Crash, 24 February 2005

This was originally posted on my personal website, sometime around late February or early March 2005 (parenthetical notes added now, 2011). Considering all the snow and ice lately, I want to post this because I’ve been feeling a bit anxious about driving and this story explains why.
At the time I wrote this, I was a graduate student working on my Master’s in Information Science (aka “library school”). I lived at home with my parents, and I went to school about an hour and 45 minutes away. I was also very recently engaged to a guy who broke up with me almost a year later. This particular night it was the end of February, and very much still winter… as you will soon see.
Trigger alert: This entry describes a car accident, and includes several pictures of the damaged car.
I am very much ALIVE thanks to God and my guardian angels.

I was driving home from school on the NYS Thruway. Around 7:40 I stopped at a rest area and got a cup of peppermint hot chocolate at Starbucks. Leaving there, it was just starting to snow. I didn’t think the road was too bad, despite the conditions. At one point Tim called, then quickly said his father was on the other line and he would call me back. About five minutes later — a half hour after leaving the rest area, and halfway through my hot chocolate — the car started to slide. I was in the left lane, and as it slid I panicked, probably overcorrected, and lost control of the car. The car swerved left and I could see it heading towards the metal guardrail in the median and I thought “This is not good.” I couldn’t tell what was happening next but my glasses flew off my face and went towards the passenger side of the car and suddenly I was stopped. I didn’t know what side of the median I was on, or what direction the car was facing. I took off my seatbelt so I could figure out what was what, and that’s when I realized: my car was upside down.

I felt okay physically. I was sitting on the ceiling in the front of the front seats. I felt my head with my hands and wondered if I was feeling blood, but then I realized it was hot chocolate that had gone all over everything. The car was still on, still playing the tape I had been listening to, so I reached up and turned the key off. I knew I had to call 911 and, not knowing where my glasses were, I fumbled for my cell phone. It rang as I was reaching for it, and I knew it was Tim calling back. I considered telling him, but knew 911 was my first priority. I pressed the button to pick up the phone, then hung up right away. I would explain later.

I called 911, praying my cell battery wouldn’t die. A man answered, “Hello, this is 911. What’s your emergency?” I told him, “I just had a car accident. I was on the Thruway going south and I don’t know exactly where I am. I know I passed the Catskill exit.” I told him that my car slid and I lost control, that my car was upside down and that I was still inside the car. I told him that nobody else was in the car, and that except for feeling a little panicked at not knowing where my glasses were, I was okay. I answered other questions as best I could. He called a woman, I think she was a police dispatch, and I answered her questions as best I could too. She said help was on the way. (At some point I found my glasses.)

While on the phone with 911 I saw a flashlight outside and knew someone had stopped to check things out. I put my hand on the window so he would see that I was inside. After getting off the phone with 911 I called dad to let him know, “I’m okay, but I was in an accident,” that I had called 911, and I said basically where I was. The guy outside asked if I was okay and if there was anyone else in the car. I heard him talking to other people, so I figured there were at least three or four people. They were trying to figure out how to get me out of the car. Someone said I probably couldn’t get out the window because it wouldn’t open since the car was off. I realized then that I could open the window because it’s not power windows, so I just turned and the window rolled open.

I told them I could open the window, and a man said if I gave him the keys he could open the hatch and let me out, but I couldn’t find the keys (forgot they were still in the ignition) and asked to borrow a flashlight. I opened the window more to let in the flashlight and he said if I opened it completely they could help me out the window. I opened the window as much as I could (it was the back window, so it only went halfway) and two men got down to help me out, carrying my legs as I put them out and helping support me so I wouldn’t be in the snow. I kept my phone in my pocket. It was good to be able to stand up. Tim called and I told him I was in a car accident but I was okay, and to call dad for more info. I hung up quickly since the battery was almost dead.

There were two men and a woman there. One man had me sit in the driver seat of his truck to stay warm and dry while we waited for help to arrive. They were surprised I was okay, and that I had called 911 myself. A police man came to see how I was and I told him what had happened. He asked the others if they had seen anything, but I think they just stopped after seeing the car upside down, and he let them go without taking names. I made sure I thanked them all for stopping and helping. I wish I knew who these strangers were so I could thank them again.

The police man took me to an ambulance that had shown up and I got in with an EMT who checked my BP and pulse and asked me personal info (name, address, etc.) for the form he had to fill out. He checked my pupils too. He asked if I wanted to go to the hospital but I said no because I felt fine and knew that would cost more than I was already going to have to pay for the car. I hadn’t blacked out (looking back, I can say I probably did since I don’t remember being upside down in the car), and I didn’t have a headache. The EMT and the policeman listened to me tell what happened and both took notes. The EMT had me and the policeman both sign the form to say that I was checked out and declined to go to the hospital.

