Sunday, October 28, 2007

Merciful kindness on a rainy day

It was impossible for me to celebrate my birthday yesterday without thinking frequently of my birthday last year. For those of you who have never heard the story, I've finally written it down...

The girls surprised me with a birthday party
about a month later, while I was recovering!
L-R: Leslie, Allison, Mary, Shannon
(Valarie not pictured)

It was Friday, October 27th, 2006 - My twenty-fourth birthday.

I spent the morning hurrying around, trying to finish up some laundry, housework, and packing. I had intended to leave by 11 am, to give myself plenty of time to make it to St Louis to spend the weekend with my friends up there. We had been trying to get together for a long time, and my birthday sounded like the perfect excuse for a weekend with the girls at Allison’s house. They had lots of fun excursions planned around the city for the following days.

My cell phone kept ringing and it seemed that I would never get out of the house. I was heading up a large project of launching a website with some developers the following Monday. The website project had kept me up most of every night for the past two weeks, and kept me busy all day long: writing content, editing, communicating with everyone involved. I was glad to just be leaving it all and go away for a couple of days. Sleep might not be more plentiful, but at least it would be a change of scenery from the computer at 3 am!

As I loaded my car, it was gray and drizzling, and I found myself soaking wet by the time I climbed inside and drove away. It was noon. A few miles from home as I pulled onto the four-lane highway, and headed towards St. Louis, I turned my wipers down. It was hardly raining anymore. Only an occasional spat hit the windows but the sky still looked dark and threatening. “Hmm…” I thought to myself. “I wonder if it will be raining tomorrow. Maybe we’ll have to do indoor stuff instead of see all the places we have planned on.”

As I passed the next small town, I noticed a van in the ditch. It looked like it has spun around and run into a cliff-like stand of rock along the roadside. Less than a mile ahead, a sports car was sitting in the median. “Oh, my!” I thought to myself. “The rain must have caused a lot of accidents.” I tapped my brake lightly to break my cruise, and continued heading east, allowing myself to slow just a bit below the speed limit. As I approached the next gradual hill, I could see through the gray fog, a state highway patrol car on my right. I noticed the lights flashing, and quickly obeyed the “Slow down, move over” slogan. I lightly tapped the brakes again, bringing my speed to about 60 mph and putting on my left turn signal to get in the other lane. I was now going up a hill and the car would naturally slow itself.

No sooner had I decided to move to the left lane when the back end of my car slid out to the right. I could feel myself sliding, zig-zagging across the road, then spinning at a dizzying speed. I remember gritting my teeth and crying out, “Help me, God!” I saw a pickup whiz by a few feet away. I wondered if the guy driving was steering around me spinning in the middle of the highway, or if he just happened to barely miss me. Everything seemed surreal, as I hung onto the wheel and felt myself sliding off the edge of the road into the median; then it seemed as though my head itself made impact with the pickup.

I slowly became aware that it was raining on my face. I opened my eyes in bewilderment, and looked around though what had been my windshield, now an empty hole. On my left was a pickup, the back end smashed in, and beyond that I could make out a gray mini-van pushed into the mound of earth that formed a natural barrier between the other two lanes of the highway. My face felt oddly warm and sticky, and as I touched my cheek, blood coated my hand. I looked down. Blood was on my arms, in my lap, and it was dripping off my face. Glass was everywhere. My head ached so badly it was hard to think, but I knew I must think. Where was I? Why was I here? Why was it raining? Was I in a car accident? Where had I been going anyway?

My partially eaten sandwich was laying on the floor; the pile of papers on the other seat were spattered with blood. I reached for my cell phone, and flipped it open and looked at the date and time. My birthday. Yes, this was my birthday. That’s right. But I couldn’t remember where I had been driving before I was here.

In my stupor, I could see that I couldn’t possibly get out of my car, so I decided that I should just call home and ask Dad to come get me. My little sister answered the phone. I told her I was in a car accident but I was fine and just needed her to tell Dad to come get me out of my car and figure out how to get it towed.

He was right there, eating lunch. Dad got on the phone. “Are you okay?!”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just feel kind of banged up. But if you can come get my car, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

"Okay, where are you?"

