Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Three Years Later

I woke up today feeling a  I couldn't put my finger on why - the weather was beautiful, my coffee was icy cool, the kids were contentedly playing with the hose in the backyard when I arrived.  As the day limped along, I still couldn't figure it out, until, of course, it hit me.  I was sitting on the floor in the older boys' room, enjoying the AC blowing on my bare legs while LM and Bee made a torrential mess when my wandering mind landed on the date.  Is it? I thought.  No, it can't be.  No wait, yes it is.  Today is June 8th.  And like a ton of bricks, it came crashing down around me.  June 8, 2008 will live in my memory with pictures so vivid it's like they're inked on my brain.  It's the day I was in a massive car crash that almost ended my life, the life of a passenger in the car with me, and sadly did end the life of another driver. 

The weather that day was blazing hot and steamy, much like today's.  It was my second day in southeastern Kentucky, where I had landed to carry out a clinical internship that focused heavily on shadowing midwives and OB-GYN's and volunteering in the local understaffed free clinics.  I had driven the twelve hours south alone, in my just-purchased car, nervously talking to myself most of the trip while I wound onto narrower and narrower roads that cut through steep valleys thick with kudzu vines until I came to Hyden, KY.  After one night of restless sleep, we set off the next day to pick up another intern an hour away.  We were driving one of the organization's cars, a Jeep Cherokee.  We were three miles from the house, the radio wasn't on, my hands were solidly at 10 and 2, but as we crested a small hill on the four-lane highway, I had a split second to register the minivan that was careening out of control in the oncoming lane and not a moment to hit the brakes before the van turned sharply in front of us and we hit them head-on, going sixty miles an hour.

Twenty minutes later, I woke up to see the hot sun blazing through a windshield that was no more.  It took a minute for me to register the blood - my blood - covering me and the terrifying, heart-stopping fact that I could not move.  The rest is a blur: sirens, the jaws of life, a faceless paramedic holding a mask over my nose and mouth while she urged me, over and over again, in her sweet southern drawl to "Stay awake, honey, stay awake."  The helicopter ride, the EMT who rode next to my head and held my hand the whole flight and answered my hoarse, whispered question, "Am I going to live?"  "Yes, darling, you're going to be just fine.  Just breathe now.  It's all okay."  The team of doctors who swarmed me when I arrived in the trauma bay, the volunteer who stayed by my head and held my gaze, calling my mother over and over again until she could get ahold of her at work.  She told me to squeeze her hand "as hard as it hurts" when the doctors scrubbed the glass and gravel out of my skin and pulled three-inch slivers of the windshield from my hands and sewed up the ragged holes.  Oh I squeezed.  The tears dripped silently past my ears as I squeezed as hard as I could and she told me about her kids, distracting me from the pain until the blessed morphine kicked in and sent me into a daze that carried me through the next three hours of CAT scans and X-rays.

I could have gone home after that ungodly start to my summer before my junior year of college.  Instead, in my typical fashion, I bounced up and closed the book on the experience, insisting to myself and everyone around me that since I was physically fine, I was totally fine.  I stayed in Kentucky that summer and had an amazing experience.  I saw my first birth, I coached women through labor, I worked long hours in a clinic that served as the only source of healthcare for an entire county.  I picked up a hint of a southern accent, ate okra for the first time, and grew fond of the jagged mountains that surrounded our village.  I left Kentucky at the end of that summer with rapidly fading scars and some new freckles on my shoulders.  But as I drove past the white cross that someone had erected by the side of the road where the crash happened and the other driver passed away, my breath caught and I felt the panic of that day again. 

It's June 8th, three years later, and I can still feel it.  Never am I more aware of my own mortality than on this day each year.  There's not a single logical explanation for why one man died and I'm still alive.  But I sure as hell am not going to let my second chance at life go to waste.  Hundreds of miles away, a family is mourning the anniversary of a loved one's death today.  My heart is with them now.  May your thoughts and prayers be with them too.


Sarah said...

Wow. Definitely thinking of them. Thanks for sharing this tough, tough story.

The Nanny said...

Oh, love: I'm pretty much a mess of tears now as I get ready for work. I wish I could hug you. I love you.

Margaret said...

Thank you for sharing this! I remember hearing about this but never heard the full story. The things we live through.