Crash of Perspective
How a Car Crash Changed My Life
I could look out the window longingly and wish things were different, or I could embrace life with a grateful heart and enjoy the visit of a dove.
Dying and Living
I opened my eyes…
It was dark, the windshield gone, the airbags deployed, dash pushed back on me, and I felt this terrible, crazy pain all over. My first thought was, “I’m going to die.” I felt the sickening feeling of having entered a reality other than what I signed up for as I realized the vehicle was totaled and I was probably injured worse than I knew.
After a few minutes, I was still alive, so I figured I should do something. At 1 a.m., there wasn’t much traffic. My SUV was apparently in a ditch because I could see occasional headlights passing by a bit above me, but no one could see my car, and they traveled on without notice. With difficulty, I managed to turn off the ignition and turn on the emergency flashers.
“I should try to call 911,” but my phone was not where I left it, and I couldn’t bend over to check the floor.
It was apparent I would not drive out of this situation. I managed to release my seat belt, open the door, and roll onto the grassy median. Even though moving was painful, I figured to crawl back to the door and feel around on the floorboard for my phone. After some grasping around, my fingers brushed against it, and I was able to pull it to me. Rolling onto my back helped with the pain, and I tried to make an emergency call. The phone was wet and slippery; no matter how I swiped at it, I couldn’t get it to work. Why was it so wet? Was I bleeding? Then I remembered the eggs. In the back of the car, I was carrying eight dozen cartons of eggs, probably no longer where I had placed them. This was a bigger mess than I thought.
Before I could put the phone down, I heard running steps approaching. There was a steady flashing of taillights above me. A couple of dark shadowy figures were headed down, and I realized someone had stopped to help.
“Are you okay? Do you need some help?”
“No, not okay; I need an ambulance,” I managed to croak out.
“We already called the police; they’re on their way.”
At that point, I could hear sirens growing louder, and within a few minutes, the police were there asking me what happened. The car is totaled, and I’m lying in the grass; do you think they could figure it out?
The ambulance took another 15 minutes to arrive. They cut off my clothes; I didn’t care. They gave me some fentanyl; it didn’t help. The crew fit a brace on my neck and a board under me for stabilization. Necessary but not helping with the pain by any means. I couldn’t breathe well and was in extreme pain, so they took me to a nearby field where I could be airlifted to a trauma center about 100 miles south.
A short ride to the field, another pain-jolting transfer to a different stretcher, some additional fentanyl, and we were on our way. During our flight, one of the techs kept leaning over and saying my vital signs were good, which didn’t make me feel any better. It was the longest 15 minutes in an aircraft, one suffering breath at a time. I remember thinking, please just let us get there! Please help me take one more breath.
The pitch of the helicopter’s blades changed, and we touched down on the emergency helipad. There were a few minutes of a wait while the blades powered down, and then I was transferred to the trauma center’s stretcher, wheeled in for examination, and multiple scans. Throughout the early morning, it was determined that I had numerous fractures in my foot, ribs, sternum, and a crushed L1 vertebra, which was probably the worst. I was fitted with a cast for my leg and a rigid plastic ninja turtle-type brace for my back. Not much could be done for the ribs and sternum.
That early June morning, I went from a fully functional person to a liability in less than a minute. I hate to put it that way, but that is how I felt. Before the crash, I didn’t need any help; worked a fifty-plus hour week in corporate life, worked the farm on weekends, drove my car back and forth (which was my downfall), and was able to be autonomous. No one had to feed or bathe me, and the thought never occurred to me. I never considered navigating in a wheelchair or how long it took to get from point A to B. Now, I couldn’t move by myself and without extreme pain, and I had no idea how my wife would be able to help me. How would she run the farm three hours north and care for her disabled husband?
One glaring truth was quickly apparent to me. I was no longer in charge or in control of my life and decisions. There were muffled conversations in the hall outside the hospital room. This did not bother me in the least. My focus was figuring out how to breathe in such a way as to minimize my pain. I was an unwilling participant in a scary movie, but I wasn’t an actor, and no one had given me a script.
After being hospitalized for several days, I spent several weeks in rehab. My daily responsibilities had changed from organizational to functional. Now, I practiced therapy exercises, learned how to safely get out of bed, potty, bathe, and dress myself — I had to have help getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and showering. In that situation, you either lose pride and embarrassment or get mad at the people trying to help you. I was grateful and ignored the embarrassment.
