Friday, December 15, 2006
A year ago today I was driving home from work, slammed into the car ahead of me, totaled my pickup truck, then laid on my couch for six weeks nursing a fractured sternum.
Isn't this the worst feeling in the world? You're driving along, maybe distracted as we all tend to be, your eyes wander away from the road. When you look up you see the vehicle ahead of you isn't moving. You make a panic stop, just like they taught you in Driver Ed! Foot against the brake as hard and fast as you can, only to realize in that split second you aren't going to stop, you're heading for full-on impact.
I remember the crunching sound of metal against metal when my Nissan hit the Chevy Suburban ahead of me. The very next thing I knew my airbag was deflating. The smell was pungent. I reached for my glasses, groping around until I found them. They had flipped over and were upside down on the back of my head.
I stepped out of my vehicle to see the front end in total ruin. I figured even then it was a total loss. I didn't think anyone could put those pieces back together, and I was right.
The lady I hit, Betty, told me that the traffic light ahead of us was green, but for some unknown reason the car ahead of her came to a complete stop, forcing her to panic stop, which caused me to pile right into her rear end.
The cop investigating the accident believed her, and told me he didn't think it was all my fault, but let's face it, in a rear-end crash the car doing the rear-ending gets the ticket. So I got my first moving violation in over 20 years.
I also noticed at the time I was having a stabbing pain in the center of my chest. I called my wife on my cell phone (the only time I've ever been glad to own a cell phone), told her where I was, come get me.
Betty's Chevy Suburban was hardly damaged. As the guy in the body shop where my car was taken later told me, my pickup truck hit her trailer hitch at exactly the right angle to destroy my vehicle, but barely scratch the chrome on hers. It made me think about what I've heard for years: you're better off in a bigger vehicle than a small one.
Sally drove me to the emergency room against my protestations. I thought I was just sore from the airbag hitting me. As it turned out from an MRI I had a fracture to my sternum. I think when my seatbelt cinched up, as it was supposed to do on impact, my body was thrown sufficiently far forward to cause the fracture to my breastbone.
The ER nurse was a doll; she was very solicitous of me during my time there, and even gave me a big hug when I left. She told me, "You're my best patient. You've never complained." I thought, well, gee, lady, I didn't know I was supposed to! But I took the hug, even though the squeeze put more hurt on my chest.
This is a long story to tell you this: Every time you get in your car and go out onto the road you are at risk of an accident. I got lucky that time, but I think back on how quick I could have been killed. That kind of death you don't get a chance to say goodbye to anybody, just hello to St. Peter. You might be driving along, looking back to yell at your kid in the back seat, finding a CD in your glove box, reaching for a cigarette or answering your cell phone, and the next thing you know you're standing in front of the Pearly Gates saying, "Wha---?!! I can't be here. This is my bowling night!"
It also costs in other ways that are more of this earth. I paid a traffic fine of about $122 for following too close. I took a guilty plea in abeyance and six months later without further mishap my record was cleared. I had to find another car, but I let my wife do all of the communicating with the insurance company. This was all during the Christmas break. We found another car on January 2. Yes, I got a bigger vehicle this time.
I drive for a living. I've been in the driver's seat almost 44 years. I thought I knew all of the tricks, had all of the close calls without damage or injury, but this time the law of averages caught up to me. It can happen to you.
People, be careful. Because I lived I got to see my granddaughter's first birthday, and will see her second if everything goes as planned. Frankly, I'd like to be around to see her graduate with honors from Harvard, but I'm not going to plan that far ahead. I still have a lot of driving to do before I hang up the car keys. There are a lot of other cars on the road, and a lot of distracted drivers, just like I was that day. Wise up. Hands on the steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00, eyes on the road ahead. Do all of the things they taught you in Driver Ed, and turn off the damn cell phone.
Here are some folks who know the sickening and helpless feeling that something is happening too fast for them to do anything.