It’s surprising how many clients have expressed guilt for coming to therapy because they shouldn’t…
I have a very personal connection to the world of Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVA). Like up-close and personal. And when I think back to my time living in that world of hurt and fear, I wish that I had known then what I know now. My goal with this blog and the ones following is to share my story with you, and talk a bit about the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
How Did I Get Here??
Like you would expect from any late night in February in Ottawa, it was really friggin’ cold. Like “cold-as-I’ve-ever-been” cold. I’m standing outside of my high school after hours, thankful to be done with the busy day. I’ve just finished working the door at our school’s annual talent show and I was feeling top-notch. I’d spent the evening hanging out with friends, taking tickets and handing out fliers, and watching my classmates perform a variety of fun and embarrassing skits. It was a great, if not long day. You could say my life was about as normal as it gets at this point. School, friends, girlfriend, a handful of school activities on the go. Just a normal teenager doing normal teenager things.
Standing in front of the school, I wave goodbye to the last few stragglers getting into cars or heading off on foot towards homes and families. I’m waiting for a bus that I was starting to be sure was never going to arrive. Sometimes buses run late, but this just felt different. I’d already waited long enough for 2 scheduled buses to have arrived but no luck. I begin to question myself. “Did I miss it? Is it possible I didn’t see it somehow?” “Can busses really be that sneaky?” I wonder to myself. I’m now picturing this bus creeping along quietly and slowly, like it was just waiting for me to leave my post at the stop, avert my eyes if you will, so that it could sneak past me like an enemy soldier crossing sentry lines undetected.
“Where the heck is this damn thing?” This bus was now long past overdue and I’m starting to think it would be a while before this night was over after all.
One thing about me you may or may not already know is that when I’m cold, I turn into a very Grumpy Gus. No amount of warm sweaters will help that fact. I’ll do just about anything to warm up again: it becomes the only goal.
So, having convinced myself that my normal bus was not going to be coming anytime soon, and that I’d surely perish from the cold if I had to wait another minute, I decided to do something drastically out of character. I got on a different bus and headed for home. I’m such a creature of habit you guys that deciding on the fly to just take a new route home would have been something I’d normally never have even considered. I’m STILL very much a habitual dude and even to this day the idea of taking a new route home seems like an absolutely bonkers idea. I’m pretty sure 1997 me would concur.
But I digress.
At this point I’m ¾ dead from exposure and frostbite and hypothermia (in my mind anyway) so getting on this bus was going to save me from certain death. Up the steps I go, show the driver my pass and head straight for the back. I figure it’ll be about a 25-35 minutes before I’m home.
So here I am on this new-to-me bus route, making my way through the neighborhoods between my school and my home. I remember being anxious to get home – I was tired as hell from having spent the past 14 hours at school. I was late calling my girlfriend (big trouble!) and because it’s 1997 and not everyone had a cell phone, I had to get home to use the landline. Hopefully dad isn’t using the modem. (I cannot tell you how weird it feels to type that sentence..)
And, perhaps most concerning to me, I had stolen a pair of my brother’s army pants and a sweatshirt to wear to the school talent show that day.
I looked good man. I don’t know if you know, but army pants and a hoodie was practically the height of fashion in 1997.
I looked cool as a cucumber in those clothes. But they were “borrowed” and If he caught me, my brother was probably going to kick my butt over it. There are few rules more rigorously upheld in my household than the “don’t touch my sh*t” rule.
As my stop is approaching, I stand up and make my way to the rear. I reach over and tug on the chord, look back over my shoulder and say “Thanks” to the driver, push open the doors and step down to the curb. It’s still cold, but I’m a 5 minute walk from home. I’m almost in the clear.
These next few seconds are going to be critical. In the years after that cold night in February, many aspects of my whole self will undergo a gradual transformation. Self image, self confidence, sense of security, trust, decision making. Just a few things about me that will abandon me from time to time, for a time. Some of these things are still elusive to me , smashed to smithereens by 4500 lbs of metal and glass, and rubber.
Getting Caught In The Headlights
I’m not normally the kind of guy who has tons of regrets. That being said, if I could ever hit rewind on life, this would be the spot I’d likely go back to. I’ve spent countless hours since that moment replaying the events of the following seconds over and over in my head. What if I had turned left when I got off the bus instead of right? What if I had just waited for the other bus after all? What if the driver in the minivan cruising up the street wasn’t driving drunk?
I remember vividly the sound of the unseen engine filling my ears and then a massive crack, like the sound of a lightning strike when it touches down nearby. Then, a stillness even. My vision swirls, it fades in and out, pulsing with my heartbeat. I can’t breathe, I’ve forgotten how to somehow. I feel like I’m going to throw up worse than that time I downed a mickey of Dr. McGillicuddy’s Peach Schnapps. (Teens sometimes make bad choices, m’kay?)
I can’t make sense of where I am. Everything is wrong. My whole body is screaming, “Alert! Alert!” but I can’t comprehend the message just yet. I just feel pulverized.
After several moments, my eyes slowly start to come back into focus. It’s like a thin layer of gauze slowly being peeled off of my eyes. My sight returns slowly, working its way from outer edges of my periphery back to the center. I find myself on my back, in the middle of the road, in the snow. I knew that this was unusual to say the least.
I vaguely remember some distant chatter flitting through the air but it seemed at the time to be really quite far away, and in no language I could understand.
“What am I doing here?” I think to myself, unable to comprehend why on earth I would be lying down in the middle of the road, in the middle of winter. Odd.
Fair warning, what happens next may be too graphic for some readers, it was certainly too graphic for me at the time.
Now whether it was instinct or if I’d come out of the fog enough to make the decision I can’t be sure. Either way, I decide that I should probably get moving. People aren’t meant to lie in the streets after all. So I start to sit up and rock back so that I can get my feet under me as I go to stand up. My left leg does what I ask without question. He’s been my rock ever since. The right leg however, folds like a bad poker hand. Down I go. Suddenly I’m on my back again with my legs in the air and thinking to myself “That’s weird? Why does my right leg have two knee joints?”
I really can’t describe the confusion of sitting in the snow and noticing that your leg can now bend at 90 degrees between the knee and ankle. It’s almost like an optical illusion. You just cannot wrap your brain around it no matter how long you stare at it. I wasn’t able to believe what my eyes were showing me, it didn’t seem real. And man was it scary.
Ok, This Is Bad Right?
It was around this time that I started to freak out. I mean, this looked bad right? I’d never had (nor wanted) the opportunity to get a look at the inside of my own leg before, but now there it was. And I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty gross. It took me a while to look at meat the same way after that. I’ll never forget how white the bones looked, or how sharp they appeared to me, sticking out through the now torn up mess that was my brother’s favorite army pants. (Sorry Andrew!).
While I don’t specifically remember blacking out, I know I must have. I remember opening up my eyes and seeing people kneeling around me, shushing me, telling me to lay still. Someone had draped a blanket over me as well. I think I held a stranger’s hand. I was right, this night was far from over. Soon, the sounds of sirens announced themselves in the distance. Their volume increasing by the moment. I know that they are meant for me.
The ambulance definitely got there faster than that bus though.
Part 2 coming soon!
In part 2, I’ll talk a bit about the medical side of the tale and the commencement of my recovery. Thanks for reading!