Everyone seems to get his or her 15 minutes.
I made the front page of a small East Texas Newspaper twenty-four years ago, in a most austere way.
Driving home this evening I passed more than one person who was weaving in their lane. Usually it is because they are texting or trying to see who called and of course, they are much better at this than every other driver is, so they can do it safely. Sometimes the weaving is simply because they are drunk, or high.
In the year 1992, my life changed forever.
After a head on collision at freeway speeds involving an intoxicated 80 year old, I was forced to re-invent myself. Managing to live through being treated in a small country hospital that doubled as an emergency vet… (Joking…, I think…) I was destined to do other things.
The broken bones and lacerations healed, but the scars remain, hidden just under the surface, pain is a constant reminder of that fateful day 24 years ago. I have legs today because I happen to enjoy coffee. Moments before the impact, I had stopped to purchase Gas and coffee. Filling one of those stainless steel thermoses, I had the thermos upright in the seat beside me. Topping the hill to find a Cadillac, in my lane coming at me, my two options were to dive into the other lane or hit the brakes. A red Truck was in the lane beside me so, in the split second that I had to utter the explicative “Oh Shit!” It was all over. Literally, the accident was that fast. I had locked up anti-locks breaks, and bent the brake pedal…He never attempted to hit his breaks.
The combined collision speed was 115 miles an hour. How they got all that I have no idea however, my speedometer was stuck at 45…frozen in time.
The memory of that split second in time, indelibly etched into my brain is a constant reminder of what happens when idiots drink and drive. Every detail lives with me in excruciating detail. Time fascinates me today because of this, as I think time is not linear but relative. During the Nano second of the impact, the event turned into one of those films you see that was taken by a high-speed camera. Bits of glass tumbled frame by frame, horizontally from my left to right. The dash came up to meet me as the steering wheel crushed my face and chest. The thermos full of coffee tumbled from beside me, launching itself to the floor, lodging between the firewall and the frame of my seat. The hydraulic effect of the thermos filled with liquid, stopped the dash from severing my legs and most probably kept the shaft of the steering column from piercing my heart.
The driver of the other car was under his dash. He was hauled away first in the first ambulance arriving on the scene. He had one small cut on his forehead and released from the hospital that day. He was not even wearing a seatbelt. I never heard what happened with the driver after that. Since both of us had the same insurance company. I was lucky to be compensated for my losses. I remember the claims person as being nasty to me on the phone… They did not even replace my truck as it was now 6 months old. I was upside down on the loan and they did not care…. It was a smaller truck, not one of the full size trucks like I drive today. I understand that claims adjusters work for the benefit of the insurance company but I was surely not in “good hands.” Insurance is in fact unavoidable, if you are lucky; you are pissing your money away paying for something that you will never need. They do whatever they can do to keep from paying out.
The trip to the hospital started as I said, after they removed and transported the person who was responsible for the accident.
My vision was fading, as the pain in my chest was intense. I made my peace with God as I knew that I was going to die and strangely enough, I did not seem to mind. There was a strange peace about it as if the answer was at hand; this is how it will happen. God however had other plans… While waiting for the final sting… I tried to relieve the pain, I managed to remove my seat belt, but the pain was still there.
With what was left of my vision, I was able to watch as they pulled the other driver from under his dash and put him onto the stretcher. A man came to my window talking with me as I told him about the pain and the vision issues. It hurt to talk and my statements were short as breath was scarce. My face had met up with the steering wheel, Or the steering wheel with my face, so talking “clearly, plainly” was not really an option; nor was it possible as blood was now leaving my body through every orifice that I had visible and some places that were not visible.
The engine and tires of my truck were underneath my seat. Using the jaws of life I heard the popping sounds of the metal as they cut my door away from around me. Finally, they got to me after removing my door and cutting what was left of the restraining device that was still wrapped around me. By now, my vision was all but gone, but I could still hear the noises of the equipment, and the voices of the first responders. You have heard people mention the white light. My vision had faded from white sparkles to a blank white screen. One of the responders said, “It is a miracle that he is alive.” Placing that plastic collar on me, they then pulled me out of my truck. Once they laid me down, my vision returned. I could see the emergency vehicles, and the wrecker driver picking up my belongings as they were now strewn over much of the freeway. Steam was coming out from somewhere under my seat which was now where the engine was. The bed of the truck was warped; the force of the wreck torqued and twisted the metal.
