There are moments in one’s life that forever change the course of one’s existence. These may be moments of catastrophe or still, quiet moments.
Some of us recognize the moment of change when it occurs. Others look around one day and realize that life took a divergent path that they never took notice of until they had traveled too far astray to turn back.
Sometimes change is good; other times, its bad, catastrophic even. Change brings fear, stress, a new way of life; for some, even a happier way of life.
But when change came to me, it was dressed in black.
It was as though I had been reborn. Waking up into an existence that I did not recognize. I felt no fear. I felt no emotional response. I could not move my limbs. My head did not turn. I did recognize that I was in my car. It appeared to me as though my car and my body had become one. And inside my steel cocoon there was no pain, no feeling; only a sense that the earth had stopped and the world had ended. The apocalypse was here.
There was no sound, only a dead silence. Then something touched my forehead. It was a hand. A hand with no body attached to it. And a voice was speaking to me.
“Don’t move. You’ve been in an accident. The air bag missed your head.”
So that was it. The world had not ended. My brain was trying desperately to comprehend what had happened, I was encased in the steel that had earlier been my car. My mind was questioning if I would ever, could ever, be released from the steel cocoon that that had become entwined with my body.
I could see out of the window of the car. A milky-white fog painted an eerie scene outside.
This has to be a dream. Only a dream could have this surreal sense of detachment, as though I was an actor in a drama being played out according to a script.
But the illusion did not end. I did not wake up in a cold sweat, hugging my pillow, relieved that it was only a dream.
The fog encircled me in my cocoon. Through the mist, I could see a sign on the front of a veterinarian’s office and realized where I was, barely a mile or so from my house.
But how did I get here? Where was I going? I remember pulling out of my driveway. I had looked at the gas tank and decided I did not have enough gas to get to work.
Work. I was on my way to work, to the school where I taught.
My dimmed brain rested from the exertion. I had figured out where I was. The how and the why would have to wait until later. I closed my eyes and blackness engulfed me once more.
A fire truck pulled up next to me.
“Was I on fire? Would I feel it if I was? I should be afraid. Why can I not feel anything?”
A flurry of activity was taking place outside my car window. There were people standing around the car within my field of view. There were vehicles of every description parked all around me. How did they get here? They took form from the depths of the fog, blurry and unrecognizable. I didn’t hear any noise. They had crept up on me and were now huddled in groups seemingly acting out a predetermined plan of action. These faceless forms seemed to be cognizant of a secret I knew nothing about.
Then slowly out of the cracks and crevices of my brain, the synapses began firing – this time much clearer. The bombardment was escalating. An “All Points Bulletin” was flashing in my brain.
You’ve been in an accident. YOU HAVE BEEN IN AN AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT!
A man in a heavy coat and helmet was in the back seat talking to me from my right side. He put a brace around my neck. He was doing something to my head.
“I hate to tell you this, but it appears that you have a serious brain injury.”
No response. Still, no fear. I guess the mind cannot fear what the brain cannot feel.
“Where were you going?”
I know what he is trying to do. He’s trying to keep me talking. He’s trying to keep my brain from shutting down.
“To school. I’m a school teacher. A special education teacher.”
“Well darlin’, you’ve been in a serious accident and I’m going to stay right here with you until they get you out of this car.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“We’re calling the helicopter to come get you. My Captain is going to cut you out of the car and as soon as we get the door off, you’ll be on your way to the hospital and they’ll fix you right up.”
“My sister, Kathie, do you know her? She’s an EMT. Is she here?”
Fear. The big daddy of all emotions. The one with the power to bring down giants. The emotional crippler. Its spiny arms were circling my body, waiting to pounce, to grasp my beating heart in its claw as soon as I gave in to it.
I tried to fight the fear. And the man in the helmet recognized what was happening. He asked questions. I answered. I watched as the throng of people around my car worked feverishly, all seeming to be following a predetermined role in this scenario.
The noise was earsplitting.
“We’re using the ‘jaws of life’ to get you out of this mess”
The car door moved. It came in on me instead of opening. And when it did, the dashboard which was lying just above my feet began coming down onto them. For the first time, I screamed. The faceless people working around me stopped and started refiguring their strategy. The voice in the back seat continued to talk and was telling me what was going on.
“Here’s your sister, darlin'”
A hand took my bloody hand and held it tight.
“I’m here for you, Wendy. I’ll be right here until they get you out.”
Her voice had a calming effect. Everything would be all right now that she was here. The panic ebbed some. But I was beginning to feel to feel pain. And that caused the panic to begin creeping back. I asked for some relief from the pain.
“We can’t give you any, darlin’. We don’t know how bad your head injury is. They’ll give you some when you get to the hospital.”
Things began happening quickly. I lost all perception of time. My mind was trying to follow what was happening around me but the fog was encircling me and I had a hard time keeping up with what was going on.
“We can’t get the helicopter. It’s in Kentucky and is grounded by the fog, but we’ll keep calling them to get a status.”
A big heavy coat was put over my head.
“We’re going to take the roof off your car now so we’ve got to get you covered up good”
I no longer heard the sound of the saw. It was becoming too difficult for any of my senses to work. I felt my brain progressively slowing down. It was hard to stay focused.
IN PAIN’S CLUTCHES
I did not know what was going on because I could not see for the heavy coat that had been put over my head. I was going in and out of consciousness. I didn’t know the paramedics and firemen had jacked up the dashboard, cut the roof, the back door, the side panel, and the brake pedal off the car. At the moment when the last piece, my side door, was taken off, I screamed. I had never felt pain that was this intense. I screamed again. I found my sister in the large crowd that was standing around my car.
