Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Road

Things That Go Bump in the Road

We were late. All four kids were rushed out of the house by two harried parents and into the Ford Expedition. My husband was driving. Our eighteen year old, a third member of our dance trio, had gone ahead of us in his little Toyota. The other two dancers, our nine year old and I, were dressed in black skirts and stockings, ready to skip to the Irish reel and jig. We had been practicing for 10 weeks and this was to be my daughter’s first performance.

Life does not always go as planned.

Our twelve year old daughter had left her purse at a cousin’s house so we had to make an extra stop on the way to our performance. It had snowed the night before, sugar dusting all of Virginia with less than an inch of fluffy, white powder. By the time we were on the road, just after noon on Sunday, it was nearly forty degrees and a bright, clear sunny day.

No remnants of the first winter snowfall remained on the road as we drove to the top of the hill.

Getting the purse had added pressure. We were only minutes behind schedule, but that was enough for us to be going at a steady clip heading down the long hill. Not speeding—it’s impossible to exceed the limit on those winding roads—but moving along quite nicely in an attempt to make it to the recital on time, just cruising on a Sunday on a road we knew well and had driven over a thousand times in twenty-five years in all kinds of weather.

The eldest had her i-pod on and was reading, settling in for the hour-long drive. The two little ones were laughing and messing around with each other. The middle daughter was sorting through the recently retrieved purse and I was inhaling my salad in the front seat, trying to fuel-up for our dance performance.

Life; busy and hectic as usual. No sense of foreboding, no brilliant flash of insight, my only thought when I saw the ice on the road was for my son, driving ten minutes ahead of us. We were in a four-wheel drive, he was just in that little Toyota.

My husband swore as we hit the front edge of the first ice patch and reached down to make sure we were in all-wheel drive. We were, but it wouldn’t do us any good.

We hit the second patch and he knew we were in trouble. He turned into the skid as we began to slide. I imagine we were going about 40 miles per hour but we hit the ice on a steep down-slope and picked up speed as we careened off the right hand side of the road, dropped into a ditch and headed straight for a set of mail-boxes.

I thought, “We’re going to hit those mailboxes.” And I remember the feeling of horror and dismay, knowing we were going to have an accident and no way to prevent it.

That was the moment everything went hay-wire.

We only clipped the mail boxes. Our trajectory changed. I closed my eyes just before we slammed into the boxes—I’m a horrid chicken at times like this—when I opened them, we were airborne. We had careened at high speed back across the road, hit a culvert, where a pipe went under the driveway, and sailed over the gravel lane. We hit railroad ties lining the drive on the other side and sent one flying thirty-feet into a field. We crashed landed through a fence, plowing straight over a wooden post that bent like a toothpick. It didn’t slow the truck at all. Ahead, in the field, we could see the tree coming. Eyes wide open, this time, I watched as we barreled towards it. There was no way to avoid that tree, no time to think, or even react before we hit. I could see doom looming, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The impact came with a force I was not familiar with, not from falling off a dozen different horses. It started in my low back and ricocheted all up my spine. My head flung forward and my chin hit my chest. I know now why they call it whiplash. My husband and daughter in the driver’s side both screamed in pain. We had stopped, but to what? He shouted, “Don’t anybody move! Stay exactly still!” Immediately, I turned to look at the kids, feeling the strange looseness in my neck and back. They were all staring back at me, eyes wide with shock and pain. All of them awake, alive. Two started crying.

I knew we were supposed to stay put, I had had my CPR training, but I looked back to the front and saw the mangled hood of the truck. My husband was shouting for a cell-phone. There were four in the truck, somewhere. I began frantically looking for mine. It had been charging in my cup-holder but I couldn’t find it. I traced the cord and pulled it from the floor, handed it to my husband. I looked back up at the crumpled front end.

“We’re getting out of here.” I said.

I don’t know what makes a vehicle explode, but I was not willing to wait and see if ours would. I got out, moving with difficulty and had the kids get out, looking them over as they left. Our little boy was bleeding on his lips. I took the edge of his shirt to wipe the blood. Slowly, we climbed the hill and the kids sat on the remaining rail-road tie. By then, my husband had stopped someone on the road who actually had a cell-signal—my phone didn’t—and they called the rescue squad. He also called my sister, an RN.

