Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crash Report : Alive to Write About it, Thankfully!

I am thankful to even be writing today's Gluten-Free Blog. Sorry, no recipes this time...

Last evening was the first significant car accident I have been in. And, it is as close to death as I am ready to come for a LONG time. Til now, the worst motor vehicle incident I can remember being in was a few years back when we were parked at a stop light and the poor old man in line ahead of us accidentally put the car in reverse and slowly backed into us, causing hardly any damage, and absolutely no fear.

This time was quite different,... it caused fear, and it happened so quickly.

Our daughter just returned home from College on Friday, and barely 24 hours later my wife, daughter, and I all decided to do our consolidated shopping together at CostCo and Trader Joes. It was snowing some on the East side of Cleveland where the stores were located, but the snowing had abated completely on the return trip by the time we were heading Westbound on Interstate-480.

In fact, the roads were so clear that I couldn't help thinking, as I saw a snowplow in the rightmost lane 1/4 mile ahead of us, how there was not much of anything for it to really do, aside from applying salt to the surfaces (it was 25 degrees out), until the snow started in this area. Our lane was nearly completely clear of any evidence of recent snowfall with pavement being the only thing to be seen as the semi-sparse weekend evening traffic was steady at 50-55MPH.

But, only a few moments later, though driving with my usual defensive manner and leaving a huge amount of room in front of and behind us, I learned how quickly cautious driving methods can still be destroyed by variables outside my control.

I have a rather clear recollection of what transpired, though the times involved are mere seconds. In a lane or two over to our right side, and just a bit forward from us, an SUV suddenly just apparently lost control and started shimmying and swerving.

Perhaps the SUV driver hit some "black ice", or a similar slick spot and simply panicked or over corrected, perhaps they were distracted by something and made a driving error, I do not know... but regardless of the reason, they soon were entering into a sideways slide. At first, though their car was in the process of turning sideways, it remained to our right and in their lane, sliding in a forward direction. But, the situations was quickly changing as the SUV gained traction, with it now sliding into an arc-shaped path that was drawing it left rapidly.

It was clear the SUV was sliding on an intercept course that would place it immediately in front of our car soon. This happened incredibly quickly. One minute everything was just a normal day on the highway, the next, our lives were in danger!

In what seemed like no time, that SUV previously positioned to our side and right was quickly ending up in a semi-diagonal sliding course that was taking it directly in front of our car. And, of course, a concrete median-barrier was to my left as this sliding SUV approached from the right. All my years of driving experience were tested, and did my best not to lock the wheels or panic, and instead to try to minimize the angle of intersection, and potential impact, with the SUV while not smashing into the concrete wall to my left.

For a moment, it seemed that our car might just slow enough and be able to move enough left and back, relative to the SUV's path, in time to allow the SUV to slide barely past us and across our lane in front of us. But, as split seconds passed, the likely outcome was being rendered differently and a much worse outcome was becoming inevitable. I remember telling my wife and daughter quite calmly, as the space between vehicles was quickly being reduced to zero, something to the effect that "this is going to be bad", and that I loved them.

The next thing I recall is how that dark (probably black) SUV was suddenly white in my vision, as our headlights were essentially at zero-distance from the side of the other vehicle.

And then was the impact... the jarring, jolting bang... the not knowing if we were going to live or die... and, then the momentary disoriented feeling as our car entered into a fast counterclockwise spin induced by the SUV hitting us askew on the front-right corner as its own path was taking it diagonally toward the median (which, later, after my senses were focused again, I noticed the luck of the SUV driver, when I saw how that concrete center-barrier had just ended a few yards earlier - and they ended up in a grass center region, unhurt from what we were later told).

We were now spinning...

I realized my seat belt had saved my life as I was not stuck to the windshield, and I attempted to apply everything I learned for controlling a spin, which I found was rather different in the midst of 4 lanes of continued traffic flow - lanes that our spin was taking us into and through. Then came a quick wave of fear... fear that there would be a domino-effect of a pileup with other vehicles on the highway, with us getting bounced around by repeated vehicle impacts. After what I believe was just 540-degrees of rotation (a full spin and a half), our car was now facing the oncoming headlights of drivers going in the same direction we were originally going.

