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Monday, June 13, 2011

‘He’s going to KILL someone!’

We were heading down the Blackbutt Ranges for Ban Ban Springs, before the turnoff to the highway along the coast took us to Gladstone.

    We’d left the motel in Toowoomba fairly early and had a good run through Joh Bjelke-Petersen country round Crows Nest, when we caught up to an empty cattle truck.

    It always happens that way, doesn’t it? All those miles of straight road with hardly a car on it, and the moment you get into the hills, you end up behind something like this.

    There was a shortish clear bit of straight road down a hill and I had time to overtake. Well, I would have had, but as I pulled out, the truck veered to the centre of the road, and my driver’s side wheels would have been in the gravel if I’d kept going. Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, and with two little girls in the seat behind us, I pulled back, silently cursing the idiot.

     I’d get another chance to get past him, but he was driving s-l-o-w, even for a cattle truck. I inched up behind him, knowing that you have to be ready to take the chance as soon as it’s offered.

    ‘He’s got to be drunk!’ I cursed as he swerved violently towards the centre of the road. Driving pissed as a newt on a winding road at just after 8.30 AM on a Monday morning? He must have had one hell of a Sunday night. He drifted towards the verge, then must have realised suddenly where he was and jerked the wheel sharply, overcorrecting and finding himself in the middle of the road before veering back between the lines.

    At least there were lines. Sometimes on country roads there weren’t, and you don’t realise just how dependent you become on them till they’re not there. Boy, was he depending on them.

    This was going to be tricky. The road was fairly narrow, and the shoulders on both sides could be dangerously high in places. A tyre could be stripped off a wheel if you went over the edge even just a fraction. There were occasional potholes as well.

    I saw another chance to go, so signalled with the indicator, and lightly beeped the horn just to be sure he could see me as I nosed out.

    Obviously he did, because he pulled over sharply to the left to give me room to overtake. But his judgment was so bad that he went over the verge once again, and our car was showered with stones the size of grapes. The last thing I needed was a broken windscreen, so I braked hard and hung back. Well back.

    This guy was dangerous to everyone on the road, not just to himself. As he drifted towards the centre of the road, still driving slowly, a car towing a van was coming fast towards us. Ironically, it was one of those longer straight stretches that always come up when something’s approaching. Maybe I could have overtaken there if there wasn’t a car coming.

    The approaching driver noticed the erratic trajectory of the truck ahead of us, and also tramped on his brakes, causing the caravan he was towing to fishtail wildly, almost out of control. As the left side wheels dropped over the shoulder, there was a stream of sparks from the bottom of the van. The cattle truck again pulled sharply over to the correct side (the left side, as this is Australia, not the USA or Europe!), again hurling stones in our direction. They bounced past us.

    I don’t know how the car and caravan got past the truck unscathed, but they did. I saw the look of terror on the faces of the driver and his passenger. They had escaped a horrific accident by centimetres.

    What were we to do? Overtaking was out of the question, though I dearly wanted to get past him, but there was a larger issue now. He really was going to get himself killed, or, worse, some innocent people coming the other way. And one or two cars were now behind me, and they were getting impatient. I could see that on their faces in my rear-vision mirror. I didn’t want some cowboy trying to overtake everyone from three cars back and getting us all killed in the process. Fortunately, the drivers behind soon noticed the erratic driving of the truck and stayed in line.

    This went on for some time. It was probably only a few minutes but when lives are on the line, it seems much longer. After he scared another approaching car driver witless and nearly ran him into the ditch, I had no choice but to act. I put on the hazard lights, came as close to the truck as I dared, and sat on the horn.

    For a while, there seemed to be no reaction from the truck driver, but then he hit the brakes so hard that if I hadn’t been pumped full of adrenalin and anger, I might have run up his backside. But he had got the message. He pulled so far off the road that he almost went down the embankment, and the truck stopped in a shower of gravel and dust.

    ‘Stay in the car!’ I said to the others. I jumped out and ran for the driver’s door of the truck. I wanted to drag him out and drop him on the roadside verge and smash his face for what he’d almost done to us.

    I jumped up on the running board and yanked the door open, to find the driver slumped over the wheel, as if he’d been shot. This wasn’t what I expected, though I’m not sure what it was that I did expect. A bleary-eyed mumbling drunken idiot slurring his words, I guess. Maybe even grinning.

    Had he had a heart attack or a stroke? All my rage evaporated in a flash. I lifted his face. He was conscious, but only just.

    ‘What’s wrong? Quick - tell me.’ Lord knows what I would have done. My first aid skills felt pretty remote right then.

    ‘Sweet....’ he whispered.

    I had no clue what he was on about.

    ‘Sugar.... jelly beans....’ He raised a hand over his shoulder in what seemed a great effort and pointed with his thumb to the shelf behind him, and his head dropped back over the steering wheel.

    The penny dropped at last. He needed sugar. He was a diabetic, and somehow he’d overdone his insulin medication, or got the timing wrong. Something like that, anyway. He had started slipping into a coma while driving but wasn’t aware enough to know that it was happening and he needed to stop.

    I fed him a few jellybeans and he recovered amazingly quickly, though still disorientated.

    But what then? Other drivers had stopped when I did, but none of them were any the wiser about diabetes than I was. This was a time well before mobile phones (yes Virginia, there was a time!) – but it was taken out of our hands when a motorcycle cop came screaming up from the direction of Toowoomba, and took charge. Maybe one of the people almost killed by the truck had reported the driver at the next town.

    I was happy about that. No-one had been hurt, especially us. We were facing a solid six-hour drive, and just wanted to be on our way. But I was rather pleased I hadn’t punched the poor sod in the face as soon as I opened the cabin door. It would have been a bit rude under the circumstances.


  1. Thank you for that salutary tale. It 's a good reminder not to jump to conclusions about people's actions...must say though, I can't imagine that you would really have punched anyone's face!!

  2. The last time I punched anyone with some intention of hurting them was when I was about 14, so you're pretty right! Still, I was cranky - and it's very true about the moral of the story!

  3. Beautifully written, Denis. Had me on edge the whole way through. I would probably have pulled over the the side of the road and waited until he'd got somewhere else (besides the afterlife). Makes one wonder how many accidents are caused by medical conditions. These days forensic archaeologists are discovering that much of history has medical conditions to thank for major incidents and shifts. I wouldn't send back a major medical incident to make a shift in contemporary Australian politics right now. Perhaps a bike accident or a potassium deficiency will do. The latter are quite common among endurance athletes.


  4. Bloody hell, a close call. I wonder if he lost his job? Sx

  5. Joan: thanks! we thought about waiting but when you've just set out early on a long trip and everyone's kinda settled in the car, you just hope for a break that will get you beyond a mess of someone else's creation. You're point on causes is well taken, not to mention the ones where someone swerves to avoid hitting a butterfly, with disastrous results. Yet these things happen, or nearly happen, on the roads every day.

  6. Sx (heh heh) I know who you are... I had the feeling, based on no evidence whatsoever, that this was his own truck and he wasn't working for anyone else. The poor sod just had his insulin levels way out of whack and didn't get it!


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