My life hasn’t taken the most linear path. I tend to swirl around and see what direction life points me. For the most part, I trust that I am paying attention to what the universe is telling me and that I will go in the right direction. I had been thinking for awhile (eight years to be exact) about traveling to animal sanctuaries and producing artwork based on the animals I met. In the spring of 2018, I started to think more seriously and began looking into resources to make it work. My timeline was a few years off and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could actually make it my reality.
On August 20, 2018 I was driving home from work in California on the 101 South. It was rush hour and there is a particular part of the highway that predictably comes to a standstill. As usual traffic was stopped. I either came to a stop or was going 5-10 miles an hour. Sitting in my car, I felt a huge hit from behind. I may have said it out loud “Oh wow, that was such a hard hit!” “Why am I spinning?” I was going in circles and headed for the median. “Please, please, please, don’t let me go over the median” I was in 3 lanes of traffic and there were 2 lanes of heavy traffic on the other side of the highway, and I was also on an overpass. There was slight relief when I bounced off, but then I was speeding straight for a semi-truck. I had three distinct thoughts. I’m still amazed that I had so many thoughts in such a short time and that I actually remember them. “I should turn the wheel, I should go in a different direction.” When that did nothing whatsoever, “well, I am not going to survive this, I guess this is the end.” The airbag didn’t deploy when I was hit from behind or bounced off the median. My last thought was, “I didn’t get to do my travel animal project.” I felt an overwhelming disappointment as I accepted the inevitable. I wasn’t ready to die, yet there was nothing I could do to change my circumstances.
I may have blacked out when the airbag hit my face. I don’t remember it hitting me. I remember confusion and the smell of smoke, gas, and fumes from the airbag. I felt stinging in my face, head and chest. I was really scared. The truck driver came running towards me and opened my door, asking if I was OK. I told him I didn’t know, that I was scared and asked if he could help me get out of the car. The front of my car was lodged under his truck and I hit it straight in the gas tank. It was hard to breathe, it smelled so bad. He didn’t think I should be moved so he ran back to call 911.
As the truck driver ran back, I saw another man running towards me pulling on a pair of purple gloves. Later I would learn his name was Randy, an off duty EMT who was driving behind me at the time of the accident. He was very calming, soft spoken, and kind. He was asking me if I knew my name, what year it was, and who was president (that I knew). I felt relief being able to answer his questions. Someone else ran up and said there was gas and I should get out. I started to panic. Randy asked if I thought I could walk. I had no idea, but I hoped I could. I turned in my seat and put my feet on the ground and realized my shoes were gone. GONE. The tennis shoes that were tied on my feet were gone. I asked where my shoes were but Randy didn’t seem to care as much that they were missing as I did. (Apparently in a high impact crash, it’s not uncommon for shoes to fly off — its a physics puzzle I don’t understand.) A few people helped me to the side of the highway and I immediately went into shock. I was shaking uncontrollably, very scared, and in pain. I asked Randy if my face was broken because it really stung and my lips were swelling to where I almost couldn’t talk. He said it was fine and later I learned that my nose was indeed broken. I’m guessing part of his training is to give calm reassurance and let the rest get sorted later. It was exactly what I needed at the time.
It turns out the semi-truck that I hit actually hit me first. Another physics puzzle that I don’t fully understand. The truck driver seemed so sad and I don’t remember feeling mad at him. I later learned he had been on his cell phone just before the crash and didn’t see that traffic had stopped. The policeman told me that if he hadn’t swerved at the very last second, hitting the back corner of my car which alleviated some of the impact, that he would have been writing a much different report that day. It gives me chills to think about how close it was to the end.
All things considered, I was extremely lucky for being hit by a semi-truck. I had a traumatic brain injury, a broken nose, and a lot of cuts and airbag burns and bruises. The brain injury was the scary part. I started forgetting things and couldn’t think clearly or quickly. It was a long healing process and thankfully I am feeling mostly back to normal. I still have lingering anxiety when it comes to being in a car and driving. Coincidentally, my dad died about 20 years ago in a car accident with a semi, which makes the possibility and probability of death in a car seem more likely.
This was my wakeup call. I could have died with my last thought being of regret for the path I didn’t take. I could have died without the chance to do what I really wanted. I took this as a clear sign to make some changes. After my head injury started to subside and the doctor appointments lessened, I was able to think more clearly and I started taking steps to make my dreams into my reality. It may have taken a life-changing event to get started, and is still a work in progress, but it feels right. It sometimes feels like I’m living on borrowed time and I want to make the most of it. I now use my own unique set of skills to make a difference in the world. Thanks for joining me on this journey.