Funny thing about car crashes. They always seem to unfold so slowly, like honest-to-god Hollywood slow-mo, except you can’t really do anything… At least that’s been my experience.
First of all, Jackie and I are OK. A little banged up, a little sore, but OK. I have bruised ribs and a sore lower back. Jackie has some bruises and stitches in her lower back. It could’ve been worse.
So there we were, coming back to Punta Cana from a tour of Santo Domingo, a three-and-a-half hour bus ride to the oldest capital in the Americas (a standard historical trip, the likes of which I always seem to prefer, and, if normalcy had prevailed, about which you’d now be reading while viewing the standard site-seeing photos), and all seemed well. We’d already shared our joke about crazy Dominican drivers and how our driver was just as crazy yet safe, ha-ha-ha. We’d seen the sites, stopped for the midway home final pee and shopping break, and were settling in for one more hour before the resort. Jackie and I were seated comfortably in the middle of the bus where I wouldn’t have to witness the insane-o local driving techniques. On the drive to, we’d seen an identical tour bus on its side in the ditch near a small town, and shared a meaningful yet dismissive glance. That stuff happens to other people…
From behind we heard the wail of approaching sirens – ambulance or police. I glance up and thought, I hope that little car coming at us can finish passing that other truck (passing seems like a drunken dare in the DR, and all the roads are two-lane…). But the little car seemed to panic, couldn’t get out of our lane, and our own bus-driver attempted to swerve to avoid impact.
He was unsuccessful. We hit the car and then the bus-driver over-compensated in classic don’t-turn-against-the-skid fashion, and then it was off the road and we were sliding on the passenger side. I think most of us were ready due to the sirens making us all wary. I yelled at Jackie and braced my shoulder against the seat in front of me. When we went over, I thought, OK, that wasn’t terrible. Then I felt another huge impact – must have been a tree – and we caromed around, tipped up on the roof and landed on the driver’s side, sliding to a stop in the road.
I could move, and I thought, I didn’t feel anything go pop. I saw Jackie laying there beside me. Her eyes were wide but she was answering me. She wasn’t obviously bleeding or otherwise badly hurt. She sat up and I can tell everyone that was the best sight I’ve seen in years. We got up looked for a way out.
Most of the other people on our tour were upper middle-aged or senior citizens and they were in rough shape. I didn’t see any spouting blood though, and I have to admit that the next thing I did was reach down and grab our bags, which were right beside me. Then we started trying to help the other people get up. Most were moving. Most were fairly OK. One man who was sitting in the front was trapped and not moving. The bus-driver wasn’t moving. No one was screaming, though. People were moving and helping each other.
Pretty quickly we had a lot of local helpers. They pried one of the windows off and helped people exit from the rear. I helped Jackie get out, and then noticed she was bleeding from her lower back, though not badly. By the time I made my way towards the front. Several folks were helping with the unconscious man. So I crawled out and we all moved back from the bus. About then was when I noticed my back and ribs were hurting.
Cars were stopped everywhere. A lot of people were running up to help. We were about 45 minutes from the nearest city, so no ambulance for some time. Finally some guys got the bus driver out and loaded him into the backseat of a big pick-up and took off.
All the tourists were kind of checking each other out, looking over our injuries. With the two obvious exceptions, no one seemed severely hurt. Our guide, Jose, whose hand was mangled pretty badly, got another bus out there in 20 minutes or so and we loaded up. They took us to the town of Higuey. It was a long drive. I was impressed with how relatively calm everyone was. No one was really losing it except the wife of the man who’d been knocked out (and he was in an ambulance), who kept telling the driver to slow down. Jose kept it together pretty well. Jackie and I just kept looking at each other. I checked her back, saw some pieces of glass stuck in there. She said it wasn’t hurting too much.
We made it to this small emergency clinic in Higuey and off-loaded into the lobby. The word chaotic comes to mind. But that’s the next part of this ordeal.