his shirt had been cut away and he wore a hospital gown. He had tubes in his nose for oxygen, IVs taped to his arms and hand, little electrode-looking things stuck all over his chest, a blood pressure cuff on his bicep, and a heartbeat monitor on his finger.
In the end, the test results revealed that not a single bone had been broken and there was no serious internal injury. Carlos was discharged within hours and even requested an ice cream cone on the way home. He will be very sore and is not working for at least a few days, but the doctor said he is either “very lucky or very strong.”
The only things I’m certain of today – I love Carlos with all my heart and I’m incredibly thankful that I’m not facing the rest of my life without him.
The two lessons for everyone:
#1. Do not ever use a car jack to raise a car up to work under it. That is not what they’re meant for. People often do this and end up dead or severely injured. Either go to the mechanic or find out the proper way to work under your car and do not take shortcuts. It’s not worth the risk you’re taking.
#2. It sounds cliche, but show your love for your family every day and in all your words and actions. You don’t know when your last moment together will be.