Is it still an “accident” if the person who caused it simply wasn’t paying attention?
Today marks exactly one year after my car accident and I don’t even have to close my eyes to see the whole thing replayed in my mind.
I can still remember riding in the car home that night, chatting about work with my husband and discussing our plans to put up Christmas decorations that evening.
I remember being on the freeway about a mile from our exit and seeing traffic stop in front of us.
I remember asking my husband “Why are we stopping?” annoyed with the traffic delay at 6:30 in the evening. Everyone just drive.
And that’s when it literally hit us.
I remember a blinding flash of lights behind us and I will never forget that sound. The sound of screeching tires and metal crunching.
I remembering looking over at Joe – our eyes locked in sheer terror both knowing and not knowing what was coming next.
Suddenly, what can only be described as a force stronger than anything I’ve ever felt slammed into us from behind. Then my entire SUV started to tip…and it started to tip on my side. Joe reached out his arm to grab mine but it was too far away. “Hang on.” he called out in a tearful voice.
All I thought to do was cover my head. So I shut my eyes, folded at the waist, put my head between my elbows and called on Jesus. I begged Him to make it stop.
I could hear glass was shattering and my own voice screaming. I remember while the car was banging around, I was thinking of Joe. I was terrified by the thought that he would pass away right there in the car. I was thinking to myself “I’m surviving this, but is Joe surviving it too? Is he already gone? Please don’t die.”
It felt like the banging would never end, but the car finally came to a stop. I lay there with my eyes still shut, unable to will myself to look over at Joe. I was afraid I would see a lifeless body. That’s when I heard him say – and I can still hear him say – “Alissa. Are you okay?”
He was alive.
Thank God. He was still alive.
I looked up at him. (Yes “up”. The car was on its side, so he was above me being held in by the seatbelt.) I saw blood dripping from somewhere above me as well. “Are you okay?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he responded. “I’m okay.”
And that’s when I realized I was in excruciating pain.
He looked at my foot and said it didn’t look good. “Is my foot gone?” I was afraid to even ask but it sure felt like it and I didn’t want to wait any longer for the truth.
“Your foot is still there.” He promised.
“Are my toes still there?” I pressed.
“Your toes are still there.” He assured me.
“All five of them?” (I thought Joe was trying to spare me mental anguish at this point.)
“All five of them.”
Staring out the windshield I could see headlights facing us and that confused me. I noticed a woman standing about fifty feet away with a phone up to her ear. “Are you okay”? She yelled. “Call 911!” I yelled back.
Suddenly a 911 operator began talking over the car’s speaker. I’m guessing this was some sort of safety function built into Ford Escape’s SYNC system. She asked us if we were okay and where we were located and she promised help was on the way.
I turned my head to survey the damage to the backseat and trunk of my car. It was worse than I thought. I remember thinking to myself “my car is done”. It may seem like a strange thought but I had bought the car brand-new, in cash a few months after my dad had passed away and I’d taken really good care of it up until then.
Then I began thinking about work and that I had never missed a single day since I started Jan 2nd 2013. I also was thinking of the massage appointment I’d booked for the next evening.
I was thinking of everything, anything other than the extreme pain in my foot. I kept asking Joe if my foot was really gone.
Then suddenly I had another thought: “This car is going to explode while we’re trapped inside.”
Have you ever seen the movie Crash? There was a scene where a woman gets into a car accident and then the car catches fire and a police officer saves her just in time.
(In fact, just a few months after our accident, there was another SUV in an accident just a few miles up the same highway. In that incident, two women were rescued from the car before the gas tank exploded and killed a third woman who was still alive yet trapped in the front passenger seat.)
“We have to get out of this car.” I told Joe urgently. “The car might blow up. We have to get out of it.”
Joe is persistently calm and he tried to reassure me that wasn’t going to happen. But he and I both knew that he had absolutely no way of knowing what was going to happen next. At this point, we had no idea what hit us and where. For all we knew, we were hit by a tanker truck or there was a line of gas trailing from our car just waiting to ignite.
I wanted to get out of the car and as far away from it as possible.
I remember several people surrounding the car. They asked if we needed help to get out. Of course, this wasn’t an option for me because I couldn’t move my foot. I encouraged Joe to get out of the car.
