Robert J. Thompson was bloodied in a recent auto accident on the Beltway. He files this report on what happened afterward:

"I was seriously injured, and bleeding profusely from a long and deep cut on my forehead. Within moments - literally moments - people surrounded me and were trying to help me.

"Within what seemed to be seconds, paramedics were applying a large compress to my wound. They took my pulse, checked my blood pressure, checked my eyes for damage, and had me carefully move my arms, legs and fingers to see if there had been any spinal damage.

"Within a few minutes, I had been slid onto a board, and when the ambulance arrived, that board was shifted to a stretcher and I was taken to PG General. There I was X-rayed, checked again and sutured up. Less than six hours after the accident, I was back on my feet and out of the hospital.

"I relate all this, Bill, to make the point that there are a lot of good, friendly, helpful people in this world. And, incidentally, two of them were doctors who happened to be passing. Others were a state trooper named Ward, a paramedic named Brad, and a Montgomery County Red Cross worker named Lynne, who held my head and helped get the compress in place. I never did see her. I wish you would say something about people who are willing to get involved' and willing to help others."

If you've never been flat on your back and helpless, that "I never did see her" line may not register at once. But I knew what he meant. I went through a similar experience during a heart catheterization in mid-May.

For almost three hours, I could see only the ceiling and the head of an X-ray machine. I could hear the voices of the people on the operating team, but I couldn't see them or see what they were doing.

The only time I saw a face during the entire time was when the chief cardiologist leaned close and said, "Now we're at the point where if I tell you to cough, you cough and be quick about it. Cough hard."

I had been forewarned that if there is any indication that the patient's heart is stopping, a vigorous cough helps to start it beating again. Word that the critical moment was at hand somehow left me unfrightened - and wondering how a coward like me could be unafraid. The only explanation I can offer in retrospect is that I had a strong feeling those faceless but reassuring voices out there knew exactly what they were doing.

Fortunately for me, I was right. Fortunately, for others who need medical help, most of the doctors, nurses, paramedics and first-aid people who respond to our needs are skillful and well trained, in addition to being friendly and helpful and all the other nice things Bob Thompson said about them. We're fortunate to have so many of them available.