On the Accident

It’s been almost three weeks since I got in a bad rollover car accident. I haven’t even close to begun to try to fully process everything that these last few weeks have held, because if they can be processed, it means there’s an answer to it all. And I don’t believe there really is. But I do believe that there is power and connection in story. After all, I am an English major. And we all need connection so desperately right now. I originally set out to write about the last three weeks, but writing about just the day of the accident is already a novel of a post, so here is my rather unedited, unfiltered, and unanalyzed version of that day.

Less than 48 hours before the accident (side note: I can’t believe I’m one of those people to whom “the accident” holds significant meaning), life at Whitworth crumbled incredibly quickly. Just as many students around the country did, I found out that classes were going to be moved online. I learned that our lacrosse season was suspended (later canceled), which meant that we didn’t get to finish out what was surely going to be the most rewarding and fun sports season I’ve ever had in my life. And mere hours after that news, I learned of the death of one of my childhood best friends from Arizona.

I didn’t care about anything other than the fact that I knew I needed to be home immediately. Flying was risky with COVID-19 spreading so rapidly, and as I didn’t know how long I’d be home for, I wanted to be able to have my car available at home. Several close friends of mine insisted I not make the drive alone, since I was quite emotionally distraught, so I scrambled and found two friends from California, also wanting to go home, to make the 17 hour drive with. I was determined to be home as quickly as possible, so I made the decision that we’d leave at 6 a.m. and do the drive in one straight shot. We’d drop off my friend Ashley at her house in Northern California, and my other friend Patch’s parents would pick him up in Santa Cruz.

After weeks of no snow in Washington, a snowstorm arrived the night before we left, with warnings of high wind over parts of our drive. There weren’t yet any direct restrictions by the state against travel, so we went ahead with our drive. I took the second shift three hours in, after Patch had successfully navigated us out of what we thought was the worst of the snow. Ashley had been answering some texts from friends of mine wishing me safe travels. (I recently looked back at a few of those texts, and maybe 20 minutes before we crashed, she’d sent one that said “Safe so far!!!” No commentary necessary there.)

The crash went like this: I was passing a semi, going 20 mph under the speed limit because of the snow, and I hit a patch of black ice. The car was absolutely silent, except for my repeated use of an expletive under my breath (I’ll let you choose whichever one you would prefer I used) and whatever music was playing. Somehow, I maintained control of my car long enough to pass the semi (the first of many miracles). I don’t know what happened to the semi after we passed it; there were no other cars anywhere near, so I have since assumed he slowed down to let this chaos play out. The state trooper who interviewed me later in the hospital assured me we were the only vehicle involved in the accident.

I remember the back of my car hitting the center divider. Then the front. At that point, I still held out hope that I’d be able to regain control, and I remember having the thought that I was annoyed my new car got so dented. I tried to recall whatever I’d learned about driving on ice and about not reacting too drastically, but things went so south so quickly. It was like my steering wheel wasn’t even connected to my tires anymore at a certain point. We spun out of control and my car hit the ditch on the right shoulder.

I don’t know at what point we rolled, but even now, I can be brought back to the moment in which we lurched so instantly, and suddenly we were upside-down in mid-air. In that split-second, I had somehow remembered a recent conversation about how drunk-drivers often end up less injured in accidents because they’re already so loose, so I consciously made my body go limp. There’s no way to know how much of me that saved, but looking at my side of the car, a mere broken arm doesn’t make a ton of sense. I had no whiplash. No loss of consciousness. No head injury. Not even a bruise from my seatbelt.

Miracle #1000: we landed on the wheels. All three of us are thankfully great in a crisis, so we immediately checked in with each other and remained calm. I spit glass and dirt out of my mouth. Patch was totally injury-free, and Ashley had some whiplash and a minor concussion. I realized rather quickly that I couldn’t feel my left arm. When I tried to tell it to do something, it did not respond like it should. Something was messed up in there. I could wiggle my fingers, but it was like they weren’t attached to the rest of my arm.

Ashley handed me my phone and glasses (both unharmed). Patch called 911. I called my dad. Ashley called hers. I asked her to keep my phone to text my lacrosse team and another group chat of close friends to pray, since I only had one working arm. It would be another 20 or so minutes before the ambulance came, so there we sat, waiting. Cars zipping by behind us. One snow plow stopped to tell us he heard the ambulance would be there soon.

