The stop-and-go traffic on the interstate soon turned to a complete stop. There was a long space behind me, but in my rear-view mirror, I saw a vehicle coming toward me. I pumped my brakes in hopes of the driver seeing my brake lights. Closing my eyes, I held the steering wheel as tightly as I could, thinking, “So this is how it’s going to be.” I KNEW I was going to die.
The jolt of the car hitting me somewhere between 65-75 MPH slammed my car into a concrete construction barrier. The front windshield instantly shattered and pushed into my face. Then it seemed as if I was silently flying forever as my car flew 35 yards. I thought that maybe I was already dead and when I landed, I would be someplace magical.
My car hit bouncing several times landing on its top. I was suspended upside down held by my seat belt and crushed in a position so tightly I couldn’t move. My head was crooked and pushed into the caved-in roof of my car. I was covered in glass and debris. I was afraid to open my eyes. I could hear steaming, hissing, and sounds from my car. Now, I was certain if I wasn’t already dead, I would die soon. This is not a feeling you can prepare for. This is not a feeling you forget.
A driver stopped and began yelling to me, “Are you ok? I can’t believe you are alive, there is no way you could have survived this- you should be dead!” This began a stream of similar comments from the EMT’s, firemen, and the ER doctors.
An EMT named, Sarah, climbed through the broken back window to reach me. She talked to me keeping me calm and conscious. When the sirens of the fire trucks came closer, she said, “Can you hear that? They are coming to help you and will know how to get you out!”
A heavy, hot blanket was put over my face as the firemen used saws to cut my car apart. Five of them pulled me out and laid me on the hot asphalt. Shaking from shock and blood running down my face from a blow to my head, I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.
One distracted moment from another driver took away more than a year of my life and changed me forever. I was told, the distracted driver appeared unhurt and went home to her family and her life.
Post-Traumatic Stress is real. The nightmares were horrific as people were always trying to kill me and shouting,
“YOU SHOULD BE DEAD!”
A siren instantly put me back in my car, upside down, the seat belt digging into my neck and waist, my head lodged in the sunroof. The smell of hot asphalt or the heat of a road brought back being pulled out of the wreckage and laid on the road surrounded by smells of antifreeze, gasoline, and transmission fluid.
Headaches from my concussion and neck pain from the whiplash made it impossible for me to sit at a computer or look at a screen. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t do my work.
I could remember every millisecond of the collision, but I would walk right by someone I had known for years and not recognize them. I would have times when I was extremely quiet and times I would rattle out odd stories.
I could no longer do the things I loved – play with my grandchildren, yoga, riding my bike, or swimming. I would wake up with my back hunched in pain and it could take two hours to gain an upright position. My balance was impaired and while walking my leg would buckle or go sideways as if it had a mind of its own.
I saw the world as if I was looking through a fishbowl. Everything was skewed in a very strange way. Months of ophthalmologist and neurologist visits later I do not have the same vision as before the collision. That is something that cannot be corrected or ‘fixed.’
I never planned to drive again. It took time before I began driving back roads to get places avoiding other cars. The interstate was a source of visceral fear.
The highway patrolman who investigated my collision said several things happened right or I would not have survived. It was a small car that hit me low and hard catapulting me into the air. A larger vehicle would have hit straight on and the outcome would have been devastating. I had swerved slightly left when I stopped in traffic, which kept me from being accordioned between the line of cars ahead of me and the car that hit me- this could have caused many deaths. And I was wearing a seat belt.
For more than a year, my life revolved around physician appointments, physical therapy, sleeping, and pain.
Personally, I believe that my dad, my son, and an entire team of angels held me in the car that day. Now I call that stretch of interstate, The Angel Highway. Now when I am on it, I say a prayer of gratitude that I am alive and send blessings to my angels, family, friends, first responders, and medical professionals that helped me through this journey.
The National Safety Council calls October 2020 Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the CDC, each day in the US, distracted driving accidents cause 1,000 injuries and 9 deaths. I am one of the lucky ones. I guess I have a few more lessons to learn and teach in this life.
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Pennie’s Life Lesson:
“If you are going to drive, wear a seat belt and put away your phone.”
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This was written and produced by Pennie Hunt.
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