Twenty years ago, a second or a millimetre could have ended my life. I remember the incident like it was yesterday. I was watching my Mom break the ends off of beans when one of my best friends called asking if I wanted to go for a drive. At the time we thought we were so smart, but I’m sure my parents noticed the heavy scent of perfume hiding a faint smell of cigarettes whenever I returned. Or the quick “Hi Mom, Hi Dad!” as I ran upstairs to change my clothes before acting like I was an angel.
I waited for her to pick me up and we did our usual country road run. There were five of us in total, I was sat behind the driver’s seat. As we came up over a hill, I said, “Look! There’s Amy!” who at the time was a friend of mine and not such a friend of the driver’s. She asked me, “Where?” but by the time she looked, we were going down the hill and the symmetric rows of beautiful green corn stalks were obscuring her vision. We came to a T in the road. It’s a country road after all, no one drives on here! We were distracting her and as she wasn’t expecting a car, yielded and the next thing I remember is waking up in absolute agony.
The two girls in the front turned around looking shocked. I could hear them talking amongst themselves, but the pain was so intense all I could do was scream and beg for them to help me. I tried to move and couldn’t. I started panicking. I asked the girl next to me if she was ok, she was crying and asking what happened. I wanted to get out, but the window was smashed and the door was bent into my side. I couldn’t move my legs. I asked the driver to get me out. She tried pulling up on my shoulder’s (obviously forgot the first aid we were taught!!) and I screamed in pain telling her to stop. I lost consciousness. I woke up vaguely when they were taking the girl next to me out. I remember because she was screaming and I didn’t want the same fate. I heard the Emergency services talking to me but I could barely respond. I don’t remember being taken out of the car and for that I’m grateful.
I woke up in the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. The EMT was telling me that he was sorry, but they had to do a full body examination which meant cutting off my clothes. I was just worried I would never walk again. I asked him if I was paralysed. He told me to move my toe. I couldn’t feel it, I started panicking. He assured me that my toe was moving and I would walk again (to this day I don’t know if that was a lie!). I was in and out of consciousness during the ambulance ride. I remember the sirens, I remember bumps in the road, I remember the comforting voices and touch of the staff that were in the ambulance with me.
I had lost a part of my memory as I thought that my parents were still on holiday although I had been at home with them half an hour before. I called my sister and told her what happened. Meanwhile my poor parents received a call from the police saying there had been an accident and they didn’t know which hospital I went to. I’m sure they suffered the same gravity of emotional turmoil that I was experiencing physically. All I remember in the hospital was my sister’s scared and concerned face, nice nurses, a horrible Doctor who was yelling at me to stop screaming, being lifted from one bed to the next, the pain, the agony, please give me something, “No we can’t. We don’t know the extent of your injuries yet.” Drifting in and out of consciousness, the bright lights, the dark x-ray rooms, the relief when the pain medication was administered, the comfort of my Mother’s hand and the reassurance of my Dad’s voice…
The Doctor told me I was lucky. I had broken my pelvis in three places, my sacrum in two and punctured my bladder. No paralysis and they expected a full recovery, albeit with complications in later life (starting from my 40’s). He said if I was wearing a seatbelt, chances are I would not have made it out alive…
I think anyone hearing they have essentially escaped death has a deep and profound reaction. I was only 18 at the time and thought I was invincible. Well, I was!! I escaped death!! So I went crazier than I already was. Still disobeying my parents, who were changing their lifestyle to cope with caring for someone who couldn’t walk for six weeks. Disobeying Doctor’s orders. Of course I can walk! I’m only 18, I heal fast, I’m invincible. It can’t be any worse. I went to University only seven short weeks later. I was still on crutches and had to ask for my bed to be on the floor because I couldn’t climb up the stairs of the traditional loft bed. I went on a path of self-destruction that luckily never ended in destruction as much as I tried. I have always been surrounded by immense love from my family and beautiful caring friends. They always rescued me before I went too far.
Then the complications started… But I was only 27, please no! At one point it got so bad I could only walk 20 meters before I would stop to rest, often crying with frustration. I was living in England at the time and after waiting months and months for specialists through the NHS, my then boyfriend decided it was time to buy private health insurance in an attempt to try and ease my constant pain. I couldn’t sleep, I was popping prescription pain killers like they were sweets, taking valium as much as I could without gathering suspicion from Doctors and my personality had totally changed. What’s the point of living if I have the body of a 90 year old? I started to accept this was how I was going to be and that I could either spend the rest of my life being upset or fight and find a way to make life worth living whether I had pain or not.
That I did! Luckily the private health insurance got me in touch with top specialists who discovered the problem in a month and after a few months of treatment, I was able to walk long distances again. It wasn’t only until then that I really valued my legs, the freedom to walk, to move and to get things when I want. I can’t say I was exceptionally lazy before this point, but I’m the first one to get up and offer something and unless I’m ill, I don’t like to ask anyone to do or get things for me. I know first hand the ability to move is a gift given to us that can just as easily be taken away. This is something I never forget and at the end of my yoga practice, I always hug my knees into my chest and kiss my knees saying thank you. I may not have the perfect body, but it’s a body that allows me to move and dance and jump and feel good. To me, that’s a perfect body. Funny enough, since I started doing yoga regularly, any of the residual pain I had is gone. It only comes back if I don’t practice for a few days. Maybe the NHS should refer patients to yoga while they wait for specialists!
As I sit here writing this twenty years on, I know that I didn’t put that seatbelt on for a reason (other than I would’ve looked like the biggest loser ev-a). I was meant to be here and subconsciously, maybe that’s why I’ve always made ‘crazy’ or what I like to call, alternative, life choices. I move countries a lot, I travel often, I have had numerous romantic relationships and I change things if I’m not happy. This incident often pops up in my mind when I’m facing a struggle. I think, “Is it worth it?” Tomorrow something could happen that could end my life or drastically change it. This could make someone live in fear or live life to the fullest. I chose the latter because life is meant to be lived, is it not? I just want to make sure I experience as much of it as I can before I go, and what a hell of a ride it has been so far!
I am grateful for this day and each year I celebrate it. I’m grateful we all made it out alive, I’m grateful we are all able to walk and I’m grateful that it taught me how to live as though each day could be my last.