Once in the ambulance the man told me that he was going to put some sugar water into me, the 18 gauge needle was going to hurt. Compared to the rest of the pain that I was in, that was a mosquito bite.
Arriving at the hospital, they were already working on the other person that hit me. A curtain separated us, but I could hear him. He was old, drunk and on medications. His wife had just bought him another car as he totaled the last one. He had badgered her about driving so she bought him this old big Cadillac so if he were in an accident; he would be protected. He bragged about how he guessed she was right because he was still there.
Laying there on the other side of the curtain, listening to him tell the story of his classic Cadillac, what was left of my blood boiled! It was not bad enough that they took the old person first, but I had to be in the same room with him!
It was now my turn to be treated like meat.
Cutting my clothing off me there was no shortage of witnesses to watch the story unfold. Doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants (young attractive female with long curly brown hair) and a burly old cop who clearly had never missed a meal, were a few that made the cadre of spectators.
The report of the accident was read aloud to all that were present including the fact that my seatbelt was not buckled.
I tried to tell them that I took it off but, the cop was making notes, not interested in my wellbeing but who was at fault and if there was a ticket to write. He looked down at me as if to say, yea sure…we have heard that one before… I was pissed! Arrogant son of a bitch! If he could not see from the evidence what happened, he was a moron!
As they cut my shirt off, a large purple stripe across my chest and my belly that the belt left, told the tail, and at that; the cop put his ticket book away! I was more concerned about living through this and he was looking to write a ticket. I do not mean to sound churlish. I know many police who I call friends. Thinking about this, I am still pissed at that asshole!
The doctor was wearing a black silky sports jacket with a yellow logo on it as he was at some sporting event and was on call. He was not happy to be there and his bedside manner left much to be desired. There were two hospitals in this town, one for poor folks, and one for people with means. I had insurance and means and they brought me to the other hospital that was in need of so many things.
After examining my naked body in front of many people, the “doctor” flipped me over to stuff a finger up my butt as the final insult… Now I had broken bones, crushed chest, face and legs and without x-rays or anything else, he treats me like a slab of meat to finish his exam so he can write up some orders for the nurses and get back to what he was doing before the rude interruption. After he was satisfied with his initial exam, he left. They did a sonogram of my heart to find that it had been bruised. Then they took me down to x-ray. X-ray was close to the morgue, I could smell dead people, or was it me.
The ceiling tiles, stained from years of leaks and neglect told the tail of the financial history of this place. The X-Ray machine would not stay in place. After she would set it, get some distance to trigger it, the head would slide down, as its joints were old and loose. We had to take several “pictures” before she was finished. No telling how much extra radiation that I was exposed to because of this antiquated relic that belonged in a museum.
Back in the emergency room, the man’s wife arrived. He told her… “They said I was in the wrong lane.”
Laying there listening to him getting his three stitches on his forehead, it was not long before he was released to go home. Before they left, his wife came over to me. From what I could tell, I was covered in my own blood from head to toe. My beard was caked in blood. She rubbed my forehead as she apologized… ”I knew better to get him another car.” She said…then she told me “I am not supposed to tell you this, we have good insurance…”
Even in my state of mind, I was too nice to tell her what she could do with her good insurance… I had to live through this day, this night and then another day before I could even think about getting things taken care of.
After hours spent in the emergency room; I was moved to ICU. If you have never been in the hospital before “and I had not” this was not an experience that I would welcome or recommend.
Since I had a bruised heart, it was decided that I could not have pain medication. A dentist came in and checked my teeth that had gone through my face. Stitching up my face from the inside out, no pain medication was used.
The next fun thing was the doctor that set my broken nose. This person reminded me of the professor on back to the future. Pushing on my nose with his thumb, he could not get it exactly straight so again, without any pain management, he put these huge forceps up my nose and … got it straight. The pain was unbelievable as the final crunching sounds of the bones ceased.
The machine that monitored my pulse echoed the throbbing of the pains in my body.
Listening to the beeping of the machine, I knew as long as it was beeping, I was alive.
The PA came in and tried multiple times to get me to tell her what I was taking. “C’mon, we know you are taking something, what it is…we need to know…” “Really…my word meant nothing… I don’t do stuff like that, never have!” Several times she tried to get me to tell her what I was on…the answer was always the same. I maybe the only person on this damned planet who has never done it but…I don’t…
“We don’t know what you are on so we can’t give you pain medicine.” She said… What was I supposed to do, lie so they could manage my pain?
