The crash that changed me – part two

I thought I would continue where I had left off in my story of the accident.  I figured I would tell you all about how the paramedics pulled me out of the wrecked van, put a precautionary neck brace on me, strapped me to a stretcher, and loaded me into the ambulance.  I wanted to tell you how the semi driver was also in the same ambulance, but positioned behind me, so I could not see him.  I wanted so badly to blurt out an apology to him, but I was having a panic attack and could barely breathe, much less get any words out.  So I just stayed silent, thinking it repeatedly (“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”), feeling endless tears slip out of my eyes and fall onto the stretcher.

Then I thought I would tell you all about how the ER doctor seemed to think I was exaggerating my pain levels, and that it was all just due to seat belt friction.  But the tests had showed blood in my urine, so they had to investigate further with a CAT scan.  They found I had internal bleeding around my liver and kidney, and a fractured first lumbar vertebra in my back.  I figured I would go on to describe how incredibly crippling the pain has been, and how I sometimes feel as though being in pain is simply my new state of existence.

Except really, I don’t want to talk about any of that.

I would much rather tell you about this walk I took with my boys yesterday.

It was the first day since the crash that I felt like I might be able to go for a short walk.  I had some items to pick up from a local seller – Minecraft shirts for Lennon, which he was excited about.  According to my iphone GPS (which I would be completely lost without…have I mentioned that I am directionally impaired?!), she lived very nearby.  I decided to try walking – SLOWLY – over there, pushing Roland in a stroller.

Unfortunately, once we started walking, we realized it was way farther away than we had anticipated.  My back and hips were hurting a bit, but I wanted to try pushing on.  It was a lovely day, and I was really enjoying just being outside with my two boys.

We walked at a leisurely pace.  We spotted several birds and one squirrel.  We picked up these long green pine cones, and felt how sticky their sap was against our fingers.  I noticed a tree that had these interesting configurations of tiny leaves.  There was a tree just like this in our yard when I was growing up.  I used to stim by picking the little leaves off the branches one by one, always in the same exact way each time.  I told Lennon about this, and he decided we should take some of these leaves home, so I could play with them again.  As we walked, the leaves flew off the top of the stroller, where I had set them.  Lennon ran after them, yelling “Mom, your childhood is getting away!  We have to save your childhood!”

Lennon found a perfect walking stick.  Then we came up to a huge water tower.  Lennon said he had always wanted to get up close to one.  I took a photo of him standing by it, and he was pleased.

We picked up the shirts.  I had Lennon go up to the door and pay the woman, and was very proud to see how politely he handled that social interaction.  We headed back toward home, and stopped at the park so Roland could get out of the stroller to run around and play for a bit.  He and I put our toes in the sand together.  As we continued on our way, we walked past some of Lennon’s neighborhood friends who had found a frog.  Roland was quite intrigued by this creature.

Basically, it was a perfectly ordinary summer day.  With one big difference.

I was there to see it.

My life didn’t end when those 80,000 pounds slammed into my van.  It most certainly could have.  But it did not.

I don’t want to talk about the pain anymore.  It hasn’t left my life yet, and won’t for quite some time.  In fact, today I am physically paying the price for that long walk yesterday.  But I don’t regret doing it for one second.  Because that perfectly ordinary summer adventure that I had with my boys was beautiful.

{Image is two photos side by side.  The first is Lennon, standing by the water tower with his walking stick.  The second is Lennon showing the frog to Baby Roland}
{Image is two photos side by side. The first is Lennon, standing by the water tower with his walking stick. The second is Lennon showing the frog to Baby Roland}

The crash that changed me – part one

Day six post-crash.  I’ve been wanting to blog about my recovery, but I haven’t had the energy to do so.  My main objective has been trying to get through each day, one moment at a time.  I can’t let myself succumb to the pain.  I WILL get by.

I feel like I will be forever changed by this experience.  There will be Amber, before the crash…and Amber, after the crash.

I can’t stop replaying it over and over in my head.  It happened so fast, yet so incredibly slowly.

I was on my way to a progress review meeting at Juliette’s therapy center.  Luckily, the boys were at home with Jacob.  I was by myself.  99% of the time when I am driving, I have AT LEAST one child with me, but this time, I was alone.  For that I will forever be grateful.

I had left early, since there is a lot of road construction on the way to her school.  Normally, I am ALWAYS late, but this time, I was actually on schedule.  Jacob has been urging me to take a different route to get to her school, but (and this is definitely part of ASD for me) if I am familiar with one route to get somewhere, I HAVE TO take that route, even if there is a faster or easier way.