Then we got out and the EMTs left. There were a couple firemen, but I don’t know what they were there for. Maybe to get me out of the car if needed? They had me put my name and address on a form, but I wasn’t paying attention to what it was. There were men around my car, and I understood they were going to turn it rightside up and bring it to their garage. The policeman had me get in the passenger side of his car and he asked me for my name and address, license number and expiration date. He said I damaged the guardrail and a support for it, and that my insurance company would cover the cost. He told me that he would drop me off at the Malden service area, and gave me a form to fill out to get a copy of his report. He also said they are supposed to give tickets for this, since I must have been driving too fast to control my car in the given weather conditions, but that he wasn’t going to and that if someone asked about it he would say it slipped his mind. I thanked him, then asked if I would be able to get my stuff out of the car before leaving and he said okay.

We got out of his car and he asked the guy from the garage if I could get some stuff. The guy said okay – by this time the car was rightside up. I had an empty bag (used to be a garbage bag but the garbage had all flown out in the accident- see the spoon in the photo below) and I filled that as much as I could. I also put stuff in my bookbag, my main reason for taking stuff from the car. I took as much as I could, knowing I couldn’t get everything. The garage guy said he just needed the car key and that I could take the rest of my key chains. At first I had no idea where it was, then someone said to check the ignition. I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition and said it was stuck, but the garage guy told me I had to put the car in park first. I did so and got the key out. I took the key off the key ring and handed it to him.

The policeman and I headed back to his car and while waiting for him to get in I called Dad to tell him where to pick me up. He asked if I could be dropped off in Saugerties instead but the policeman had something else to do at the rest area anyway, so he said no.

He drove me to the service area and I brought my stuff inside. I had to do something so I didn’t freak out, so I got a cup of water from McDonald’s and some napkins and started cleaning my things as much as I could. I had hot chocolate all over everything. I looked at my pants and realized that if I didn’t know what it was it could have looked like blood. I pulled up my pants to the knees to check myself out and saw a very small scrape on the left knee. The policeman came by when he was ready to leave and I had him watch my stuff while I went to the bathroom and washed up. I washed my hands and then looked and saw hot chocolate on my face, so I washed that too. I noticed some minor red markings on my neck from the seatbelt and the necklace I was wearing. I took the necklace off.

I went back out to clean my stuff more, thanked the policeman again, and waited for Dad and Mom. When I saw the van I got up. I saw Mom, and then I saw Tim and Krissy and Dad. I was so happy to see everyone. I told them all that I could think of, and while Mom and Krissy got something to eat Craig called Dad’s phone and I told him about it too. I held Tim’s hand almost constantly from the time I saw them. I needed to hold someone’s hand. I needed to not be alone.

When I was finally ready to leave, we decided to go see the scene of the accident, even though we knew the car would be gone. Dad drove up to the Catskill exit and made a U-turn after going through the toll booth. We found the place, going by the notes on the form the policeman had given me. Only dad got out of the car, though. It was dark and we didn’t want to stay long.

Dad drove to Poughkeepsie, where he and Tim and Mom had all met up. Dad went to his car to drive home, and I went with Tim. I had already told Tim that I needed to drive that night. I had to prove to myself I could still do it, and if I waited too long I knew I would just psyche myself out and not want to drive ever again. It would be more psychological damage than it already was. So I drove the fifteen minutes or so to my house. (This was not brilliance on my part, really. It was something I learned from a Disney Channel Original Movie with Beverly Mitchell as a race car driver who crashes and then insists on getting back in the car.)

(TRIGGER ALERT: Photos coming up soon)

That night after a shower I took a Vicodin, since I still have some from just before Thanksgiving (huh? I have no idea why I had Vicodin at this point), and went to bed thanking God for my life. I woke up Friday and found that under the left knee is bruised, and I have a black and blue there. Throughout the morning I noticed pain in my neck and shoulders, and some soreness in the top of my legs.

That afternoon Mom took me to Medicus to get checked out. I had to pee in a cup so the nurse could check for blood, which could indicate internal damage in the kidney area, and the results were clean. I had about 8 x-rays taken of my neck and the doctor said they looked fine. He said the pain could last for a couple weeks, or a couple months, and to take ibuprofen.

Saturday, Mom and I went to the garage to take everything else out of my car. It looked worse in the day time than I remembered it as in the night. I took lots of pictures, here’s a few:

full car from the front

car from the read (Mom removing my license plate cover)

the windshield (driver side, top)

the hood, which obviously slid across the pavement

the passenger side mirror

inside the front seat, see where this spoon from a bag in the backseat landed?
(and see my peppermint hot chocolate that splattered everywhere?)

the backseat, which you might swear looks like it’s a new car in the show room

black and blue
lost its hold on you
you made it through
you’re still alive
you’re still alive
~Kyler, “Something So Beautiful”


So there you have it. My near-death experience, and the reason I have winter driving.