The engine was off now - it had just "died" somewhere in the collision. I had brought the car to a stop. Some cars still zipped by us, some beeped as they zipped by, and I could see more headlights approaching us as we were stationary in the middle of this multi-lane highway.

A quick survey among each other in the car started: "are you OK,... are you all right... is anyone hurt?"... the questions echoing, along with relieving answers of "I think so", "I believe so", and so on, as I began flashing the headlights, between the high and low beams, at oncoming cars to warn people that there was a car stopped, facing them, right in front of them, in the middle of a 60MPH-zone highway (I figured they would think I was perhaps a police vehicle from a distance, and heed the warning). That finally held enough other drivers off long enough for my wife to activate the hazard lights and for me to see if the engine would restart.

Luckily, the engine did start and what remained of our trusty car, which just took rather a beating, allowed me to drive it, slowly and with some mechanical metal-rubbing and tire-rubbing noises, to the right-hand median and turn to face the direction of traffic; all the while plenty of impatient people were STILL flying by us at what appeared to be "normal" speed. Even after getting all the way off to the right side (against a guard-rail), traffic entering the highway from behind us (we were just past an on-ramp loop) continued to fly by to our left beeping and such.

Witnessing the action of other drivers going past us was a bit surreal, and hard to understand from our vantage point as we sat parked. Sure, they didn't know my pulse felt like it was 200, that my respiration rate was abnormal, and that I nearly felt like passing out from the adrenalin coursing through my body, or that me and my entire family were nearly just killed... they just knew a car was in the right median lane with their hazard lights on. So, beep they must I guess.

We finally had time to assess our condition a bit more, and it still seemed we had escaped essentially unharmed. I found myself amazed, and/or shocked a bit considering the force of that impact. None of our airbags (neither front nor side) deployed, which told me that we were lucky enough to have reduced the impact-speed (difference between our car's speed and the SUV's speed) to probably not more than 15MPH. The front corner of the car was clearly mangled, but we were OK. I can not even imagine the force of a higher-speed impact - this was plenty!

Then we start thinking "now what do we do, and are we really OK?" Strangely, after not owning a cell phone for years, my wife had just picked one up a couple weeks earlier (one of those "short-term" Virgin Mobile units) for a business trip to Illinois, and still had it in her purse. We turned it on and dialed 911, and after trying to figure out where we were exactly, were transferred to local police that, though quite pleasant and helpful, took between 30 and 40 minutes to arrive on the scene; with a tow truck taking another 1/2 hour thereafter. Thankfully, during that wait time, we contacted a friend of the family that lived only 20 minutes away and was able to come get us after we had our first ride in a police car - to a station just 5 minutes away.

Thankful to be Alive!

In what seems like a miracle to me still, we apparently suffered no major injuries aside and were just banged around the car and jolted about, with some bumps and bruises. In fact, a few minutes after the crash, as we were taking our health-inventory, it seemed strange that aside from some feelings of anxiety and shock, that there was not much noticeable physical pain. Well, that did not last too long, as within an hour or two the widespread muscle pain and tightness started, especially in our backs,... and impact pains where the seat belts had focused the force of our weight-restraining efforts. I did not have any physical impact with the car interior, though my wife and daughter had less fortune, even with seatbelts on, as they were on the side of the impact and were banged against the door interiors and such, and will certainly have some bruising or tender areas for a while.

The shock of the experience was more than any of us cared for or ever want to experience again. It all still feels a bit surreal to me, and I am hopeful that writing about this will clear my mind a bit.

Most importantly though: I am glad to be alive, and to know that my family was not significantly injured. There was no blood, no loss of life or limb.

It was a good day! Well, surely it was better than some alternatives we flirted closely with! After seeing the doctors at the hospital later in the evening, and being prescribed Motrin to help with the muscle pains, and being advised to just take it easy for a while and expect the pain to be worse in the morning,... I just have to say that if muscle pain and a few bruises are the limit of the trauma, we all feel extremely lucky and are thankful to alive and be here to say so.