So, I was driving down a busier street where there is a speed limit of 45 MPH, the way I always take, the way that feels familiar and “right” to me.  I was thinking about the meeting, mentally preparing myself for that social interaction, scripting out potential things to say.  Still, I wasn’t completely lost in my head.  I was paying attention to the road.  I wasn’t on my phone, looking in the mirror, or fiddling with the radio.  There were no children in the car distracting me, something that I will admit, happens often.  This is what I can’t wrap my head around.  I was just DRIVING, like normal.  I don’t understand how this happened.

As I was about to go through an intersection, I saw a big semi truck to my right.  He looked like he wasn’t going to stop, like he was going to go through the intersection right toward me.  I had a couple of thoughts in quick succession.  The first one was “WTF is he doing?!”  I simultaneously honked my horn and tried to slam on my breaks.  It was too late, and I knew it.  He was going to hit me.  At that moment, I looked up and saw a red light.  My next thought was literally, “Oh, shit.”

And then he hit me.

The moment before the impact had seemed to go by very slowly, but the actual crash happened so FAST and with so much FORCE.

I will never, EVER, as long as I live, forget what it felt like.  I wish I had blacked out so I would not have to remember it and relive it over and over.

The force threw my minivan all the way across the intersection and into the other side of the street.  I am very lucky not to have been hit by another vehicle going in the opposite direction.  The airbag deployed in my face.  The windshield shattered.  The front of my van crumpled up like an accordion.  Looking at photos of the van later, I saw that the engine was literally obliterated on one entire side.  Just GONE.

I could hear myself screaming.  I couldn’t breathe.  I was hurt, but I didn’t know how badly.  I became vaguely aware of smoke around me….and water?  Yes, water, raining down from the ceiling.  Turns out the “smoke” was from the airbag deploying, and the “rain” was from the two big jugs of water, leftover from our recent camping trip, that had exploded inside the van.  I looked at the shattered windshield.  One of Juliette’s hairbows, which had been in the back of the van, was against the windshield, caught in the spiderwebs of glass.

I saw that a few kind people had gotten out of their cars to help.  One man was directing traffic.  A woman was standing near my van, looking in at me.  I was still shrieking and hysterically crying.  I couldn’t breathe.  I was in pain.

I opened the door to let out the smoke.  The woman drew closer, and asked if I was ok.  I said yes, automatically.  That’s what you are supposed to say in response to that question, right?  But I wasn’t ok.  And I’m not sure I ever will be.

I looked across the road, and saw a man sitting on the grass, with two other people huddled around him.  He was holding his shoulder and looking dazed.  He was the semi driver, and he was hurt too.  I had done this to him.

I have made so many mistakes in my life.  Sometimes I feel like each day is a series of small failures.  I never seem to do anything “right,” even though I try so hard.  But this was big.  I’ve never failed this big before.  With one split second oversight, I had ruined everything.  My old familiar friends (or should I say enemies?), Guilt, Shame, and Self-hatred, came rushing in, crushing me worse than that semi had.

I closed my eyes.  I tried to breathe.  But I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

{Image is a photo of the crash scene, taken by a spectator. my totaled white van is visible in the background, with paramedics leaning in to talk to me}
{Image is a photo of the crash scene, taken by a spectator. my totaled white van is visible in the background, with paramedics leaning in to talk to me}

The Accident

Seat belts saved my life today, and also the life of another driver.

I was on my way to a meeting at Juliette’s school, when I somehow made an oversight while driving and was struck at an intersection by a semi truck. I wasn’t distracted, wasn’t on my phone or messing with the radio. I’ve had a perfect driving record up until today. I’m still trying to make sense of how this occurred. All I know is that things can happen in an instant and change your life forever.

I spent the day at the hospital, but walked (hobbled) away with only a bruised kidney, internal bleeding around my liver, and a compression fracture of my first lumbar vertebra. I am in a lot of pain, but I am home with my family, and I am alive.

I feel like the physical and emotional pain are only beginning to affect me. Both will likely get worse before they get better.

I am so grateful that my husband and our children were not in the car with me when the collision occurred. I am also thankful for the help and support of my mother and my mother-in-law. But most of all, I am grateful for that seat belt. Without it I would not be here.

Please, take a moment to put on your seat belt each time you are in a vehicle. Also, if you have children, take the time to learn how to properly install the correct carseats, and properly restrain your children.

A crash can happen in an instant…

{Image is a photo of our smashed up white minivan. The entire right side of the front has been obliterated. The license plate has been (badly) edited out of the photo by me}