I was very aware that I was in shock and very happy to let that ride its course until medical help arrived. After we contacted all of our people, Patch opened my door and stood there as I sat holding Ashley’s hand to avoid thinking about the pain that would be coming any minute. I looked at my ajar door and noticed blood on it. A shocking amount of blood. I pointed it out to Ashley. I remember laughing at how much blood it was (trauma is so weird). We had rolled left, so I suffered most of the impact, and my window had completely shattered. Because my arm hurt so much to move, it took until I was in the hospital and had received several strong doses of Dilaudid in my IV (similar to morphine) that they were able to move my arm enough figure out that I had a decently large laceration on my forearm from broken glass.

I’ll move you along quickly through the next bit. The ambulance arrived, evaluated me there, asked 1000 questions, and we took the 25 minute journey back to the hospital, where they evaluated me further, took x-rays and a full-body CT scan. I saw one of the nurses laugh when he saw my x-ray at how bad it was. After over an hour of evaluation, during a moment alone in the ER room while I started to settle into this reality, the tears began. They came and went frequently after that, especially any time a nurse asked how I was doing. The state trooper came in the midst of this and took my statement in between sobs, giving me time to cry freely and reassuring me that it wasn’t my fault.

The orthopedic surgeon at that hospital didn’t feel comfortable operating on my arm, as it was apparently a complicated surgery to repair my broken humerus. Another team of paramedics came to escort me by ambulance to a trauma center in Portland, which was about 2 hours away.

(A fun anecdote in the midst of this day: I thought I was pretty mentally present, despite the overwhelming amount of narcotics flowing through my system, but Ashley later told me otherwise. They had pretty much completely stripped me at that point to make sure nowhere else on my body was injured, and I was covered in blankets, so in hopes of getting a hospital gown before transferring, I said, “So, we going commando or what?” and one of the paramedics, very caught off guard, firmly replied “No. No one is going commando.”)

While in that second ambulance, I received a text from one of my teammates, who is from Portland, that her mom was available to come sit with me before my dad flew in late that night. My ego had been thrown far away for hours at that point, starting the moment they cut my shirt off to examine my arm. I needed people, desperately, and I was eager to have a mom nearby, even if it wasn’t my mom (who was in London at the time). I honestly do not know what I would have done without Heather that night.

This woman who I had never really met sat with me for five hours in that trauma ward. She sat by my side as I cried, as I threw up (several times), as I could barely breathe from pain, as I tried and failed to put food down, as nurses and doctors asked me a hundred of the same questions and examined my arm again. She crocheted while I let myself rest in fleeting moments. She brushed my hair and helped me wash my face, both of which were still covered in dirt from the crash. She listened to the surgeon and passed along all the information I couldn’t remember (which was most of it) to my dad when he finally arrived late that night. I owe everything to Heather and will be thanking her for the rest of my life.

And that wasn’t the end of the support. Beyond my dad, who I was so thankful could be there so quickly, two of my teammates, Lauren and Hannah, drove 6 hours down from Spokane to be with me, and their support and company was so needed and necessary. They sat with me for hours, wheeled me around the hospital, and provided a safe space not only to feel all of my terrifying feelings but also to laugh with.

I have never been so utterly dependent on other people. I was truly overwhelmed by the love and support I received, and I won’t ever be able to properly thank all of you. Nonetheless, thank you. I am so endlessly thankful that Ashley and Patch are both alive and okay and home with their families. They have been such rocks through these rather difficult last few weeks. And I will also never be able properly thank all of the healthcare professionals who took such good care of me. They were all truly some of the kindest, most gracious, and most helpful individuals.

I promise I’m almost done here.

My neighbor asked me the other day what lessons I took away from this. I don’t really have any at this point. I didn’t have any sort of life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment when we crashed. So much of it makes so little sense. I have never held so many emotions at once, and I have never felt more human. All I know is that life is so deeply fragile and precious and that I am somehow still alive.

P.S.

Here’s my pretty scar.

2 Replies to “On the Accident”

  1. Girl, I’m glad you captured the memories. My experience is that traumas like this don’t leave. Sure the emotional intensity wanes, but the sensory impact and subsequent triggers alter is forever. I love that you were able to rely on others and just let it all go. Also, what a blessing that the first ortho passed you up the surgeon food chain, albeit not commando😉

    Weirdly, another young person we know was in a terrible roll accident driving to SC from Sac 2 weeks ago. She too, miraculously, suffered a treatable arm injury. So glad that you are safe.

    Like

    1. Another surgeon at the next hospital passed too, in favor of the best specialist they had. It meant I had to wait several days in the hospital, but I’m very grateful for such intentional care.

      Like

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