It’s the worst accident I’ve ever been in.
That’s not saying it was necessarily a bad one. As accidents go, it was probably just average. Right there in the middle. Halfway between minor and catastrophic. Both I and the guy who hit me were able to walk away from it. Nobody burst, nobody bled, nobody broke anything (that we know of, yet. My sternum is still in question).
But it was a Major Event for me, probably mostly for the “what-ifs” but a little bit for the “what-dids”, too. It did hurt me. It did wreck my car. It did totally mess up my day. It did alter my life, for more than a little while.
I’ve been rear-ended twice, both at stoplights. Both times the damage was inconvenient, injuries nonexistent. I’ve been broadsided once before, in 1987, hit in the passenger side rear quarter panel of my first husband’s newly restored 1967 Firebird by a teenager in a hurry. Damage distressing, injuries slight. I was covered in glass and ached a bit in the neck. But even then I knew I was all right. My screams were for the car, the car into which my brand new husband had recently poured his entire inheritance.
This time was different though. When I saw the Chevy 3/4 ton pickup truck speeding towards me, I knew this could be big. I had only three immediate thoughts. “I don’t want this to happen.” “Oh no, I can’t avoid it.” “This might be the way it all ends.”
Looking back, the chance of fatality was slight. But the chance for more major injuries was definitely huge, and I’m actually pretty lucky I got away with only seat belt injuries. Somewhere in the moments between “I don’t want this to happen” and “Oh no, I can’t avoid it,” I knew I had to try to accelerate and get out of his way. I don’t remember feeling the car respond, but I like to think that it got me two or three feet farther forward, placing the impact squarely into the back door and not my driver’s door. Because to quote the tow driver, “I can guarantee you that you would not be standing here right now if he had hit your door.”
I experienced the impact in my ears and body, but not my eyes. The last thing my eyes saw was the truck speeding towards me. Then I heard a horrible bang and felt a simultaneous flash of pain in my head and chest. I felt the force of being spun 180°. The next thing my eyes saw was a virtual moonscape, such unfamiliar sights as smoke rising from the steering wheel and odd pink bags hanging everywhere, powder and heat transforming my car into something alien, strange. My head buzzed like it was filled with mosquitoes. My nose searched for the scent of smoke through the acrid smells of broken car. I didn’t know if my car was on fire or whether I needed to leave it. I didn’t know how to get out if it was on fire, the pink bags seemed tangly and impenetrable. I supposed I could crawl over to the passenger door, I just didn’t know whether I should. My chest hurt terribly and breathing was difficult.
And then I noticed that the car was still moving, slowly inching forward. I saw my car crawling toward cars stopped in the intersection, cars that seemed for all the world like they had eyes and were staring at me. An audience of cars all around me. I had to make myself think. I put it in park and it stopped moving. It occurred to me that maybe I should call 911. I saw my phone on the console next to me and reached for it.
Just as I was trying to figure out how to dial, a woman opened the passenger door and crawled in. She told me that she had already called and that paramedics were on their way. She asked if I was okay and I said I thought I was, but I didn’t really know. I heard myself moan on every breath. She took my hand and told me to just keep breathing. I wanted to stop moaning, I really did. I didn’t want her to think I was panicking. I was just breathing through the pain until it lessened. The pain was supposed to recede, if this accident wasn’t a big deal. So why wasn’t it going away?
I’m not going to bore you with all the details of the emergency response team. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, and I was torn. To say ‘yes’ was to acknowledge that I thought this really was a Big Deal, and maybe I was wrong. But when I tried to envision what saying ‘no’ would be like, it always ended in visions of my bleeding to death from undiscovered internal injuries. I didn’t want to be all overly dramatic and make people take care of me if I didn’t need it. But I seriously didn’t know how badly I was injured. I was thinking through a haze and seeing through a fog. Everything inside my torso hurt and breathing was difficult. I agreed to go and get checked out. They seemed happy with my decision.
There’s something interesting about a personal event like an accident. You kinda want proof that it really was a Major Event. I sorta hoped I’d have injuries to warrant a trip to the hospital, to prove that I am not just a drama queen. It’s an irrational thought, because logically, when one is in an accident that makes horrible sounds and sights and smells and that leaves one in pain, it seems a no-brainer to get checked out, whether one is actually found to have corresponding injuries or not. And I’ve had injuries in the past that last long after the Major Event is over, and living with those injuries is a Major, Major Bummer. So ultimately, I’m very glad that all I have is bruises and abrasions and sore muscles and a headache, and that breathing is much, much better today, and that I don’t have a broken or bloody anything. My proof is in my memories, and that’s really all I need.