15 November 2005

Car Crash Aftermath

I wrote the following the day after the accident as my way of coping and processing through what I was feeling:

My stomach feels tight and fluttery. I've been shifting between bouts of nausea and slight hunger. But, when I eventually tried to eat food, it was flavorless. Some of it tended more toward disgusting than palatable. I might as well on chew paper, because that's about how much I enjoyed my filet mignon yesterday at Lonestar steakhouse. I haven't even had a real, well-prepared steak in at least 8 months, and I couldn’t even appreciate it. Every muscle in my arms and back are taut with tension. I haven’t even done any weights or upper body exercises this week, just running. Yet, all my traps and neck muscles are tight with muscle spasm.

I’m glad I slept well last night. I do vaguely remember 1 or 2 dreams. Usually I sleep so deeply, that I don’t remember dreams upon waking. However, trying to fall asleep was difficult. My eyes teared-up and I did the same thing I’d been doing all afternoon and evening, I replayed in my mind the images I saw yesterday. I went through the same play-back movie reel this morning as soon as I woke into consciousness. Instantly, my stomach tightened up into tension.

Yesterday, I witnessed the most terrible car crash I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen cars on fire, and very serious collisions along I-4 between Daytona & Orlando, and always around downtown Dallas, but this topped them all. It wasn’t that I had a front row seat to the chaos and destruction, it simply was horrific. I thought my brakes wouldn’t stop in time before I smacked into the car in front of me, or that I would surely be rear-ended from behind because I stopped so suddenly. I’ve been rear-ended 4 other times in the same dumb car. I’ve had that rear bumper replaced so many times. No one hit me. The worst that happened to my car was that it received a shower of glass and metal from the collision that happened merely 3 feet in front of me.

I think I froze for a few moments. I started cussing in disbelief and I did a quick scan to see that I was okay, my car was okay. The people who collided in front of me were obviously not okay. So, I pulled myself together and got out of my car, and walked around to the side opposite of the wreck. I didn’t know if a small fire might erupt where the two engines were closest. Transmission fluid covered 2 lanes of the road. As I walked behind the car that had been in front of me, I saw that there was a woman inside, and she wasn’t moving. I immediately went to the passenger’s side window and saw her slumped to the side, with her face covered in blood. After this, my reactions varied between two distinct modes:

1. The main reaction was “Oh GOD!” –my hands covered my face, and I held my stomach trying not to retch, trembling fear, shock, horror, and disbelief.

2. The next emotion that surged in bouts was to fix-it, direct people to help the situation

By-standers started gathering on the sidewalks. I shouted to people to call 9-11. One woman remarked that they had already been called. I then turned back to the victim’s vehicle and tried to open the passenger doors. They were both locked, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t get to her. Instantly, some men showed up, and they hit the windows. It appeared as though they were trying to break the windows with their bare hands. That crossed my mind as dumb. If they were to break the passenger’s window, glass would spray onto the victim and cause her more harm. Also, they’d cause some serious damage to their own arms. So, I ran to the trunk of my car and pulled out my car jack: heavy and metal, this tool made more sense. I guess someone else thought of the same thing, because another man appeared with a metal pipe. As he prepared to hit the back window, I yelled at people surrounding the car to back-up and give him room.

They broke the back window, opened the doors, and started talking to the woman. Then I yelled at people to check on the driver or passengers of the overturned SUV, even though I was angry and thought that driver was at fault. I looked back at the woman in the white car, and another woman in a red shirt had slid into the passenger’s seat to try to unfasten her seatbelt, check on her condition, and talk to her. I heard the victimized woman talking. All I heard her say was, “Oh Lord, take me out of here. Take me out of here.” I was relieved that she was talking, but I didn’t see any airbags deployed. So, I knew she had suffered some serious head trauma. At this time, EMS pulled up and ran back and forth between her car and the ambulance.

Another witness talked to me and asked me to give her name and number to the police because she had to rush back to work. I was on my way somewhere, too, but I knew the police needed me to stay to provide my account and to answer their questions. When it appeared as though the situation was more under control and in the hands of rescue professionals, I asked to borrow a cell phone. I called Steve and told him there had been a fatal wreck just down the road before the ice cream stand, and that I was okay, the car was okay, but that people in the other vehicles were either instantly dead or in critical condition. He asked if he should drive down there to see me. And although this wreck had just happened in the middle of the day on a 45 MPH 4-lane road, traffic was already backed up for ½ a mile. I told him there was no way he could get here, and not to worry about it. After I hung up, I regretted what I told him. I wished I had told him to ride his bike on the sidewalk to get to the accident scene.

