I happen to believe that all people have a ‘fork in the road’ at some point in their lives. I have had many. This is the story of one of my forks.
On September 12th, 1992, I hit a huge fork in the road; well actually the fork kind of hit me. I was 19 years old. I was on my two week leave after completing basic training in the US Navy. I had two weeks to do whatever I wanted until I had to go to my A-school (Naval training) in Tennessee.
Because basic training was located then in Orlando, FL, I flew home to NY to get my car and say hi to family and friends. I stayed three days. On the third day, I said goodbye and headed south. I had met a charismatic, charming guy from Louisiana in basic and we had planned to use those two weeks to get to know each other a little better. My plan was to drive to Florida to pick him up and head towards Tennessee. Life had other plans.
My mother, one of my sisters, and my brother all lived in Virginia. It was a great plan really. It was the half-way point from New York to Florida and I could stop for a night, say hello (and goodbye), and rest before continuing on my journey.
My brother had his own apartment at that time so I packed up my little sister (she was eleven at that time) and we headed over to his place late that evening to say hello and hang out. I’m not really sure when we left his house, but I know it was late in the evening; perhaps around 9 or 10 pm.
My brother lived in Hampton, Virginia and I think my mom lived in Newport News at that time. As my sister and I left Tim’s to return to Mom’s house for the night, I was waiting at a red light when the course of my life was rerouted.
I have no recollection of the car accident and honestly, it’s probably better that way; though I’ve tried everything but hypnotism to remember. I even watched the video and zilch! I thought maybe it would jog my memory. You see, I was awake during most of the video footage; heck, I was even talking to the police and paramedics.
While we were sitting at that red light at Mercury Boulevard, a car came barreling towards us; actually more like barreling towards me.
According to police records, a Mustang blew through the red light opposite of me and hit a Festiva, whose occupants were mindfully going through their green light. I learned later that the people in the Festiva were only about a mile from their home and didn’t have their seatbelts on.
I was not hit by the Mustang; I was hit by the Festiva. I got the after-shock. There were no occupants left in that Festiva when I was hit because they flew through their windshield; landing on the road.
The force at which I was hit on the driver side of my car, pinned me in my car. It also squished my seat. I remember my father telling me after he went to look at my car that the driver seat was about the width of his hand.
I know I was awake at that time. I will always wonder what words I said when I saw this unfolding before my eyes. I’m sure time stood still. Did I scream? Did I pray? What did my sister say? Was I staring at the car coming at me, knowing this wasn’t going to be good? These are questions I still have and probably will never have the answers to.
An off-duty police officer showed up first. He was two blocks away and heard the crash. I know this because I spoke to him later on; he cried when he recanted the story to me. He was the one that called for help. He also was the videographer. I know this because two years after the accident, my questions led me to the Hampton Police Station to view the video footage. He explained that they used the footage as a training tool. I never asked for a copy back then. I wish I had it now, but a few years ago, I called the Hampton Police Department asking for a copy. Apparently, they no longer use it for training and they couldn’t locate it.
It was surreal watching myself in the footage. It was like watching a movie, only I was the main character and I had no memory of it. Let me tell you that a strange feeling came over me while I watched myself trying to ‘do it myself’. I wish I could have heard my voice, but the sound didn’t work. It was like everything in the universe was against my remembering it. I wanted to make that choice; not have it made for me.
I watched them cut me out with the Jaws of Life. I watched myself put my hand up to the paramedics when they attempted to help me get out. I wanted to walk out of the car alone; and I tried. I tried three times.
Three times I tried to lift my left leg out of that car and place it on solid ground. Three times I failed. After the third attempt, I watched myself collapse. It wasn’t jarring when I watched it; I was saddened. I wish I had been able to at least step out of the car by myself. I really tried.
When I collapsed, it appeared to me almost like I just fell asleep. I gently fell over sideways, towards the passenger seat that Katie (my sister) was no longer seated in. I saw her in the video. She was standing on the passenger side. She was crying and she appeared to be yelling. I wish I knew what she said.
I was mercy flighted to a trauma center and my sister was sent to the local general hospital. This brought some confusion to my Mom when they called her and told her that her daughter was brought in from a motor vehicle accident. My mom asked about her other daughter, the driver, and they responded that they weren’t sure where I was. As a mother, I cannot imagine this angle.