The next day, after the worst night in my life the toxicology report came back…my potassium was low…”What are you doing to cause your potassium to be low?” the doctor with bad bedside manners asked. “Ummm, I don’t salt my food…” Never did get as much as an aspirin.
The days and nights blurred together as I could not sleep. My nose was packed with cotton, and it throbbed for days. I could barely breathe as my ribs and chests were broken, breathing hurt!
Every few hours someone came in and jabbed me several times with a needle to get blood. The phlebotomist, if that is who they were, sucked at it! I was still getting saline from an IV so peeing was the only activity that I could muster. Lifting the sheets was near impossible and on several occasions, I had to get help…talk about humbling…
After the third day, glass from the accident was still imbedded in my hands left arm and face. My beard was one solid chunk of caked blood and not so much as one person offered to get the glass out of me or clean me up.
For entertainment, I found that I could control the beats of my heart. Using some biofeedback technique, I could slow them down to an eerie slow level or speed them up. I was hooked up with a remote telemetry gadget so someone somewhere could look at a screen and see my heart rhythm. There was also a camera on the ceiling watching me. At some point in time, I wanted a nurse and could not get one. I pulled the telemetry leads off my chest. The monitor went to a silent tone and … nothing. Nobody came for close to 15 minutes! If this was ICU, I shuddered to think what care was like in a regular room.
The next day the hospital administrator came to my bed as I had asked to be transferred to Houston. I personally knew Dr. Debakey and he knew me. He even told me once if I needed his services to let him know. If there was anything going on with my heart, I would much rather he and his team take care of me than this bunch of people.
The next day they moved me to a private room in the “best part” of the hospital. Some wing of the hospital had been made via donations from someone. It was there, with help from family that I managed to get myself into the shower, and stay there until I managed to get all the dried blood off me, out of my hair, and what have you. I then dug into my luggage and used my own damned tweezers to get the glass out of me.
The doctor with the crappy attitude before releasing me was much nicer on his final examination. I guess he was finally satisfied that I was not on anything…the wreck was in no way my fault or…he got lucky the night before…. Either way, I was happy to leave that hospital. Holding a pillow next to my chest my friend of many years drove me home where I lost months of employment and finally had to leave the job I loved, as I was no longer able to do it.
One of the people that I missed was Dr. DeBakey and his team. I had spent years taking care of the doctors in the Texas Medical Center and ended up in a small East Texas hospital that was a joke by any standards.
Loosing months of pay I got a call one day from MADD…mothers against drunk driving. While I could ill afford it, I sent them some money anyway.
Today 24 years later I am often teased about my driving. I am very defensive, leave lots of room in front of me and preach to those that will listen. I tell them to pay attention to what is going on at least 15 cars in front of you and leave enough room so you can see them. I am often told, I drive like a grandpa…slow. Slow translates to the speed limit or a mile or two above or below it, depending on the average terrain.
Driving a full size truck with many airbags is only a small part of my strategy. When I see these people with their damned phones driving and messing with the phone, part of me really wants to scream at them. Then the cops have radios, phones and a laptop computers and a host of other distractions while they drive through school zones…Folks, they are no different from you… Watch them; you will see them drift all over the road as they mess with their toys. I have seen them, and I cringe.
Keep your distance from them, big trucks and cheerleader types who think a selfie while driving through a school zone is smart. They do it! They are all over Facebook… Just the other day a young woman picked up her child from school and took off from the school, passing everyone doing 40 or better in a 20. She was on her phone at the time…texting as she passed me. “Where is a cop when you need one I said…” With that, a cop pulled up on her bumper on his motorcycle. She drove a long way without noticing him behind her, as she was texting on her phone. That ticket had to be pricey!
Who do you think you are that you can endanger others with your BS?
I wish I could say that this is a story and “blah blah blah” but the truth is, that this is the truth.
This happened, and I am certain that by now, some of the memories have faded but I must tell you, most are still there including the pain. Twenty-four years now, I have lived in unmitigated pain. I take nothing for it. I live with it, working out as best I can to help manage it…but there are no meds that would leave me mentally acute.
I do not know what happened with the man that hit me. I know that if you have the same insurance carrier, you lose. By now I am certain he is gone, but there are plenty others to take his place. There were no smart phones back then…Now everyone has one. Weed is legal in some states and I fear that those people will drive impaired as well. Even in states where it is illegal, I am certain that one of three folks is under some sort of influence.
Defensive driving if taught correctly, would be money well spent.
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