OCEANSIDE, CALIF. -- For four days and nights, with much of his body shattered by the vehicle of a hit-and-run driver, Juan Francisco Camacho lay near death in the center median of Interstate 5, as hundreds of thousands of preoccupied motorists passed without noticing him.
At first, as the lines of cars whizzed incessantly past on both sides, the 20-year-old Mexican migrant worker shouted for help in Spanish and rattled a small tree branch overhead in the slim hope that someone would see him.
But as the days passed, and as the shock from his shattered pelvis, broken arm, shoulder and internal injuries began to set in, Camacho lay listlessly, talking to himself, imagining that the telephone wires overhead were answering his calls.
Finally rescued after a motorist called 911, Camacho is recuperating from his numerous wounds and subsequent infections, a survivor of a painful roadside vigil that emergency-room doctors have called a miracle case of staying alive.
"I was shocked," said Dr. Edgar Gamboa, a trauma surgeon at Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, 40 miles south of here. "It's really incredible that he's still here. Even if they get treatment within the first hour, many people still die from these types of injuries.
"And here he's still alive, despite lying by the side of the road for so long, with all the bacteria and infections that had set in his body. Even after we got him in the hospital, we half expected him to die for the first two days."
Hospital authorities reported yesterday that Camacho was in stable condition.
"This is the only instance I've ever seen in which a pedestrian has been hit on the road and didn't get immediate help, was forced to lay there for days and then suddenly shows up on the roadside alive," said Michael Tomasik, an accident-review officer for the California Highway Patrol.
Lying in his hospital room, his repaired pelvis in traction, tubes running from various parts of his body, Camacho described the ordeal that apparently began the night of May 5. The undocumented worker from Oaxaca, Mexico, who has lived in the United States since 1986, said he had come to Oceanside that Saturday from a migrant camp to seek work.
About 8 p.m., after a frustrating day of job-hunting, he decided to take a shortcut across the freeway to catch the bus home. Just after darkness fell, Camacho scurried across the southbound lanes and was walking along the inside shoulder when a car hit him.
Camacho said he never heard it coming. "The only thing I heard was music," he said in Spanish, "American music."
Doctors said the car apparently hit the laborer from behind, shattering his midsection, cracking his abdomen like a turkey wishbone. The driver drove off.
Camacho recalls crawling off the road to avoid being hit again. "I crawled so I could get beneath a tree," he said. "I was rolling and dragging myself."
The next 92 hours, until he was rescued by authorities, have become a blur in Camacho's mind. He recalls seeing houses across the freeway and calling out to them. His only SOS was to shake the branches of bushes.
He had nothing to eat but soon noticed a water sprinkler nearby. Crawling on the opposite side of his broken arm and shoulder to reach the sprinkler, Camacho sipped water to stay alive.
Tomasik said the freeway median in the area is shrouded by thick oleander bushes. "If he got in there, it's not surprising no one saw him," he said.
Authorities said a northbound motorist spotted Camacho and called 911.
"When we got him, he was in shock from loss of blood, his blood pressure was down to about 60, which is about half the normal pressure," Gamboa said. "He was dehydrated, he had a dislocated knee and his pelvis was cracked open like a book. There was bacteria and infection from all the dirt in his wounds."
Camacho's recuperation is expected to take months.
"I'm not angry," he said of the incident. "For me, it's not a problem. I just thank God I'm better."