New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is always melancholy for me. It’s the arbitrary end of the year, which can be a mixed blessing. More importantly, it’s the anniversary of my car accident – 24 years ago tonight. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

The facts are simple: we exited the Brooklyn Bridge, the exit ramp is sharp and short, and we slipped on a patch of ice. The car slid and we ran head-first into the concrete bridge footing. The emotional memory is far more complex. I had gone to NYC to spend New Year’s with my boyfriend. Being young, in college, and possibly a little hypomanic, this seemed like a good idea at the time. So did the idea of hopping into a SUV with four boys to see the ball come down in Times Square. “Bad weather” doesn’t mean much to a teenager. Life is a cruel teacher.

I don’t remember everything. They thought I might have hit my head. My two front teeth were never found. But I remember the last few moments before impact. They say that in situations like this that your life flashes before your eyes. Bullshit. Time slows down. Your brain registers every nanosecond. And you think really stupid things. One minute you are laughing and talking, the next your brain is calculating. See bridge footing. Check. Impact imminent. Check. Bridge footing getting closer. Check. Am I supposed to relax my muscles or brace for impact? Time’s up.

My next conscious memory is of the paramedics ripping the door open. Strong arms beneath my armpits dragging me across the frozen grass.  I couldn’t feel anything. Shock can be a blessing.  I recall watching my legs bounce along the grass.  My left leg was on the opposite side of my right.  Something didn’t add up, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I was cold. So cold. They kept asking me how to contact my parents. I recited my brother’s phone number over and over again. Really, I just wanted them to leave me alone and stop asking questions they already knew the answers to. There was a nice lady paramedic who held my hand and talked to me. I don’t remember what she said. I just remember she was nice, I was cold, and I was really sick of repeating my brother’s phone number. I didn’t even like him that much.

Next memory: the ambulance.  Shock started to wear off.  My nerve endings came back to life.  I felt every bump the streets of New York had to offer. I yelled. I cursed.  I asked the driver if he could find anymore fucking potholes to run over. The sound of emergency sirens blazed trails of emotional memory in my brain. Mercifully, the trip finally ended.  They ripped open the back of the ambulance. As the pulled me out, the driver said to me, “Happy New Year.”

The rest of the evening is a blur. (I posted some of this in Donation.) Someone shoved a clipboard under my nose and asked me to sign. It didn’t look like my signature. Was that important?  I was in and out of consciousness. I swore. A lot. Where does it hurt? Fucking everywhere.  Later, it didn’t hurt anywhere.  I couldn’t feel anything below my neck.  That’s when I screamed.

Meanwhile, my parents got a call from the nice paramedic lady.  Five words a parent never wants to hear: “You should go to her.”

I woke up strapped to a board.  One of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever experienced.  You can’t even move your fingers. They couldn’t operate on my leg until the neurologist came to drill holes in my skull for the halo traction. A nurse fed me ice chips while we waited for surgery.  A priest stood by my side all night, ready to give me last rites should I need them.  When my parents arrived, they told them to be prepared.  I only had a 40% chance of surviving surgery and I would never walk again.

Good thing no one ever told me the odds or I might have given up. I don’t know if I would have or not. I am a stubborn S.O.B. And I was hell bent and determined to go back to college.  Eight months and one cane later, I was back in school full time.

Eleven years later, I had my Ph.D.

I never take the easy route.  But you wouldn’t be reading this if I had.

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4 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve

  1. I’m so amazed by you. I really am. You are living, breathing proof that braving the struggle is absolutely worth it. It is inspiring. Your story, your life is enough to make a person want to live their life to the fullest. Thank you for being the incredible woman you are!

    And about the life flashing before your eyes thing – total crap. You’re right, time slows down. That’s how I experienced it anyway. A whole lifetime can fit in five seconds. Were you scared when it happened to you? I mean, during. There’s always a few seconds that pass just before, during, and after an event like this. I’m curious to see how you experienced it.

    And I wish you the happiest of New Years! Many good returns!

  2. Thank you for your kind words. You are pretty incredible yourself! 🙂

    I don’t remember if I was scared. I was young and pretty naive and I had never been in a car accident before so I had no idea what could happen, hence nothing really to fear. (Do teenagers fear anything?) I’ve had near misses since and I was scared for those. But for this accident, I think I was just very logical. This is going to happen. You can’t stop it. Just go through it. I may have said a prayer in there as well. I don’t remember.

    I was terrified when I woke up in CT and couldn’t feel anything. I was terrified when I awoke strapped to the board. I was afraid at various points in the process, like when then put my hip back in its socket (there’s my pain scale 10!) and when they took the halo traction off (no painkiller because the doc forgot) or sometimes at night when I couldn’t sleep.

    While I lay in ICU, I could see the crucifix on the wall. Although I wasn’t very religious (or Catholic), I found it comforting. The priest was very comforting as well and we became friends. I almost wanted to convert just so he could continue to talk to me. I was in the hospital about 6 weeks. Friendly faces were most welcome.

    I don’t know if I answered your question or not. I don’t remember the before or during like I do the after. After the hospital, I had trouble bringing myself to ride in an SUV/truck, concrete anything struck fear in my heart, and I hated being a passenger in any moving vehicle. I got over most of it, but I really don’t like construction concrete – it scares me and I’m always afraid of hitting it. Nor do I like big SUVs – I don’t feel safe in them or around them.

    There’s still a lot of residual PTSD, but it’s gotten better over time. But I don’t expect it to ever go away.

    • I don’t think teenagers ever fear anything. I don’t remember fearing anything at all, because I truly believed that any fear had a remote chance of happening. Hypomanic maybe? Lol. I did a lot of really dangerous things, riding in cars with drunk drivers, strangers, drunk strangers, and any other thing you can think of! And I thank the man upstairs all of the time that I wasn’t one of those girls on the news.

      For me, I never remember the right before. I only recall the vague premise of what I felt. Right before my blood pressure tanked after my epidural, I was spinning and complaining that i was sick. During my overdose, the whole nine hour ordeal was a blur until one moment. Both of those moments were the second that my life came to a screeching near halt. I remember the during. It feels like forever. Both similar, but the difference is when the whole world accelerated back to reality. I was terrified after that moment when I had the overdose. I was confused after that moment with the epidural.

      That moment, maybe five seconds during, is the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced. I was just wondering if you had that too.

  3. Pingback: Bored & Eaten | Manic Monday

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