” Put the door back! Kathie, make them put the door back on to hold my hip in place! I can’t stand the pain in my hip!”
“Wendy, we have to get you out of the car and into the ambulance. We have to get you to the hospital. Try to cooperate with us while we get you on a stretcher.”
I know now what it feels like to be tortured. To be put on the rack and have your body pulled apart. That’s what it felt was happening. And that is what they were doing. I had so many open, compound fractures and my body was lying on the stretcher in broken pieces. My pelvis was broken badly and they had to try to straighten me out and put the bones where they were supposed to go as best they could. I wanted to die and end the pain. I thought that people in this state were unconscious and could not feel pain. Why wasn’t I unconscious? Even with the crowd of people that had gathered and the 13 medical vehicles surrounding me, I felt alone and abandoned. And I could feel everything that was happening. The torturous pain, people moving me against my will. My screams were probably being heard for miles. I could not tolerate this pain. My body was being manipulated against my will and I was in hell.
I recall lying on a stretcher in the open air. Someone straightened the bones along the left side. I continued to scream but by that time it was an involuntary action. A special type of pants was being put on me. The unknown voice said it would help the pain until they got me to the hospital.
There is a code among emergency medical personnel. This is known as the golden hour. To save an accident victim who is severely injured, they must get the individual out of the car in 60 minutes. With all the emergency medical technicians and the paramedics working to get me out, it took 58 minutes to have me ready to go into the ambulance. The race was on to keep me alive for the 25 mile drive to the hospital.
DEAD OR ALIVE?
I am in the ambulance. There are men working on me but I don’t know what they are doing. I learned months later that there were two Paramedics and two EMT’s in the back of the ambulance with me. There was a driver and unknown to me, my sister was riding up front in the passenger’s seat. She was starting to go into shock and one of her friends recognized this and carried her to the ambulance, put her in the front seat and buckled her in. She was beyond responding due to the emotional trauma that she had been through. I cannot begin to imagine her feelings when I was screaming for her to do something and she knew there was nothing that she could do to help me at that time.
As the ambulance raced toward the hospital, I felt my body separating from my conscious self. I left the body lying on the stretcher and watched it from above. The body down below was slipping away. This was what I wanted – the no-pain state. It was an odd feeling; as though the fog had slipped back in to lull me away from the pain and terror. I could see my body. I had bandages around my head, a neck brace on and the inflatable pants they had put on me. The men riding with me were yelling to the front. The last thing my conscious mind heard was, “drive faster, we’re losing her.” Then my mind reunited with the body on the stretcher and conscious living ceased to exist for me. There were no bright lights leading me away.
I woke up. I had been gone, but I woke up. I heard people making noises. I couldn’t see anyone. Bright lights were shining everywhere. Then IT came back. IT had been gone. Why did IT come back? I screamed; for the pain was back as ferocious as ever. I heard a voice saying “give her three cc’s of morphine.” There was some relief from the pain in my pelvis. It was short-lived. I screamed again. Instead of the pleasant voice I heard earlier, this time a nasty-sounding voice said, “if you would shut up and quit screaming, I could hear what the doctor is saying.” I looked up at that nurse. She was the first thing my eyes were able to focus on. Then the pleasant voice came back, “give her three more cc’s of morphine.”
The rest of the day was hazy and blurred. I know that I had a CAT scan because I started panicking and the nurse talked to me and calmed me. When I came back to a room, my dad, sister and husband were all leaning over my bed smiling at me.
“I don’t know what happened or how I got this way.”
“Don’t worry. We have the whole story from the highway patrol. An old man blacked out at the wheel of his car and came into your lane and hit you head on. He was driving an old tank of a car and even though he had no seat belt on, he wasn’t hurt as badly. Luckily you had an air bag and your seat belt on.”
So, I’m not dead or dying. I’m in really bad shape but I’m going to live. It was then I knew that living and getting through this was going to be harder than dying. My mind and body had taken too much and I went back into that familiar fog. As I faded away, I had no way of knowing then, that every fiber of my mind, and soul and body would be tested and challenged from that day onward.
I went to surgery sometime later. I woke up in a strange large room. It was intensive care. I could feel tubes coming out of my mouth and nose. My throat was so dry. A nurse sensed my discomfort and brought me ice chips and put tiny pieces in my mouth. I still couldn’t grasp the reality of the situation. Then familiar faces came into view. My husband was standing there. He said my son should be here any time now. He and my stepdaughter were called and they left Savannah, Georgia, that morning. Others came and went but it was hard to stay focused and I could barely talk.
I could see a clock on the wall and at 10:00pm, my husband came in with his daughter, and my son, Jason, a strapping young man of 23 years. She took one look at me and began to faint so my husband took her out and Jason and I were alone. He held the fingers of my left hand since that was the only part of my hand that did not have I. V.’s.
He burst out crying and laid his head on the side of my bed and sobbed. The fog cleared. This young man and I had been through much together. And I found myself talking to him, comforting him, telling him that I was not going to die. He repeated “I love you, Mom” over and over and knowing he was there, gave me assurance. As I spoke to him, I realized clearly, internally, that I was not going to die.
“I love you, too, Jason. We have a lot more living to do, but you must realize that I am badly injured and I will need to pull from your strength and others around me to get through this. He kissed me on the forehead, smiled weakly and walked slowly out of the room.
Day one of the rest of my life was over.