(Keep in mind, this entire time he is basically hanging from the front seat by a seatbelt, using his arms to hold his weight and keep from collapsing on top of me.)
One of the men yelled through the windshield that he was going to get a tool break the glass and pull Joe out.
“Let me see if I can just open the sunroof.” Joe said pushing the button on the sunroof. The men reached in and pulled him out of the car.
Another guy talked to me through the sunroof and introduced his wife. “She’s going to help you.”
I wish I knew this woman’s name.
I also wish I knew the car was NOT going to blow up because with Joe outside of the car, I was really freaking out now.
I thought to myself “We survived the accident and now the car is going to blow up and I’m going to die anyway with Joe standing right outside of the car.”
These thoughts made a terrible situation much, much worse.
I was screaming and begging for them to get me out of the car.
“The paramedics are on the way.” The woman kept saying. She tried to make small talk with me as she tied a tourniquet on my leg. She asked me where I worked and how long I’d been married. I explained to her that I was wearing Minnie Mouse pajamas because I’d been shooting a fun Christmas special at work. She was super nice and I hate that I don’t remember her name.
At one point, I heard Joe’s voice saying something and she said “don’t tell her”.
Still not convinced my foot was attached to my body, I promptly replied “Don’t tell me what? Is my foot gone? Don’t lie!”
In hindsight, I could have just looked at my foot myself but I was in so much pain and so afraid that my foot WAS gone that I did NOT want to look at it. So I never did. I just kept asking if my foot and my toes were all still there.
“A semi-truck hit us.” Joe finally told me.
I’m not sure why they didn’t want to tell me this. The damage was done. I didn’t care what hit us. I just wanted to get out of the car before it blew up.
Finally, the sweet sound of emergency vehicle sirens filled the air.
I remember the paramedic talking to me through the sunroof. I remember asking him if my foot was still there and to please get me out of the car before it blew up.
I asked him to check on Joe. I remember telling him: “Joe was in the accident too. Please make sure he’s okay.”
The paramedic put a blanket over me while another paramedic cut the windshield off the car.
They put a brace around my neck and placed me on a hard board then on a stretcher.
Pulling me out of the car, the scene was surreal.
Because of the neck brace, the darkness and my tears I could barely see a thing. I just remember the bright helicopter light shining down on us. The headlights, the sirens, the police lights, the people, the glass, the noise, the pain.
Just moments ago, I’d been riding home in the car with my husband as we did almost every day. I thought to myself. How did we end up here? In the middle of this chaotic scene straight out of a movie?
I was so glad to be out of that car.
(The car never did blow up by the way. But later I found out the police cut the battery cord as a precaution, so clearly it was a possibility!)
In the ambulance, the paramedic told me we were involved in a serious accident caused by a semi-truck. I asked if anyone died and I got my third major relief of the night when he said no. (My first was hearing Joe’s voice and my second was hearing the sirens on their way.)
I still wanted to make sure my foot was there, so I asked about it again. “Can you feel that?” The paramedic asked apparently touching part of my foot. I wasn’t sure if I could feel it or not. “Yes.” I replied tearfully. “That’s your foot.” He replied dryly.
“Where are we going?” I asked him. “We’re taking you to Grant Hospital.” He responded.
I only know two things about Grant: It’s 20 minutes away (and NOT the closest hospital to where we were) and it’s where they take people who are near death.
“Why aren’t we going to Mt. Carmel East? It’s right down the street.” I demanded.
“Ma’am we need to take you to the trauma hospital.”
Over the loudspeaker, I could hear a dispatcher saying someone was unconscious.
I panicked. “Am I unconscious? Are they talking about me?” (I was feeling very out of the loop at this point and I didn’t want anyone trying to spare my feelings by keeping things from me.)
The paramedic impatiently replied: “No. You’re talking to me now so you’re obviously not unconscious.” He had a point there.
We were still waiting to drive away when a police officer poked his head in the ambulance to verify my identity. He was asking me a bunch of questions like my name, address, phone number and I was doing my best to answer him despite the pain. Reading my mind, the paramedic barked at him “Go bother someone else with your questions.”
Passing out from the pain would have been a relief. Instead, I was awake the entire time.
Finally, we were off on the longest, bumpiest ride of my life.
And it was only the beginning…