When I arrived at the trauma center, I’m not sure exactly what happened. I’ve heard tidbits throughout the years. My mom told me that when she got there, I was being wheeled by in a gurney on my way to surgery and I was having convulsions or seizures and yet, I was unconscious. It’s hard to imagine yourself on a gurney; in any fashion.
I know I was in a coma, but I don’t honestly know how long or even if it was induced. I know that they split me open from my belly button to my sternum because when I finally woke up, I had 19 (or was it 21?) staples all the way down my stomach. I know that I had a big fat tube coming out of my side, draining blood. I also know that the Doctor’s told my parents that I probably wouldn’t make it through the night.
I cannot give you all of the medical terminology because frankly, I don’t know it. I know that all of my organs shot up and landed in my chest, collapsing both lungs. I know that my spleen exploded. I know that my colon was saved, but barely. I have less than half a colon now. That was actually pretty scary for a 19 year-old girl, such as myself, because not having a colon that works, pretty much means a colostomy bag. I remember praying for poop; it was the only way that the doctors would take the bag option off the table. That scared me – a lot. I know that when I woke up, my hips hurt and I had two huge black bruises on both sides. Later on, I learned my pelvis was broken. When I woke up, I had a neck brace on. I hated the neck brace. The ligaments or muscles that held my spinal column in place had been shredded; well a few of them anyways. This concerned my doctors most of all; after I lived of course. I vaguely remember hating the tubes – there were tubes everywhere; in my nose, in my side, in my throat and in my arms. One of my nostrils actually had skin disappear from the tubes. It looked rather odd. They told me it would grow back. I doubted them, but sure as heck, they were right. It’s faint now, but I can still see where the new ‘skin’ came in.
I know my father wouldn’t like me sharing this part, but to me, it mattered a lot. He never told me this; my step-mom did. Honestly, I’m glad she did. She told me the night they called the house, the Doctor told them to prepare themselves and that they “might want to start thinking about arrangements”. I wasn’t supposed to live. She told me Dad hit the floor sobbing. It’s hard for me to imagine because my dad doesn’t make himself emotionally vulnerable most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, I know he loves me, but I ‘got it’ when I learned of this. I am so thankful that someone told me that because honestly, I needed to know this and it’s one of those positive things I got out of my accident. For a kid that grew up feeling lost and forgotten most of the time, I just have a hard time finding words that really describe what it did to my heart. It’s not like it all happened over night; I processed this through for many years.
The pictures of the scribbles were how I communicated when I couldn’t speak; though I have absolutely no memory of writing them. I see my mom’s handwriting and my brother’s. I keep these in a very special place in my home. It’s kind of ironic actually, because I don’t remember the first few weeks in the hospital. I had visitors and I don’t remember seeing them, but apparently I had colorful conversations. I wish I could remember this.
I do remember being on a morphine drip and hallucinating. Isn’t it strange what your brain chooses to remember? It was one of the weirdest memories in my life. I thought the nurse was Mickey Mouse and I was in a bounce house. I thought I was tired from jumping and just laid down to rest. I distinctly remember saying, “I’m just going to rest a while and then I will leave”. I remember she raised her eyebrow and chuckled and said, “Okay Sugar, you do that”. The second she got those words out, it was like I jumped back into reality and realized where I was and not in a bounce house (neither was she Mickey Mouse) and I apologized to her for my confusion. I don’t know how else to describe this, other than ‘super-weird’.
People sometimes asked me if I was angry at the drunk driver. My honest response is NO – absolutely not! Maybe you can’t understand that. I don’t look at myself as a victim in this; I look at myself like one bad ass survivor! I would like to find him someday and chat with him. I have questions; I always have questions. I’m afraid he wouldn’t want to meet with me.
The car accident in 1992 was unfortunate and I hate the scars that remain. And yet, for the first time in my life I felt like I beat the odds! I beat the statistics! I’m sad that it rerouted my path somewhat; I really wanted to make it on a ship but I never got to. I hate hospitals now. But how that accident made me grow; slowly through the years as I processed it. What would I do if I met the guy that caused the accident? I’d hug him and tell him, “It’s okay. Everything’s okay!” Because it is….
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