Survival Diary: The Accident

 Photo: Tanner Wolfe

I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will  gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I was in the front passenger seat, asleep. It was some time between four and five in the morning—dark.

Paul’s yell, and probably the jerk of the van as it hit the rumble strips, woke me and I was plunged into a tunnel of movement, force and terrible sound.

“JESUS!” I screamed.

This is a prayer.  When I was very young my mother taught me, when in trouble, to call on the name of Jesus and I always have—literally.

Underneath it all is the question. I am not awake enough, and it’s all going too quickly for me to actually form the thoughts “Where are we? What is happening? Or to wonder about the future: are we going to be OK? As we are hurtling through I am living completely in the moment, in utter uncertainty. I am not loving the question but I am living it, fully.

And then it all stops and I find I have lived my way into the answer too.

Oh. This.

I am upside down. My head is jammed against the roof and I can hardly breathe.  My ankle is wedged and my head is bleeding. I’m bleeding so much and everything hurts. I want to get out now, but I’m jammed in. Stuck. I fumble for the clasp of the seatbelt but it’s just beyond my reach. I think I will need to be cut out which means I will have to wait for help to arrive and I don’t know how I’m going to bear staying here one more second. I’m panicking  I know I have to stay calm. I try to breathe.

Paul is already out. I can hear him moving around the van. I call to him softly because I’m staying calm, “Paul…I can’t get out…Paul.”

He doesn’t hear me or, if he does, he doesn’t answer. I don’t know why he isn’t checking on me and helping the kids. I don’t know what he is doing and am annoyed by his priorities.

I don’t know we have landed in the middle of the highway. The moment the van came to a stop Paul grabbed my pillow and crawled out his window, jumped to his feet and began waving his arms above his head to stop oncoming traffic. I don’t know he is probably saving our lives.

This is what I know: crash, stuck, pain, blood, fear—I know Paul. I know Christopher and Lydia—I hear their voices—but I don’t hear Eden’s—

“Eden! Eden! WHERE’S EDEN?”

“She’s right here. I’ve got her.” Lydia said and that panic subsides.

I’m in so much pain. My body is wedged in my seat so tightly. I am hanging upside down, my head pressed into the roof. I can barely breathe. How long will it take to get me out? I am trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm. The blood is pouring down my face.

I feel movement behind me, somehow I know it’s Lydia. I hear the click of my belt and then I fall over, free and I’m scrabbling between the seats on my hands and knees.

All the windows have blown out. Glass is everywhere, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m making for the side window. There is blood in my eyes but I see Lydia cradling Eden to her chest, hiding her face, protecting her. I see smoke curling billowing out and up, curling towards the sky and I panic.

“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” I scream at the girls.

“Stop yelling at us!” Lydia screams back but I don’t hear her. I’m scuttling out the window, crawling onto the highway and pulling myself to my feet.  I see the smoke and hear the dripping of fluids. We need to get out and away. Out and away.

Paul is there with Christopher who he has just helped out. I take the pillow he is still holding. It is huge, large and puffy with real feathers. My head was resting on it minutes before but that is a lifetime ago. I press it to my head to staunch the blood.

Cars have stopped. I see headlights lining up in the distance. I’m having trouble holding my head up. It hurts so much. With the pillow pressed to my forehead I can barely see. A man is there.

“Are we in Canada?” I ask him. We were driving through the night. We were on our way to Rochester, New York but through Ontario. We were going to have breakfast in Niagara.

“Yes, you are.” He says and I hear his accent.

Oh no, I think. This is going to complicate things. Part of my brain is running logistics. This is not my first disaster.

Out and away. I want to get as far as I can from the van and away from traffic which is slowly beginning to creep by.

We are on a bridge but I don’t know it. We make our way to the edge of the highway and Paul looks down, sees the river and feels sick. I need to sit down on the ground and I lean against the guardrail. I can feel my children around me. I am doing an inventory: Paul, Christopher, Lydia, Eden. I need to touch each one of them.

I am whimpering. I can’t keep it in. Eden is beside me and I put my arm around her, clutch her to my side with one arm and hold the pillow against my head with the other. I see Paul’s legs. He is standing in front of us. He is only wearing one sandal. He is holding one of his arms which is streaming with blood. He looks like an extra in a horror movie.