I looked down at my kids, all crying and shivering in the brisk wind. I took off my coat and wrapped it around the nine year old, wrapped my scarf around the twelve year old. My husband came over and looked at me. We knew how lucky we were,

“It’s good they’re all crying.” He said, “It means they’re all alive.”

“My feet are cold.” My littlest one said. I looked down, he was missing a shoe.

“Mine, too.” The nine year old was missing both of hers.

I noticed my feet were also cold, both of my shoes were gone as well. Where were our shoes? I hobbled back down to the car and found them. I didn’t know you could hit something so hard it would knock your shoes off. One of mine was jammed up under the dashboard where the impact had driven part of the engine into the car. It was a while later that I realized my shin was bleeding and I had a bone-bruise as a result of the engine’s movement.

The EMT’s arrived and put collars on the older four of us and hauled us off in two ambulances on back-boards. The littlest two children seemed to have escaped nearly unscathed, and went home with my RN sister, to be checked out later by our Family doctor.

In the end, we have five cases of whiplash with a lot of pain and stiffness during any kind of movement. My husband was the most gravely hurt with a herniated disc in his lower spine as well as a small laceration to his scalp.

This week, for me, has been a dazed blur, partly due to the combination of pain-killers and muscle relaxers they prescribed for me, mainly due to a kind of numb gratitude. I didn’t know I could feel so grateful. I feel as if I am living in a dream-world, or walking on a cloud. Just the sound of their voices and the sight of my husband and children fills me with an intense, stunned love.

I don’t know why we were so lucky, why all of us were spared. It isn’t easy to total an Expedition. The tree was twelve inches in diameter. We hit with such force, we uprooted it, yet, in essence, we all walked away. I know one day, my name will be called and I will leave this earth to join my maker. I know one day, we will all be called. “Why not now?” is a question that has no answer, yet I can’t help asking.

In the end, I suppose, it just wasn’t our time.

(Photo by Nataraja Bertram)


Clarke Crutchfield said...

Hi, Lakshmi, I'm sorry this happened but I'm glad you're all recovering. Everybody take it easy for awhile! Thanks for sharing this account. Take care!

el poquito said...

Oh my gosh Lakshmi,

You all have been through much more than I realized.

I hope you all can get the much needed rest and recovery from being tossed all about. Times like this, the focus gets sharper, colors more intense, life more precious, eh?

And you're here to tell the tale.

Take care, go slow...

lakshmi said...

They revoked my permission to return back to work today. I'm not complaining. All the kids are home, too, and it just feels like a good thing. Slow is our only option, Ed. :> Life in focus is beautiful.

Thanks for the well-wishes. It helped to write the whole thing down. I imagine you know that as well as I do.

Sraddha Van Dyke said...

You all stayed home?? GOOD FOR YOU!
i hope you're all snuggling like puppies, staying warm and feeling very, very loved.

John Saunders said...

"Bump in the Road" amazes me.
So glad that all af our are able
to recover. Lackshmi. Your gift
for sharing reaches my heart.
This is my very first visit to
Grace Elizabeth's Listserve.
Thank you for being very much alive. Many hugs from
John Saunders

John Saunders said...

Lakshmi. Are all of you doing well? I hope so! Your story
about Colorado and your sister
pulled out of the frozen pond
by a truck terrifies me. How is
your sister? Maybe the two of you
will skate in Colorado one day.
Lackshmi. If you were to write
your memoirs --- that would make
for an extraordinary book! When
will that happen? Please do it!
Hugs from John Saunders

lakshmi said...

Hi John,
I'm not usually so absent from the web but whiplash will do that for you. Thanks for all the great comments. I may write a memoir. It seems like a fun project. I have been, literally, dreaming about writing my non-fiction book--but that is as far as it's gone. I have all this energy to put into it, but my back won't quite let me work on it. It's wonderful to get to know you more--I recognize you from Luis' blog as well.
Many blessings,