I couldn't remember. I didn't want to admit that I didn't know if I was a few minutes or hours from home. I had not idea where I was going when the accident happened. So, I told him about a business I could see from where I was sitting.

"Oh, sure. I know where that is. I'll be right there."

Just then, the highway patrolman walked up and asked if I was okay. I was alarmed that I was so confused, but I wasn’t worried about my pain. So, I told him I was fine except that I didn’t know what had happened. He had watched the whole accident occur from his car on the right side of the road, a few hundred feet back from where I ended up. He seemed pleased that I was conscious, and then told me that he had to run down the hill and try to slow traffic down. “Otherwise,” he panted, “We’ll have more people hitting you. This road's deadly today! But don’t move. Don’t do anything!” he barked. “Your neck might be broken! Don’t try to get out! The ambulance is coming!”

Suddenly I realized that maybe the blood and pain meant something. Maybe I was hurt more than I thought. “But I can still talk. And I just made a phone call.” I assured myself that I was okay and then I again drifted away again to the comfortable land of unconsciousness.

Some time later I became aware of hands pulling back my hair, someone’s perfume, and the rain – annoying rain in my face. The hands were putting a C-collar on me, something we had done to each other in EMT school a couple of years ago. Suddenly I remembered. You put C-collars on people when you think they might have a broken neck! Again I tried to remember what was happening. I heard my sister, Liz, asking, “Mare? Are you okay? You said you weren’t hurt when you called!”

It was too hard to remember things. Why did Liz think I had called? What was she doing here? Then I heard the medics figuring out how to put me on a backboard in the car, and then how to pull me out of the mangled wreck on the backboard. They tugged and pulled, and taped and squeezed, and finally I felt them wheeling me down the road in the rain, to the ambulance.

Then I overheard the first responders, the police officers, the medics, and all of the rest of the people at the scene talking about me and my car.

My car was rather infamous among some of my friends as the “Big white boat”… or the “Old lady car.” It was big and old, but it was dependable and that was all I needed. Sometimes I thought about getting a smaller car that wasn't quite so ancient, but finances never seemed to get me to that place. So I kept driving it. And thank God I did!

Though my mind was fuzzy as they wheeled me to the ambulance, I could clearly hear them saying, “It’s a miracle she was driving that car! If she’d been driving a newer car with more fiberglass and less steel to the body, it’s highly unlikely she would have survived the impact. Just look at how the steel crumpled in right where her head was! Imagine that impact with a modern car!”

As we made the long trip to the hospital, and I fought to remain awake, I kept remembering the impact of the pickup into my head and shoulder, now throbbing viciously… and wondering what would be wrong with me when I arrived at the Emergency Room.

A couple of hours and a few x-rays and stitches later, I was heading home, so painful I felt nauseous, but okay and with no “permanent damage” as the doctor put it. My clavicle (collar bone) was broken, my face was mildly cut up and had glass shards sticking out of it, and my acromio-clavicular (shoulder) joint was torn apart, but would heal with a few months of no lifting or stretching. My head ached like never before for days, and my thinking and memory took several weeks to return to almost normal.

But today I am fine. I am healthy and strong and have regained full range-of-motion in my shoulder. My mind works the same as it did before the wreck, and I haven’t pulled any glass out of my face since last winter.

I’m still thanking God that I drove that “old white boat” or the “steel tank” as we have lovingly called it since. And I’m thankful for His abundant mercy to me on that rainy day last October!

As I turned 25, I found myself with much to be grateful for, not the least of which was just to be alive and well!


mikestahlman said...

Great story, glad you're still around to tell it. I try to remember tales like these in instances like me behind a slow car in an area where I cannot pass. "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." --Rom. 8:28
Oh, and happy birthday!

ASourceOfJoy said...

I enjoyed reading this and hearing more details about your experience, Mary. Wow - so scary, and yet so amazing. God was really looking out for you!! PTL!

Happy birthday again - hope your day was a very special one. :-D

Jessi said...

Okay, I'll be grateful for my big, old car!! :)

Sarah said...

Wow. I didn't realize that that happened on your birthday.

I'm so glad you made it safely through! To God be the glory.