Saturday, April 30, 2011
Almost one month ago, I was in a very serious car accident. I've never been in a vehicle accident of any kind before, and it was both a shocking and frightening experience. I was driving to work at the coast with a backseat full of clinic supplies. I was driving my mom's car (she often accompanies me for some beach and volunteer time), she was a passenger, and we had barely left our city on a drizzly grey day when it occurred. I remember that I was talking to her about the online class in Population Nursing I had started the day before just before it happened.
An oncoming log truck in the opposite lane was driving very close to the median, spraying up water from the wet road, a narrow state highway. I turned the wheel to the right, swerving a bit, to put more distance between us and the truck. When I tried to recenter the car the strangest (and scariest) thing happened. Each time I turned the wheel, the car overcompensated, swerving back and forth, almost into the oncoming lane, then almost off the road, back and forth. It must have happened four times. A friend later told me that this is called "fishtailing", and is a form of hydroplaning.
I had time to think, and say, "I think I'm losing control of the car!" and then suddenly we were crossing the oncoming lane of traffic (empty, thank God) and heading for the ditch on the opposite side. Then, too, a few thoughts flitted through my mind--I thought "Maybe this is it" and then "Oh no, my boys!". Meanwhile, I was aware I was shouting "Mom! Are you okay? Mom! I'm sorry!" It was terrifying. Suddenly we were landing, we were spinning, we were rolling--there was a fine shower of broken safety glass from the shattered windshield. Then we were still, and hanging upside down by our seatbelts.
I don't think my mother really realized quite what was happening until that moment, when we found ourselves hanging there. She told me "I'm okay, Heather. I'm not hurt." I could tell I was OK too, but had the thought that the engine might explode, so we needed to get out quickly. I couldn't figure out how to open the door from my upside-down position. As I groped at it, a face appeared upside down at my window. A Good Samaritan had stopped to help. He was unable to open the passenger side door, but mine opened easily. I told him we were alright and he called 911 while I undid the seatbelt and dropped down onto my head, then crawled out of the car.
Next I helped my mother to get out. She has severe arthritis and limited mobility with an artificial joint, so I was very concerned for her safety. After she was detached, fell five inches onto her head, and crawled out, it's a bit of a blur. The Good Samaritan led her to his car to sit and rest out of the rain while we waited for the police and ambulance. I remember that I kept trying to call my work to let them know I wouldn't be arriving that day, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the number, so I kept dialing random numbers until I gave up (shock?). My heart was pounding and I was shaking, but I felt overwhelmingly lucky to be alive, almost exhilarated, when I looked at the car and thought about what might have been.
Paramedics did come, but determined that neither of us needed an ambulance. Minou was called and set out to us immediately. He contacted my work. A state trooper arrived. A tow truck was called. For a little while, there were a swarm of people, including two Good Samaritans--I wish so much I had taken their names to thank them later. I crawled back into the car to gather up my mother's library books and the clinic supplies. I remember obsessing about them, knowing the car would be towed: I must save the birth control! At one point, my mother said "Oh no, I broke three fingernails." I responded "Better that than bones!" and we laughed with almost hysterical relief. "We're so lucky. We're so lucky." was repeated again and again.
That was around 9:30 am. Minou arrived to take us home. A statement was made to the trooper. Paramedicas left and the car was towed. The next few hours were spent waiting to be evaluated at Urgent Care and told that we both suffered from neck strain. Then we went out for lunch and home to take a nap. The adrenaline had almost calmed down. That night, I made a chocolate cake with G2, we opened a bottle of champagne, and had a Celebration of Life.
As with any close call, the experience marked me. I kept searching my psyche initially for an understanding of what it meant. Happy that I still had time here on the earth, in this body and this life. Did it mean that I had unfulfilled work to do, a mission to complete? That doesn't quite feel right. What does feel right, though, is to think about how I spend the moments that I have. To notice the beauty around me. To act as much as possible with patience and love. To remember continually that we don't know how much time we will have, any of us, any time. Just to notice, to appreciate, the moments that make up the days of our lives.
The weekend after the accident, I made the decision to take a leave of absence from my RN-BSN program. I was stuck to the computer all of Saturday, while G2 asked me throughout the day "Can we bake something? Can we go to the library? Can we work in the garden? Can we do something together?". Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I will go back, completing that BSN is important to me. But there is time to study later. The warm smiles and warm hearts of my not-so-little minous (G1 is about to pass me up in height) are most important, and their needs are now. I love them so much. I am so grateful for them (even when they drive me crazy!).
Posted by HeatherLiz at 12:51 PM