One minute I’m driving down the center lane of Interstate 75, inching toward sunny Florida in a driving Georgia rain. The next minute, the car is on its own, turning straight into the concrete median wall and spinning back across the highway toward the shoulder, encountering two vehicles the hard way before coming to a stop.
That’s what happened on March 3. I tried to write about it once, almost two weeks later, but BG beat me to it, and I decided to wait a while. Maybe I shouldn’t have, or maybe I should have at least tried again before now.
I’m still recovering. My shoulder is in a sling, with a metal plate and a couple of screws holding the left clavicle together while the jagged bone pieces knit back together. They were like little knives in there, slicing through tissue every time I breathed. No wonder I practically screamed every time the good folks at Adel Memorial and Tift Regional hospitals tried to move me.
My left wrist is in a removable cast, but the break there wasn’t nearly as bad. The bones stayed in pretty much the right place. Most of the bruising has disappeared, the pain my sternum felt every time I coughed, sneezed or took a deep breath has stopped. My right thumb still hurts and it’s hard to turn a door knob.
I’ve now gone back to work, four hours a day, with weekends off. I should go back full time after I see the doctor in a couple of weeks. That’ll be when the sling and cast come off, and I start physical therapy. I still get tired rather quickly though, and need to get to the chiropractor to start realigning my spine from whatever configuration it got into during and after The Accident.
I think of it that way, in capitals. The Accident. It’s the worst I’ve ever experienced, not that I’ve experienced a lot. I was t-boned by a drunk once, hit square on the driver’s side, and it was pretty darn scary, but not nearly as numbingly frightening as this one.
This one was three accidents in one, with only the first one — the one where we hit the median head-on — getting the advantage of air bags. In the other two, we were tossed around inside the car. The seatbelt took care of my shoulder and I’m not sure what got the wrist. BG may have been slamming an imaginary brake to break her foot, and there’s no question that her head took out the passenger side window and sent spidery cracks out from the impact point on the windshield.
The last impact was a white van. She and I both saw it, heading straight for the passenger side. I said something ridiculous like “Please don’t hit us,” because I knew if it did — at that speed — it would likely kill her. It did hit us, but not square on the passenger door. We were still spinning, and the spin put the right front in the path of the van, which gave us one final shove in the other direction, one more spin to a stop, astride the far right lane and perpendicular to it. Both of us conscious and alive.
We spent the rest of the day in a rural Georgia emergency room. They couldn’t decide if my shoulder needed surgery, and couldn’t do it even if it did — they had no orthopedic surgeon. Everyone else involved was treated and released, and eventually I went to another hospital, where an orthopedist decided I didn’t need surgery, apparently because at the moment he saw the X-rays, the bones weren’t too far apart. When my orthopedist saw fresh X-rays five days later, he scheduled the surgery.
My friend who went down to the redneck tow yard from hell to retrieve personal belongings from the car forgot to take pictures of it. I suspect he forgot on purpose. “You don’t need to see it,” he said, but I think he was wrong.
I think I did need to see it, because even now I’m having a hard time taking it in just how serious this accident was, just how seriously injured I was. I wasn’t unconscious. I didn’t need a blood transfusion. I didn’t spend days, weeks in the hospital. My heart kept beating. I can walk. Hell, I drove a car this week for the first time.
But the truth is that I’m limited in what I can do. My body wants to rest, to take more time to heal. As much as I hate it, I still have to ask for help to do a lot of basic things I could do two months ago without even thinking. And that doesn’t even speak to the emotional trauma.
It could very easily have been a fatal accident, but it just wasn’t our time to go. Call it “near fatal.”
I may yet ask State Farm if I can see their photos of the car. My friend said the outside was smashed to hell, but the passenger compartment was intact. Even the doors opened.
I’ve been over and over the whole thing in my mind, and I’m confident I did everything I could do. It was raining, but it didn’t affect visibility. I wasn’t traveling fast. I am fairly sure a gust of wind sent us spinning further than I could compensate for with the wheel, and after that there was no way to control what happened.
We both survived, as did everyone else, albeit bruised, broken and battered.
It’s not easy to sit with, the seriousness of the crash, the injuries. I don’t want to think about it or remember how those few seconds felt, physically or emotionally. And maybe it’s even OK that I’ve waited this long to do it.
I just wish I’d realized I hadn’t done it yet, hadn’t really let it sink in that I was — that we were –probably as close to death as either of us had ever been. That it was traumatic, to my body, mind and soul. That it may be a very long time before the images of a concrete wall and a fast moving van heading straight for us ever diminish. That my shoulder is likely gonna be a good weather forecaster for some time to come.
That I survived a very serious accident. And that it’s perfectly ok — in fact, it’s imperative — that I acknowledge that, and let it become part of who I am now, after The Accident.
An injured 55-year-old woman, recovering slowly and surely, if perhaps not gracefully.