“I’m so sorry.” He says. His face is terrible with regret.

I reach for his leg and touch it. “It was an accident.”

After a while a fire truck arrives and then the ambulances. They strap me to a board and carry me away from my family. I don’t like this. I want my children.  I know I’m going to be OK, but that I’m not much help right now. I know I need to get fixed up, but first this evacuation needs arranging.

“I think it would be best if you kept my little girl with her Dad. And please put my older daughter with my son. He’s deaf and he doesn’t have his processor. He can’t hear right now. I know my daughter will help him.”

“We’re going to be taking you all in separate ambulances,” the paramedic informs me.

“I think it would be best—” I begin again, gesturing back towards the bridge. Separate ambulances don’t work for me.

“You and your husband will be taken to the E.R. and the children will be taken to the pediatric hospital.”

My heart stops. I do not like the way this car accident is going. The day an arsonist burned our house down we ran out of the house together and we stayed together. Separate hospitals do not work for me one bit.

But I am strapped to a board. They slide me into the ambulance and shut the doors, the paramedic says we’re ready and we drive away.

What to do after a Concussion? Not This.

It wasn’t my plan to take the month of August off, but I had a big deadline and a series of small deadlines and then I spent a lot of time pulling glass out of my arm and head, not to mention how busy I was being concussed.

The problem with having a head wound is that it impedes your ability to think and remember. About a month after the accident it occurred to me it may not be a good sign that I had at least one form of a headache every day since, and wondered if I had a concussion. I have a vague memory of someone, somewhere (A nurse in the ER in Canada? My doctor in Michigan?) asking me how many fingers she was holding and asking me to track them, but that’s it.

A friend who is a doctor, but lives in Virginia, sent a list of symptoms:

Headaches
Nausea
Balance issues
Visual changes
Light/noise sensitivity
Numbness/tingling
Difficulty remembering/concentrating/thinking clearly
Sluggish mentally
Irritable
Nervous
Agitated
Sad

Granted, that could be any day around here, but yes.

I called my doctor to just make sure a concussion had been ruled out when we did a follow up visit with her a couple days after our day in the E.R. I had already called back once and spoken with the nurse a week before this after I pulled a chunk (and that really isn’t an exaggeration) of glass out of my forehead to make sure this wasn’t a problem, because it certainly seemed like a heck of a problem to me. And then there was the fact that my forehead felt lumpy. I just don’t think it’s a good sign when lumpy can describe any part of one’s anatomy.

The doctor referred me to a plastic surgeon the next day since “This really isn’t her area expertise,” the nurse said.  It would have been lovely if this had occurred to my doctor when I first saw her, several weeks before this, but I’m picky.

Almost a week after my concussion call, I heard back from a therapy hospital confirming my referral.

“For plastic surgery?” I was surprised since I thought this was a rehab hospital.

“No, this was a referral for a possible concussion.”

It’s hard to keep your dances straight when you’re the belle of the ball.

This call was only a confirmation, a nurse would be calling me to interview me the end of that week or some time in the next.

“Wow! No hurry, huh?”

The scheduler didn’t know quite what to say. It wasn’t her fault so I thanked her and let her go.

It was another week before I heard from the nurse. I told her I’d read through many of the symptoms and had all of them, but I tended towards many of them on normal days—Ha! Ha!

“Well, what about when you enter a room do you find you can’t remember why you went in there?”

I’m the one who may or may not have a concussion, but I wasn’t the only one having trouble tracking.

“Yes! I’m always forgetting why I’m in a room. Every.single.day. That’s not a symptom, but here’s the thing, I’m prone to have headaches, but I’ve never had one every day for a month. And I’m prone to insomnia but I’ve never gone this long without sleeping through the night. Also, I’m a writer, I may have trouble gathering my thoughts and procrastinate, but a deadline is like magic and I always meet it, except now, I’ve had to turn down some assignments and really deep thinking is almost painful.

The nurse decided I definitely had many symptoms of a concussion and needed to be seen but I can’t remember if she scheduled my appointment or if someone else will be calling me. Her name is Becky—I remember that too—and I know I wrote down everything else, I’m just not sure where.