I generally do not care about the car, though I admit I am a bit miffed, as it was our first new car purchase in over a dozen years when we bought it just a year earlier. The car had only 5,000 miles on it. I would have preferred that my 100,000+ mile old car had been the one to get hit, but again, it is all rather irrelevant compared to personal health and well being. I can replace a car. The car's post-accident condition was a fair trade for a positive outcome and for our safety!

For everyone else that has experienced an accident first hand, I can say "wow! I never knew." In fact, given that we have few injuries, I still only partially know. And, I am sorry anyone has to experience such a scary thing!

Please try to drive safely and defensivley everyone,... I know I will... in fact, I will be driving with near paranoid-caution for a while I suspect. Now it is time to go stretch and see if I can get these muscles loosened up a bit.


~M said...

We're glad you and your family are OK! Your accident sounds so scary!

melanie said...

Thank God you are all ok. What a scary scary experience. Thanks for sharing that Mike.

blessings to you and your family.

Gaile said...

Wow Mike!!! So relieved to hear you and your family are okay. Do get the airbags on your new car looked at though - they should have deployed - hopefully it is still under warranty. Oh, and buy a lottery ticket - you got lucky!!

mare said...

Glad that you and your family are relatively unscathed and hope the occupants of the other vehicle were as fortunate.

Be careful everyone!

Anonymous said...

First time reading your blog and am very glad you and your family are ok.

Emily said...

Wow! I'm sorry you had to go through that. Good to hear that everyone is mostly OK though. Winter driving always makes me a little nervous!

Lynn Barry said...

I am glad you and your family are dine. I hear ya though...sad about the vehicle, but again GLAD YOU ARE OKAY. HUGS

Linds said...

Wow! Glad you are okay and amazing how you were able to keep your thoughts straight through it all and think about your defensive driving!

Stacey said...

I'm glad everyone is okay.

Shirley said...

So glad you are all okay. Having been in a couple of accidents before (four actually), it happens quickly, but yet almost in slow motion in a way (for me anyway). And, you're right, it's amazing how beat up and sore you can be afterwards even with bruises and other minor stuff. Again, so very glad you are all okay!!

Mike Eberhart said...

Thanks everyone for the well wishes and all. Gaile's idea of playing the lottery sounded OK to, but I figure I already won the lotto just by emerging alive with my family, and that is all the winning I need.

I have been rather inactive on the blog now for a few days, as the back and neck pain has increased, and is making me less than motivated to sit and work at the computer.

I thought I would be "tough" and not have any substantial pain, but wow... it just gets worse, and it seems that there is little I can do about it but accept it and work through it. After intense headache and neck pain a couple nights ago, I revisited the doctors... official diagnosis: whiplash. And here I thought that whiplash was *just* the neck and only if you get rear-ended. So, tylenol, ibuprofin, and even vicodin (for flare ups) was prescribed as I was told to expect this to last 1 to 3 weeks or more. Lovely! (not!)

And, my wife and daughter are experiencing some of the same symptoms. I am just hoping this eases up before the holidays, and simply goes away.

Again, thanks for stopping by and wishing us the best. Appreciated.

Cathy | Strawberries said...

Wow! So glad you are okay! We were in an accident too about 10 years ago and I'll never forget it - and there were no big injuries either. A few days in hospital for observation, therapy, etc. But absolutely nothing permanent. I chuckled at the paranoid - driving... What are you? Psychic? :)

Thanks for posting!

Phoebe said...

I was in my first car accident 5 days after you, and have had similar symptoms. I went to one "regular" doctor, and the diagnosis was "mild whiplash". Take some anti-inflammatories and come back in a week. Here is what I've paid for out of my pocket - well worth it:

2 acupuncture treatments, one luckily a couple of hours after the accident

2 rolfing sessions; a type of deep tissue massage

1 hip/spinal adjustment; hope to get more; my hip was raised from the force of the impact going through my right leg from being on the brake.

1 trauma therapy session; fascinating!

Sitting at the computer is definitely the worst. I get intermittent numbness in my face, but it's getting better. The more active I am, the better it seems to be for me.

Hope you find some relief soon!