Thursday, September 15, 2011

Err on the Side of Safety

So I got this call around 3:30 pm stating in a "matter-of-fact" tone the vehicle transporting my daughter had an accident and that she's okay.

The phone call was not from the police officer or anyone qualified to verify if Elisabeth was okay. The call came from the business office of the transportation service who was notified by the driver. I didn't get any details other than "she's on her way home" and "they had to switch vans" and it's a "fender bender thing" and "I am required to notify you that there was an accident."

No big deal, right?

So I contacted  the non-emergency police dispatcher numbers to verify exactly what happened. Elisabeth is non-verbal and cannot communicate if there is something wrong with her. I heard from the police dispatcher there was an accident and no injuries were reported. The police officers were attending the scene and someone would get back with me. One hour later, Elisabeth arrived home in a  van with a dried bloody nose and blood on her shirt.

So I asked the driver what happened. He identified himself as the mechanic for the transportation company. He pointed to the driver sitting on the bench behind Elisabeth's chair.

So I asked the driver if he was okay. And he nodded. Then I asked what happened and if there was anything I should know about the impact. He was unintelligible. So I asked him, "Are you a parent? If this was your child and she was unable to tell you what happened, what would you do?"

He just looked at me blankly. The mechanic answered, "Do what you think is best for your child."

So I asked, "How was anyone able to determine if Elisabeth sustained any injuries? Was there a police officer or medic present?"

I was told, "Yes. The police officer wiped blood from her nose."

I asked, "Can anyone tell me if she hit her head or her if her chair tipped or wobbled from the impact or if it was a severe enough impact that she could have sustained internal injuries? Did she cry? Was she upset?"

No answer.

Okay, I get it. This isn't about my daughter's safety anymore. This about their procedure.

Finally, the traffic police officer returned my call.  He reported the van was traveling on the Norwood Lateral and came to a sudden stop, hit the car in front,  and was steered off the road hitting a tree. The police officer stated when he arrived Elisabeth was already off the van. She was taken off by the driver of the van. I asked, "Are you the officer who wiped the blood from her nose?"

He said, "Yes. I asked the driver if he thought she was okay."

So I asked, "How would he know? This was the first time he picked her up. It's never the same driver with UTS.  Who determined  if Elisabeth sustained any injuries since she cannot communicate what happened?"

The officer apologized. He said, "I took the driver's word that that knew her."

So I asked, "Looking at that accident, the impact, the damage to the van and wheelchair, would you have taken my daughter to the hospital if she was your child? "

He apologized, again,   and asked, " Is she okay?"

Finally, somebody actually gets it! Thank you, God!

I told him, I'm not really sure. Her Dad took her to the hospital  to check things out. I told him, "You know it's very difficult for us to determine when things are not right with Elisabeth. I imagine it would be very difficult for a stranger to determine if  something was wrong. It's a learning experience for all of us."

I asked him, "Did you notice any marks on the wheelchair to see if there was any impact? Any scratches or dents? That would indicate something, right?"

He said that the experience really opened his eyes to the challenges many kids with disabilities have when there are traffic accidents.

After I hung up with the police officer, I called the transportation company about their "safety procedure" and shared what the police officer told me about the accident. A "fender bender" it was not.   The driver hit the car in front, and drove the vehicle into a tree. The van had to be towed.

Next, I suggested  accidents involving a child with or without disabilities should be handled by the traffic officers and medical staff especially when the drivers do not know the children or advised to say as little as possible.  The driver in this case should have said,  "I do not know this child and cannot determine whether she  is injured or not."  It should also be part of the procedure for a police officer to make a report out on the wheelchair for signs of impact or stress and also look at the straps and buckles securing the wheelchair  for signs of stress.

Elisabeth just came home from Children's Hospital. Her nose has a small cut inside so she hit something.  It  was swollen. We were told that because they did not see the typical abrasions from shoulder and lap belts, it's  difficult to determine the extent of her injuries. But, if we noticed any changes in her behavior or she vomits or if her nose starts to bleed to bring her back to the ER.  In hindsight, I recognized that at the very least she experienced something that scared her. Her diaper when she arrived home directly after the accident was full and she was soaked. If he lifted her out of the chair, he must have noticed she was soaked which indicated that at the very least, she was scared ...

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