Five years ago today (27 September 2008) I had a life changing experience, to use an oft used cliché. I was involved in a vehicular collision with a tree. I survived, quite obviously, as did my daughter, who was in the vehicle with me at the time.
I remember the events as if it were only last week, they are so vividly etched into my memory. It was early on a Saturday morning, and my daughter needed to be driven to a play practice session. It was raining, and I was going somewhere unfamiliar, so I was using a GPS to guide me to the destination.
As we turned down Crooked Creek Road, we were moments away from something quite unexpected. I glanced at the GPS to gain updated information on our whereabouts, then quickly returned to watching the road ahead closely. We happened upon an old steel bridge (like the one near where I lived at the time, built circa 1800s), which was quite slick due to the rain, and then … there was a drop in the road, and a sharp turn to the right. I attempted to quickly turn the vehicle, whilst simultaneously applying the brakes. We seemed to neither turn, nor slow sufficiently. Within a few feet of the edge of the road were a group of trees, and no barrier between us and them. Despite my best efforts, we left the road and quickly slammed into a tree. It all happened so fast, and yet it seemed to go in slow motion also. I hadn’t been speeding, just traveling at or below the posted limit. My ex later remarked, after returning with me to the scene, “You didn’t stand a chance, Paul!”
Clearly, this spot was one where an accident was just waiting to happen, and now it had. Thankfully there were no fatalities. Subsequently, the course of the road was changed, and a new concrete bridge built. There are now no trees just feet from the road edge, and no sharp turn right after the bridge. I am glad that what I went through was enough for there to be real concern about the safety of travelers on this road, and that a permanent solution was implemented.
Returning to the scene then … the air bags had gone off, and the front of the vehicle was smoking/steaming. We exited the vehicle as quickly as we could. Shortly thereafter an ambulance arrived. They took very good care of my daughter, putting a neck brace on her and strapping her into a stretcher. I, however, was offered to ride in the back of the ambulance with my daughter. I was asked how I felt, and I said I felt fine. I was fairly dazed and confused at the time though. We were taken to the local emergency room, where we were both examined thoroughly.
Thankfully, my daughter had suffered only a minor bruise on the forehead from the air bag deployment. I, however, had a severely broken clavicle (the fracture was quite misaligned), four broken ribs, and a collapsed lung (classic seatbelt injuries). I was not at all ‘fine‘. I guess the shock of the incident prevented me from really feeling pain as I normally would. I was admitted to the hospital proper, and spent some five days there.
It wasn’t the most pleasant stay, to be honest. Aside from my injuries, I did not receive the best care. I could have done with better attention as regards pain management. Thankfully, I was married to a doctor at the time, and she proved to be a very valuable advocate for me. I am still very grateful for that assistance. She stood up for me, and saw to it that my care was improved. After waiting for a few days, it was decided to re-inflate my collapsed lung. I shall not forget that experience in a hurry either. I was eventually discharged from the hospital, and arrangements were made for me to have surgery to repair the clavicle.
Again, my ex’s skill and experience in the medical profession proved to be invaluable. She arranged for me to have the surgery at a facility she worked at, and with a surgeon and anesthesiologist she knew personally and could highly recommend. The operation went very well, and my brief stay in the hospital was, by contrast, quite comfortable.
I underwent a period of recovery, going back in for check ups, and doing my own physical therapy to regain range of motion in my arm. I lived with a titanium plate and seven screws inside me for over a year, before undergoing another surgery to have them removed. I now have a ‘cool’ scar to remind me of all those events.
Those are the technical details, but there are other aspects to this event. The experience had a profound effect on me, and life has not been the same since.
Up until then, I was not one for taking risks, as such. I was, admittedly, a little too cautious. My outlook on life changed dramatically. There I was, trying to be so careful, and yet I still ended up hitting a tree. So much for that approach to living. I decided that I would not be so afraid of things in general. For example, I used to be quite scared of flying in planes, I am no longer afraid (air travel may be irritating at times, but it holds no fear for me now). I took more chances with things, including planning a future in Iceland, of all places (which was how we ended up with a summer house here).
The crash was a ‘kick up the behind’ as far as I was concerned. A course correction. I wasn’t about to repeat the experience, so I took heed of it, and made changes.
On the face of it, it seems like a wholly negative thing. However, had it not happened, I would not be here today. I would not have had all the wonderful experiences I have had subsequently. Life would just not be the same. So, I view it in that manner, a positive one. I am so grateful to still be here, in this world, and to have the opportunity to do more with my life, and to make the most of it. I am grateful for all the wonderful people I know, and care for, and who know, and care for me. I take time to appreciate even the smallest things, that might otherwise go unnoticed, and I cherish the simple things of life.
I returned to the site of the crash several times. To see where it all happened, to face it once more, and to come to terms with the experience. Additionally, to see the progress, as the old bridge was replaced with the new. Which provided, to use another cliché, closure. Eventually, though, I had no need to return.
I have to admit … I am a stubborn person, although I like to give that a positive spin and say that I am steadfast. It takes a lot to move me, and on this occasion, it took something even more unmovable, … a tree.
Bless Bless og Sjáumst!