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I had a little automotive adventure in June that went something like this: I was driving home from a client’s on Aurora Avenue when someone came to a dead stop in front of me. I stopped a couple of feet behind them, then tick…tick…tick…tick…BANG! Someone plowed into me from behind, jamming me into the car in front of me (and involving two more cars ahead of us).
I’m pretty sure I didn’t lose consciousness; the first thing I remember after the impact is the acrid smell of the airbags and my reflection in the rear-view mirror with blood oozing out of my nose. I was hyperventilating a little and chanting holyfuckholyfuckholyfuck. This confirmed my long-held suspicion that I would die with a bolus of filthy language dripping off my tongue. Unless you count what I was saying as prayer. I’ve heard, and uttered, worse.
In the ensuing moments, the car would settle a bit, startling me with a feeling that I’d been hit again. I tried my door, thinking perhaps I should get out of the car in case it caught fire, but the door wouldn’t budge. I found my phone and thought about 911, but figured that would have already been massively covered, so I dialed Mrs. Perils:
“Well, I just got rear-ended on Aurora, so I think I’ll be a little late.” It was a Tuesday, and we had band practice.
“So where are you?”
“Somewhere between the Battery Street tunnel and the Aurora Bridge.”
Then sirens started in the background and got louder and louder. “I have to go now, the ambulance is here,” and I hung up. In hindsight, I probably could have handled that better.
A first responder entered the car through the passenger door and started asking me about my injuries (my shins hurt a lot, my nose was tender and bleeding fitfully and my left side, where the shoulder strap dug in, hurt quite a bit). He also asked a bunch of “who’s your daddy” questions to ascertain if I’d had a concussion. Meanwhile, someone had managed to pry my driver’s-side door open with a screech and a clunk, and they proceeded to move me gingerly onto a gurney and strapped my limbs onto it, saying they were taking me to Harborview, the go-to trauma hospital in Washington. I insisted that they grab my backpack from the car that contained my laptop and, within it, my entire terrestrial essence. The first responder handed me off to the ambulance EMT, and thus began my VIP ride to Harborview.
As the ambulance started to roll, I received perhaps my most traumatic unpleasantness: they stuck an IV into my arm. I hate needles, and I fucking hate IVs, but I wasn’t arguing. They asked me again to recount my injuries (shins, abdominal pain, nose obviously malfunctioning), and posed more riddles designed to detect concussion: “How old are you?” “63. No, 62″ and, chagrined by my error, especially the rounding-up part, I recited my birthdate just to prove I had a tenuous grip on the facts. “Oh, wow!”, he said, and I decided to take that as a compliment instead of a negative commentary on my condition. Later, I learned that my accident had made the TV newsreels, with photos of my car that some of my co-workers were shocked to recognize, accompanied by something like the hospitalization of “a man in his 60s”. Ouch, dude, that (sounds) harsh.
Meanwhile, I believe the EMTs were concerned that my legs might be broken, or at least need attention, and they broke out a pair of scissors and, without unstrapping me, cut off my jeans. I was startled - it’s been a while since someone was that anxious to get my pants off. Then, at some point, they were either making a CYA recording or talking to the Harborview ER people, and the guy said, “he’s mentating well.” Mentating? Did the collision somehow activate heretofore dormant ovaries?
We arrived at Harborview, and there was a flurry of activity as they attached monitors, asked more questions and determined where I was at on the live-or-die scale. Then I spent long expanses of time just lying there. Meanwhile, someone who identified herself as a “social worker” called Mrs. Perils and told her how and where I was. In retrospect, this sounds like a great way to do things, rather than have a harried ER doc contact the either concerned or bereaved. Mrs. Perils and our son then set out for Harborview.
Meanwhile, someone had come in and asked if I had health insurance, and I gave him my Group Health card and explained that auto insurance would most likely be paying the bill. Not everyone must have gotten that memo, because a while later, a woman came by and said she was a “financial counselor”. She understood that I did not have health insurance, and was there to discuss my options. There I was, half-fucking-naked and bleeding from the shins and nose. Wasn’t there a more appropriate time for this discussion? I told her about the previous guy’s visit, and she moved on to more fruitful venues to apply her expertise.
A while later, I still was worried by my abdominal pain, more so than the stuff that was bleeding, and they decided to do a CT scan, and off I went to the Magic Donut. They said it was a borderline call, but I was happy to know that I had no internal injuries, and I only evince a soft glow now when the lights are out. About 5 1/2 hours after I arrived at the ER, they handed me a bottle of Ibuprofen and a tube of antibacterial ointment for my shins and sent me home.
I’m not sure why, but I just drove myself to a state of normalcy. I missed a day and a half of work, and two days of trumpet practice (because I wasn’t sure how much pressure would start blood gushing out of my nose again). But on the following Saturday I showed up and marched with Rainbow City Band in the Fremont Solstice Parade, we went to Ashland as scheduled, and my aches and pains have slowly dissipated.
Things are almost back to normal now. It turned out that my laptop got sorta-pretzeled while careening around my back seat. It still booted, but the screen was toast. I was able to extract my data and port it to a new Macbook.
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I’ve missed a bunch of kayaking because my racks were sent with my 95 Accord to a junkyard 50 miles north of here that’s only open 8 - 5 M-F, and I haven’t been able to retrieve them. After dithering for several weeks, I finally focused myself enough to find a car to buy on Craigslist, and so far I’m really happy with it. For one thing, it’s the first car I’ve owned that has air conditioning that works.
So, did this experience involve any life-changing epiphanies? Do I, as a result, cherish life, live every day as if it’s my last, post daily pictures of cute kittens to Facebook? Sorta, but not really. I find myself not following people as closely as I used to when I’m driving, and I simply will not answer my phone in the car. But mostly, I’m the same driver and the same guy. It is tempting to think that, now I’ve had my accident, I’m somehow innoculated and safe from harm for another 10 years or so, like a tetanus shot or a colonoscopy, but on a cerebral level I know the same thing could happen tomorrow. Driving has become less of a virtual activity; I know now that I’m actually in the car, and not operating it from some remote location divorced from the physical consequences of mishaps. Most of the time.