I’ve had a couple of major life events in the last few weeks. They are each continuing to have pretty strong effects on my day to day life, as well as my mental state. One is having a strong positive effect. The other is strong negative (though, happily, lessening as time goes on).
The first one I will address is the negative, since it’s more dramatic, and also most of my family and friends are already aware of at least the basics of what happened.
I was in a car wreck on I-40 shortly after 8am on a Wednesday morning.
I didn’t even realize until three days later that I must have blacked out for a short period of time, because it seemed like one instant I was careening, airbags going off, headed for the cement center rail, scared that I was just going to ping-pong around this place where everyone was going so fast and no one was going to stop for our clusterfuck, and then I looked up to the left and someone was moving toward my busted-out window, asking if the driver door was unable to open, and if I should climb out the passenger side. All the cars were already stopped, people standing around and it seemed like a policeman and ambulance were there immediately.
I stumbled out of the car, dazed, foggily aware that I should call someone, right? I reached up and touched my forehead and found a little blood on my fingers. Huh. A man said “Hey sweetie your forehead is bleeding,” and wiped at it with a clean microfiber car towel which I carried with me the rest of the day. He had me sit down in my passenger seat. I tried calling Scott but I knew that he couldn’t come.. why? He was away.. on an overnight field trip? (This was true, but I was really foggily unsure of it at that moment) He had gone somewhere. For the weekend? It wasn’t the weekend.
A policeman came to ask for my insurance. I opened the glove box, and someone else came over and asked if there was anyone he needed to call for me. I brightened up, remembering — yes, call my school, tell them where I am. I remembered where I had been going. The policeman came back, any luck finding that insurance? Oh. I had forgotten. I turned back to the open glovebox and rummaged a little bit. I found an old still-sealed envelope from my insurance company. “This is old, but the policy is still all the same stuff,” I said, giving it to him.
A part of my vision was now obscured by the roiling shiny grey patches, like holes torn in space-time, that for me used to signal the start of a migraine. I tried to explain this to the paramedics outside my passenger door.
They brought me to the ambulance to ask me questions about my previous migraines and also my current condition, which I explained to them as best I could. They recommended that I let them take me to the hospital to get checked out. I considered this. My brain was a bit less foggy than it had been when I first wrecked, but I had never really had head trauma before. I knew I could not afford an ambulance ride (financially). But I also knew (had been told) that they’ll let you keep paying tiny payments on ER bills for ever, so I thought maybe I should go, because what if I had really fucked up my brain, the thing I was counting on, and I didn’t go? I consented, and the paramedic fetched my purse and lunchbox and we were off on the very short drive to the hospital, where I waited and was scanned and leaned back on a bed in a hallway and hurt.
My x-rays and brain scan were clear, although I developed the concussion symptoms later (nausea, headaches, textbook, textbook). I did call my insurance company as advised and I did give a statement although part of me wishes I had waited a day, til my brain were a bit sharper.
I didn’t feel sharp the next day, but I wasn’t “feeling worse” either, like so many people told me I would. My upper back was so sore the day of, and the second day felt less like grinding bones and more like stiff muscles, which I also get from lifting too enthusiastically (back when I could lift..). I tried to rest on Thursday, didn’t go to school, tried not to panic about falling (further) behind, tried not to think about money, tried to just observe how weird it was to be me with my brain just not working the way I expect it to work, so much slower, so many more mistakes or just forgotten things, or just “I don’t know” returns on requests that I in giving did not find that demanding. Tried to just read novels or watch movies (although even these were on the “potentially too taxing” list on the internet).
Since then, I’m back at more or less normal capacity, pushing my brain sharpness on schoolwork and finding it stable. I did some home-yoga tonight, and did some car-wreck-yoga a few days ago. I’m physically pretty much totally fine.
Which is mind-blowing because this was simultaneously a walk-away whole event AND a near-death experience. When Scott and I went to get my stuff out of the car and he walked around looking at the damage, he observed “Your seatbelt and your airbag saved your life.” I have no doubt of this. It’s confusing because it feels like a very big event. And yet like it shouldn’t be, because the physical effects are so much more minimal than they could have been.
All I have to show now is a fast fading remnant of a split in the middle of my forehead (not a zig-zag but otherwise very Harry Potter – esque), a large swollen bruise along my upper left outer shin, some other swell-bruises around that same knee and ankle. The weird rugburn-like patches on my hips where the seatbelt and my jeans conspired to save me are gone now. I look like nothing happened.
And yet I still have trouble stomaching being in a car on an interstate, especially if there are brakelights ahead and less than 12 car lengths between the front of this vehicle and the back of the one ahead. This panic has eased in the time after the wreck. Every complaint of soreness in the neck or shoulders is met with knowing nods, oh yes, that’s normal. To be expected, normal normal normal. Which is comforting in one way – it means “Hey, you’re okay.” But also.
Listen. This shit should really, really not be normal, and I thought I was very upset that we treat it like it is. Actually, I’m even more upset because it actually truly is. This shit is normal, and it gets more commonplace all the time.
Since the wreck, I have not had a car, and have not been driving much. I am therefore a passenger when I need to get somewhere. I am sickened and astonished at how many people I see holding up and looking at their phone while pretending they are driving. So many, especially in traffic, especially on weekends. People are bored, they drive every day so they think they are good at it, that it’s easy, that it doesn’t require that much attention and they think this because they have been very lucky.
This is the dumbest way to lose a life or even a couple of days, and it happens all the fucking time.
I was in a very normal 6-car situation, struck in the rear, crunched into the car in front of me, then also pushed into the left lane, hit in the left side panel by another car. Every day at school I take my phone and my notebook to the balcony where I listen to voicemails and return the calls of various insurance people (and early on, hospital folks).
At first, I didn’t mind not having a car. I honestly didn’t want to be in one let alone in control of one. I figured I would take the bus all week. Maybe for the rest of my fucking life.
Now it’s grating because I’m tired (two weeks in) of always needing someone to take me places, of trying to plan ahead enough to negotiate how I’m getting home, when, and with whom. It adds a thick extra layer of planning stress to calendaring anything with a location. I am not convinced that my insurance is really investigating the forensics of the crash all that much because I am certainly not their top paying customer, and why should they care about a few extra thousand dollars? (A few thousand dollars is a very big deal to someone who just quit their $12/hr. spreadsheet negotiation to go back to school.) I’m tired of spending so much time trawling the internet for gems of cars that I can conceivably afford when I don’t even know how much compensation will be happening from insurance because the companies have not yet finished duking out the liability assignment even now.
Today, though, I made only two calls at lunch, and one was to a friend who is out of town for the week and had called me to offer the use of their car until they are back from vacay. My mom called me yesterday with great news about car prospects for my future transportation (my parents have been enlisted in the Craigslist crawling). Then when I had missed my ride after school and was looking at bus schedules, Scott showed up unexpectedly, and when we missed our turn because we couldn’t change lanes, he didn’t get mad, we went to Red Bicycle instead, and when I offered to buy us donuts there, the donuts were suddenly circumstantially free.
I feel like as of this weekend, a lot of good things have been happening, and I’m grateful. I’ve been stressin’ a lot, and trying to just manage it (also in light of the strong positive which will be discussed soon), trying to stay afloat on all of this mixed messaging.
I’m also grateful for seatbelts and airbags.