I was in a car accident Friday night. My life did not flash before my eyes, but it’s one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. I was on my way to taiji class, driving on a local road at about 30 mph. I was alert, scanning the road as I drove. As I was passing the entrance to the highway, I saw a blur hurtling at me. I tried to veer away from it and/or brake, but once I realized I was going to get hit, I relaxed. Time slowed down to a crawl, and there was a whistle in my ear. A second later, pain exploded in my chest such as I’d never felt before. For a second, I couldn’t breathe, but I never lost consciousness. Time sped up to normal again, and I was sitting in a pile of smoke with deployed airbags–which is what caused the pain in my chest. There was a burning smell in the air, and all I could think is, “Damn. I’m going to miss taiji class.” Shock does funny things to the brain, don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t. I felt like I was watching the whole thing happen until the airbags hit me, and then I was jolted back into my body.
I was preternaturally calm after it happened. I’ve been known to freak out over the littlest and stupidest thing, but when it comes to a true crisis, I get very calm. Again, it’s probably partly shock, but it’s also the way my brain is wired. All the extraneous bullshit just melts away, leaving my mind focused. I stepped out of the car and heard a very kind passerby asking if everyone was OK. He had called the police and let us know they were on their way. Thank you, kind stranger, for being a good guy in that moment. I really appreciate it. The other driver was a young girl of South Asian descent. She was hysterical, and I felt weirdly protective of her. She kept saying her dad was going to kill her, and I patted her on the back and told her to take some deep breaths and that it would be OK. She asked me if I was OK, saying she didn’t see me. She added that her dad needed the car for work and now he couldn’t go and it was all her fault. She also had a young man in the car with her, and I realized that she was probably talking to him as she was speeding home to get the car to her father. She probably almost passed by her turn and then yanked to the left at the last moment. She was not slowing down at all when she hit me, and I can’t tell you how it felt to stare at 2,000 pounds hurtling at me, helpless to do anything about it. I tried to stop; I tried to swerve, but it all happened so fast–even though it felt like time had stopped. There was absolutely nothing I could do, and in the instant before I was hit, I just accepted that. “I am going to get hit. There is nothing I can do.” This passed through my brain in a flash, and I relaxed as she plowed into my car.
I realize that I’m repeating myself, but it’s my way of dealing with the situation. It’s still hard to believe this happened to me, even though it’s been a few days. My parents are in town, so I called them immediately after it happened. Then, I texted my taiji teacher to let her know I was going to miss class because of the accident. After that, I talked to the cops who’d just come, and they were courteous and helpful. The officer said, “You were driving down the street and she turned into you? Is that what happened, ma’am?” I said it was, and later, he told me the other driver had been cited for a failure to yield. I DM’ed Ian to let him know what happened, then my parents showed up. They had gotten a ride from a friend of theirs, and they were understandably freaked the fuck out. More so than I was, honestly. Again, shock and my weird ability to be calm in the worst situations carried me through the situation. The police officer asked if I wanted a ride to the hospital, but i declined. I felt fine, I insisted. Then, when I got into my auntie’s* car, my ribs hurt like a motherfucker and took my breath away. I reluctantly decided I should go to the ER, and she drove us there.
Before that, I talked to my brother, and he told me to take pictures of the car after making sure I was OK. I did, and looking at them and the crash scene made me marvel that I had actually walked away from the accident. Her car was worse with the entire front of it stove in, but my car still had considerable damage to the left-hand side right over the wheel. She had pushed me over the curb and almost into the guard rail, and goddamn it could have been so much worse. That’s actually the thought that kept dancing through my mind–it could have been so much fucking worse. It could have happened on the freeway. I could have tensed up before she hit me. She could have hit me directly, instead of just missing me. My car is twenty-one years old and probably one of the first to have airbags in it. If I didn’t have the airbags, I probably would have been hurt much worse. I’d like to take a minute to shout-out to engineers and scientists who invented seat belts and airbags and who determined safe crumple zones for cars. Science. It really works, bitchez!
I want to emphasize again, though, it was taiji that allowed me to relax and avoid tensing up as she hit me. One way people really get hurt in accidents is by tensing up as they anticipate the crash. One reason drunk drivers sometimes walk away unscathed is because they’re too soused to realize they should be scared, so they stay relaxed. Anyway, my ribs hurt like hell right after the accident, but I think that’s from the impact of the airbags. I had welts on my left arm and bruises on my abdomen, also from the airbags, but I didn’t feel dizzy or nauseous, and my neck felt fine. I knew my name, age, and as I told Ian later, that the orange Cheeto was running for president, but my brain was a step or two slow. I’m sure that was also shock-related. I can’t tell you how surreal the whole situation was. I felt as if it were happening to someone else, yet, at the same time, it was very immediate.
