Traveling Violation

(Click on image to enlarge)

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.

(Click on image to enlarge)

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.


  1. Holy bovine, Phil! I only just skimmed this (having flipped quickly over from your FB mention, where, by the way, I virtually never comment because most of the time your posts are “public” and I try like the devil to avoid that darn ticker thing!) and will have to go back for a closer read, but gosh, I’m glad you’re OK! Will have more to say about all of the above later, but I’m glad you’re back to the blog!!!

    Take care of yourself!!!!

  2. Lynn:

    Great story. You should send it to Apple (or walk into a local store with it). It’s good advertising.

  3. Phil:

    Carroll - I’m not sure how to satisfy your concerns on FB. I suspect that even if I figured out something, the security would change and we’d be there bare-assed in front of God and everybody yet again. I just strive to be amiable and non-controversial and pose, mendaciously, as an all-around good guy. You know better, and you’re wise to be cautious. Thanks for the comment, and I’m determined to channel more energy to substantive writing and maybe a little less to microblogging.

    Lynn - Thanks! Miraculously (and not at all, as far as the insurance company is concerned), that Macbook runs fine with an external monitor, and Mrs. Perils is freed from Windows Weirdness, or at least the limitations of the aging Dell computer she was using before. That said, I don’t think the Apple propaganda machine needs my paltry impetus.

  4. Somebody in Canada (where they tailgate like the dickins) once told me he didn’t understand why people tailgated. He said, when you tailgate you put your life in that person’s hands, and lose all your choices.

    I think you could substitute “drive” for “tailgate”.

    It’s good to see you blogging. Now I’m gonna have to start up again.

  5. You really are lucky that you came away mostly unharmed. That was quite an accident. Your last paragraph should be required reading in a driver’s manual. Seriously.

  6. Every time I start to think I might have a future as a writer, something like this post comes along to force me to acknowledge that I have neither the wit nor the talent to write anything that’s even remotely good as what I’ve just read. Thank you for dashing my hopes and dreams. Now I will slink off to live out the remainder of my geezerhood a defeated man. Thanks again for the reality check. But wait, maybe I could write better if I were in an accident…no, it’s probably best to just accept my natural-born limitations.

  7. Bill:

    Phil, You are a great writer! Ditto on the “your should publish….”

    During a two week period that included your wreck, I know of six such wrecks. One of them was my son on I-5 just north of Marysville, and another was my girlfriend, Linda, during the 5pm commute on I-5 in Everett. Linda had a few small aches and pains for a couple of days, but my son, Chris, broke a rib and was in pain for weeks to come. Both cars were totalled. One of them was my 2010 Toyota Camry that I loved. I have since replaced it with a 2011 Toyota Camry. Consequently, all three of us have been avoiding the freeway when possible.

    I am glad that you have recovered. Congratulations on the air conditioning and the new car!

  8. Phil:

    Thanks, all! Teresa, do it! I always liked your fireant entries. John, I like your passionate posts; you could be the successor to the dearly-departed Grumpy Old Man. Bill, my band director was also rear-ended in Everett that week.

    I’ve spent the last 5 years or so as a frequent flyer on a crowded and frustrating bridge here, Rt 520 over Lake Washington. My philosophy was framed in terms of real estate and not traffic flow (forget safety): because we’ll only get home if every square foot of this bridge is filled all the time, it’s our highest civic duty to follow as closely as possible to the guy in front of us, and I practiced that assiduously. I found myself thinking that cautious driving behaviors should be relegated to the 10 am to 3 pm time frame. I’m not sure, caught in that mess again, if I’d feel differently watching the guy in front of me chronically try to put space between him and the next driver while opportunists kept whipping in front of him, delaying me. ME!!! Because I’m the one who’s important in this collective experience.

  9. OK. I did it. And Swinburn’s been shamed into it too. ;-)

  10. Ginger:

    I missed these exciting adventures some how so I am glad you reposted. It comes back for a few years, those types of accidents, and reminds us to be careful out there. Then it just comes occasionally - you forget until something reminds you of the experience.

    You know my only accident was in 1974 when I turned in front of a HUGE red truck. I watch out for those now. (Grin). I wonder how long a car thieft will last. Just don’t let me hear anything about that car now I want to remember the day I received it in peace.

  11. Barb Willock:

    Your story is ’so Philbin,’ says George after I read it to him in its entirety … Aren’t you getting too old to drive now? Shouldn’t someone take your car keys away?

    Good to know you lived to tell the tale, though. Pretty scary stuff!

Leave a comment