The middle of June is always a bittersweet time for me. Last night when I was driving home from work I heard “Name” by the GooGoo Dolls and realized what my next blog post was going to be about – just in time for my 3 year anniversary.
For those of you who don’t know me personally – on June 18, 2007 I was in a horrible, near fatal car accident in Alabama. A friend had defended his Master’s thesis that afternoon, and a group of us went out to celebrate at Buffalo Wild Wings. S and I had started dating about a month before, and we had driven over there together. On his way home, he dropped me off at my apartment, I changed clothes, gave Haley some attention and headed over to S’s house on the other side of town. This was about 8 pm.
As I’m sitting at the stoplight to turn onto the interstate, a car flies past me, through a red light. I’m thinking to myself – man, drivers are crazy tonight, maybe I should just go home. But I didn’t, because I was soaking up every minute I could with S. I turn on the highway and am cruising along. Now, there are two ways to get to S’s from the highway… one exit, which wasn’t that far, that puts you on sort of an access road type thing – speeds (I think) are like 45 mph – and it’s the route I usually take. That night, however, I went the second way, which is staying on the highway for another couple of miles, at 70 mph, because I wanted to get there faster and not have to deal with the lights.
There’s a distinct moment in your life when you realize nothing will ever be the same – and that moment came when I looked to my left and saw headlights coming straight for me. For those of you who’ve never driven I-565 on the west side of Huntsville – it’s a 6 lane highway with a grass median between the East/West direction, elevated above the access road that I could’ve taken. I was in the far right lane – why not, since there was no one else on the road. I remember saying outloud: “I’m going to be in an accident” and then tried my best to avoid it. A split second sooner or later probably would’ve caused me my life, but I got hit in the perfect spot, the place where there’s the most car between you and the outside world, a combination of head-on and t-bone. When he hit me, he pushed me in the direction that I went down the hill (again, in the perfect place to not flip me or spin me around), right between a road sign and a light post, and not too far from going over the side of a bridge. He had crossed 3 lanes of highway, a median and another 3 lanes of highway to hit me (there are conflicting stories that he either jerked the car to the right and lost control on the gravel and came left or just jerked the car left and came straight for me).
I remember thinking am I ever going to stop. Please just stop the car, please. I don’t remember the airbags deploying, but I know they did because of the burn I had on my face. Finally, I did stop, and tried to get out of my door. I lifted the handle and pushed, nothing. Did it again, nothing. I then thought, am I going to die here? I called S first, since he was the closest, and he was soon on his way. I then called my parents and told them to get down to AL (keep in mind it was 9:30 pm EDST, and they lived 7 hours away). Mom thought I was being over-dramatic, so I hung up on her. I thought about calling 911, but had lost all of my strength.
That’s when my guardian angels appeared. The next thing I knew, there was a man at my passenger side door telling me that the police and other emergency crews were on their way and that he needed to get me out of the car. I pulled myself out of the driver’s seat, across the center console and into the passenger’s seat. Another woman had shown up by the guy’s side, quite a bit younger than he, and S had just gotten there too (if you ask him to this day how he jumped that 6 foot fence, he still can’t tell you) and they helped me out of the car. That’s when S saw my leg move in ways it shouldn’t. I was in shock though and felt no pain. Another family had pulled over and was standing up on the shoulder, and I ended up giving my cell phone to the woman (and she answered when my mom called me back – and they immediately got in the car and drove down).
S went back to my car with just enough time to grab my bag of stuff on the floor of the passenger side, when he heard a “pop” and “sizzle” and my car went up in flames. They moved me further away from the car, in case of an explosion, and the police and other emergency crews were there in what seemed like a matter of seconds.
The next few hours are a blur – I know I was in the ambulance with the girl who was in the other vehicle (turns out the guy driving was 20 years old, had been drinking. They had a child together and he threatened that she would never see their son again if she didn’t get in the car. They then got on the highway, argued and he said that he’d just kill them both – and then hit me) and that the backboard they had me on was so uncomfortable. I was on it til they cleared my neck and back, which seemed like hours. I don’t remember being moved out of the ER into my room, but I do remember being wheeled in from outside and saying “So this is what being on ER feels like”. I remember S telling me my parents were getting close and that as soon as they got there he’d head home and get some sleep and shower (can you imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time in a hospital?). It was about 3 am when they finally got to my room.
Then I met my doctor. What is it with doctors and their bedside manor? Anyway, he came in, told us what was going on, that I would need surgery to repair my broken leg, and then in a big, black permanent marker wrote yes on my left leg and left. I had surgery and was moved to my own private room. The outpouring of love and support from all of my friends in AL was something I had never expected. They all came to my room to visit, one via the emergency room himself since he had broken his arm playing softball. I had one bad day in the hospital… but three days of not eating and morphine will do that to you. I was told that not only was my leg broken, but my pelvis was shattered in one place, had cracks in both of my hips and fractured my lower back and would have to be in a wheelchair for at least 6 weeks.
Those next 6 weeks were rough. I lost all independence – I couldn’t go to the bathroom myself, couldn’t wash myself, couldn’t dress myself. I also had my monthly visitor not too long after it happened (grrrrr – you would’ve thought with the trauma it wouldn’t have came). I owe all of that time to my mom, dad, sister and S – who pushed, pulled, picked up and dealt with everything that I couldn’t do myself. I cried, screamed, slept and eventually was able to laugh about things and slowly gained movement and flexibility back. They put a rod in my leg held in place by two pins, and I was only in the wheelchair for 6 weeks, was on crutches and eventually nothing. I now walk without a limp and only have 4 scars (the biggest one on my knee, one below my knee, one above my ankle and another on my elbow that I got when I tried to open the door) as souvenirs of that time of my life. But without them, I’m not sure how my life would be.
Here’s a picture of me in all my wheelchair glory on the 4th of July:
It really is amazing that after all this time, I still can see things clearly. I don’t have flashbacks, but if I close my eyes and think, I can see those headlights. I’m definitely more careful when I drive and linger just a bit longer at stoplights to watch for light-runners. I’m getting better, but S will tell you that I still drive him nuts when I suck in my breath.