Time crept slowly as I had no interest in nor could tolerate television, media, or much noise. The large window to the parking lot and a lonely tree became my entertainment. There was the momentary thrill as a dove or hummingbird would peer in, the free watching the captive. Lying in my hospital bed, I spent the darkness of night watching the leaves outside my window sway in the wind. Lit by a lone streetlight, they cast shadows on me in the dark. The nurse would arrive at intervals with various medications and ask if I wanted the curtains closed, but I declined. This lone window was my portal to the outside world.
The pain meds didn’t help much, and I would gaze into the darkness and focus on one breath at a time to get through my agonizing pain. Sometimes, a nurse would hear me gasping and come in and talk to me a bit, giving me companionship. The staff were amazingly caring, seeing that they were always short-staffed, and did this daily for many people.
In the rehab facility, my role had flipped, and my team no longer took direction from me – I reported to and took direction from them. This new team consisted of medical practitioners, nurses, physical therapists, doctors, and other staff who met behind closed doors in the early morning and mapped out my day and eventual escape to… well, not freedom. Maybe at least to go home?
I learned to use a walker and navigate in a wheelchair before finally going home. It had been a long journey, almost a month, since leaving the farm at midnight that morning of the accident. Yet, there was no bitterness. I felt fortunate to be alive, a sentiment my family and friends shared. Many months of painful recovery were ahead of me, but I learned some things in the process. I quickly knew that my concept of the cost of a medical airlift was not close to the actual cost, which ended up being slightly north of $69k (that is a 69 with three zeros behind it). There were a lot of medical bills, and I became grateful for the term “medical insurance.” But my real gift came in the form of people. It was the people around me who expressed love in a very concrete way.
People came to visit me and express concern for my well-being. Many of them offered anything they could to help us. My employer and the management team helped me through the disability and leave of absence. In the end, it was my wife who would bear the burden of my 24/7 daily care. Over the ensuing months, I could do more bit by bit. Initially, it was tough for her as all the decisions and work were hers. Everything the rehab staff had been doing was now her responsibility, including giving me shots in the stomach to avoid blood clotting. She cared for the farm, city residence, animals, and special care for me. I don’t know how she had the energy or desire to do it week after week, but she did. Her actions during this crisis were extreme kindness and love I can never repay.
It was the end of life as I knew it and the start of something new. I learned to let other people help me and began to get a small view into the lives of people enduring difficult circumstances. There was the lady who was learning to use her new artificial leg. More than several people had to relearn everything after a stroke or other brain trauma. I realized there is an entire unseen community of folks struggling through trauma, rehabilitation, and their resulting different lives.
I began to think in terms of before the accident and after. There was suddenly a lot of time to consider my supposed plans in life and mull over my past perspectives. My perspective and attitudes had undergone a radical shift. I put everything on the table and carefully chose what to pick up again. The foundation of change begins with attitude and perspective. Having recently seen people in crisis, I acknowledge that some medical conditions and trauma may make any shift in thinking impossible. For the rest, a positive attitude allows kindness and gives space to experience life with new, previously unknown perspectives. A negative attitude poisons you and can affect everyone around you, with very little ability to experience life except from your own jaded viewpoint. You know people like this, and I hope no one would point to you as “That Person” no one wants to be around.
How has my attitude changed?
I’m less likely to blame and more likely to think about the other person from their position. I no longer am so demanding of my own opinion and recognize other folks see from a different point of view. There is no reason to be upset or argue my point if we disagree. It’s not they are wrong, and I am right, and even if it is the case, I’m not the truth police. I’m not so concerned about future planning or past regrets, tending to notice the present and enjoyment of small things in life.
I remember that dove perching outside my window and my realization of the free looking in at the imprisoned. The ball and chain was my broken body, which didn’t work like it used to. The bars were my thinking and attitude to which I held the key. I could look out the window longingly and wish things were different, or I could embrace life with a grateful heart and enjoy the visit of a dove.
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Authored by H Mark Taylor – An Independent Certified Coach, Teacher, Trainer, and Speaker with Maxwell Leadership Certified Team
Copyright © 2023 H Mark Taylor. All rights reserved.