As we reached the ER, auntie decided she’d give us her phone number and go home to wait for a call. She rattled off the number in Taiwanese, and my mom wrote it down and then said to me, “Help me remember this number.” I looked at her and said, “Mom. I was just in an accident an hour ago. I am in no shape to remember anything.” She told me the number, anyway, and it was really easy, but still. I’m her memory as she has a terrible one, and she asks me to remember things all the time. I just found it funny in retrospect that she asked me, the crash-ee to remember a number whilst in the middle of said crash recovery. We didn’t have to wait long at the ER, and I went through all the rigmarole you go through at the hospital. The doctor tried an ultrasound to get pictures of my innards, but it didn’t work, so she ordered a chest x-ray and a CAT scan. The former went swimmingly, but the latter was a bit hairy. Apparently, they were supposed to put an IV in me before I got scanned. They didn’t. When I got to the CAT scan room, the tech asked where my IV was. I said I didn’t have one. He said, “You’re kidding me, right?” Um, no. I was in no mood to kid, and i certainly wouldn’t kid about something like that even if I was. He heaved a big sigh, picked up my right arm and started thumping my veins. I told him I had shitty veins and that they were marginally better in my left arm. He decided to try the back of my right hand with a butterfly needle, anyway. He stuck me, but no blood came out. He decided to wiggle the needle in my hand, which hurts like a motherfucking…well, something that hurts a lot. I’ve had it happen before, and it feels as if someone has shoved a two foot wide iron cattle prod in your flesh. He gave up and moved to my left arm, but didn’t like any of the veins there. He settled on the back of my left hand (which was where I just had my blood drawn) and finally got it done. He put something in it and said that I would feel a little heat, and I nodded without really understanding what he was saying. A few minutes later, I felt a burn in my loins,** but I dismissed it as hot flashes. Until it got hotter and more persistent, and then I realized that this was what the technician had meant by saying I would feel a little heat. A little heat? It felt as if I’d turned on a burner in my nether regions and slowly, but steadily turned the heat up. I asked how long it would last and the technician said not long. Well, he was right about that, thankfully.
After my CAT scan ordeal–would not recommend, 0/10–I was wheeled back to my room to wait. And wait. The only thing that kept me sane was DM’ing with Ian, and I think this is when I made my quip about knowing that the orange Cheeto was still running for president. Ian told me later that that was when he knew I was going to be fine. About an hour later, I got the results. Nothing broken, no concussion, no whiplash. There might be some hairline fractures or cracks, but there’s nothing they can do about that. The doc’s prescription was…drum roll…ibuprofen.
So, one thing the doctor said was that I would feel sorer in the morning. I heard that a lot. “Be careful. You’re going to get stiff/sore/suddenly realize you have a broken leg.” I understand it’s concern on their part, but I really wanted to say, “Why are we borrowing trouble?” I’m bruised and sore. I have to walk carefully, and I think my brain is a step or two slow, but overall, I’m OK. I’m taking ibuprofen as needed and using Taiwanese (external) medicines, but that’s it. Two mornings ago, I did some stretches, but forewent practicing taiji. Yesterday morning, I did all my stretches and the sections of the taiji I’ve been practicing, stopping when I felt tired. I did some Sword Form with my wooden sword because it’s lighter than my steel sword ad managed to do most of what I’d done in the past. I skipped the weight-bearing exercises, but I’m OK with that. I was sorer yesterday than I was the day before, and I’m a bit sorer today with magnificent bruises on my abdomen. I managed to do my stretches and some of the Solo/Sword Forms this morning, but stopped again when I was tired. I tire easily, and I’m nervous about the first time I drive again, but I will gladly take all that because it could have been so much worse. It could have happened on the freeway while I was driving sixty-five. It could have happened a few seconds later, and she would have hit me directly on my door, rather than the front wheel. Yes, I can’t help thinking from time to time, “If only I had left five minutes earlier or later”, but the ‘what ifs’ are few and far between. Again, I can thank taiji for that. Before I studied taiji, I would have probably not slept since the accident, and I would have been endlessly recriminating myself, despite the fact that the accident wasn’t my fault at all. I would have believed (as my father actually does) that I could have done something, anything to avoid it. Now, while I would much prefer it hadn’t happened, I understand that I did everything I could and some things are truly out of my control.
I am grateful that it wasn’t worse. That’s actually how I felt almost immediately after the accident, and it holds true through now. I am thankful that science is amazing and has invented airbags and seat belts. I’m thankful that my car, which has served me faithfully for twenty-one years, took the hit (literally!) for me. I’m thankful for my taiji practice because if I hadn’t relaxed as I was being hit, I would be in more pain right now. I firmly believe that. And, it’s my taiji practice that is helping me deal with the aftermath with something roughly resembling grace. I’m thankful to my family for being here and not yelling at me.*** I’m thankful to my friends, especially Ian, Kathleen, and Julie (also my taiji teacher!) for their unflinching support. Triple shout-out to Ian because I doubt I would have been as calm if I hadn’t been texting him throughout the whole ordeal. I really appreciate that he was there for me, even if him making me laugh hurt my ribs. I’ll take that trade-off any day. I’m thankful to all the people in my computer who have shown concern and who’ve checked in on me since I’ve said I was in an accident. I’m thankful to my cats for being living heating pads as they mash against my thigh. Not as thankful when they walk across my sore belly, but, they’re cats. What can you do? Mostly, I’m grateful that I’m still alive. Even though my life didn’t flash before my eyes, there was a second when I thought I was a goner. But, as I joked with Ian later, you can’t get rid of me that easily! I’m still here, bitchez, alive and kicking.
*Auntie = older female in Asian culture. She’s not related.
**Trying to be delicate here. To put it bluntly, my vag was on fire.
***It’s a big deal. Asians show love by shouting or scolding.