I stopped writing there because I ran out of time and had to get going to the national board review. So, I’m picking up with the story 3-4 days afterward:

I asked the police if they wanted me to move my car which was right next to the wreck, and they said no. They wanted me to leave it where it was. Later, they painted up the tires and where I had stopped the car, and they kept me there longer than any of the other witnesses. The police handed out witness report sheets to anyone who had seen what happened so that they could piece together the sequence of events. I had a hard time filling it out because I was just so overcome with emotion. I also kept getting distracted by the circus around me. So many people snapping pictures, ignoring the police tape. People were riding their bikes or walking under the tape to the accident scene. I was disgusted that they were taking photos of the wreck; that, too, made me angry. Then I noticed a helicopter overhead. I thought it was a media helo, but it kept descending. Then, it was only 100 feet overhead and it hovered and slowly descended and landed. It was the county sheriff’s helicopter sent to air evac the victim.

Around that time, a police officer pulled me aside and asked me to recount what I saw. I told him, and then he directed me to write out exactly what I had told him. Hard to do when I talk with my hands to visualize car vectors. I wrote for a long time. Most of the witnesses wrote ½ to ¾ a page. I completed side 1 and went ½-way down the back of the page trying to be as specific and descriptive as possible. After I submitted my statement, I was told to raise my right hand and swear that everything I wrote was true. I don’t like to swear, so I “affirmed” it. Then, I was directed to hang out at the bus stop bench until they said I could leave.

I met some interesting people in a very dire situation. One witness was a nurse who believed in God. Another woman worked at the State Farm agency across the street from the accident. She brought me cups of water, soothed the accident victim until EMS arrived, and talked to her friend who’s a firefighter. I also met M.K., a photojournalist student from UCF who was at Ritter’s Frozen Custard (just down the street), when the wreck happened. She had a high-tech telephoto lens for snapping photos. I thought she was media, but then I saw her retching in the grass. I took her to the State Farm office where I knew we could find her water. She and I talked about how it made us feel to see something to horrible. Other people who came on site well after the fact kept pressing me for details (I have no idea how these people knew that I knew what happened), and I tried to be as nice as possible to slough them off and tell them I didn’t want to talk about it.

Fire rescue had to rip off the roof of the white care extract the victim. They wheeled her toward the air-evac helo in a gurney, and I was once again overcome with sadness and frustration for this dear old woman who was minding her own business; she got hit out of nowhere and was sent to the ER & ICU. After the helo took off, I spotted Steve north on the sidewalk—he was wearing his nasty-brown t-shirt. He rode the bike up the sidewalk to meet me! After the helo took off, they let him through the tape to where I was still waiting.

Steve and I talked about what happened and shortly afterward a woman approached me and began to build up a rapport by stating she knew I was a chiropractic student. She told me she was a patient of a local doctor and we began talking about that for a little while. Then, she suddenly transitioned to her main reason for talking to me, she told me she was a reporter for the Daytona Beach News Journal and then she started asking me questions about the accident. I was caught a little off-guard and I felt like she had been totally insincere. So, I asked her if she was asking me questions to print in the paper. She admitted that was true, THEN she asked for my permission to be interviewed. I told her I wanted to think about it. Initially I wanted to say NO, but I thought if I could talk about what had happened and it would make people more conscientious about driving, make the roads safer, then I wanted to contribute. But, I really didn’t think that would help. Instead I felt like the media (like all the people who photographed the tragedy) just wanted to capitalize on the sensationalism of the whole event. Also, I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to give an account to the media when I had only just submitted my account to the police who still needed to compile stories and piece together the sequences for their investigation. I had a tough time making decisions then and for the remainder of the weekend (from what to eat for dinner to which DVD should we watch . . . it’s amazing how stress makes it so hard to think). So, I asked the police officer about it, and how the department felt about witnesses talking to the media when they were still processing an investigation. He gently said that I didn’t have to talk to her if I didn’t feel like it. He also said that he couldn’t tell me NOT to talk to her. However, he said he personally didn’t like the media because they’ll take an interview, chop it down and spin it to say exactly what they want the story to say. I already knew that, but he just confirmed the decision I was already leaning toward. I walked over to tell her I wasn’t interested in an interview, but she was on her cell phone.

At this time, the police told me I could go (the dead body and victim had both been extracted and the vehicles were separated, so that it was a safer situation). I pulled my car to face north and waited for Steve to load the bike in the trunk. He was going to drive us home because I had no desire to drive that day. Across the road and saw the reporter crossing toward my direction. I sat in the passenger’s seat and put my head down to look like I was distraught so that she would leave me alone. I expected her to tap on the window or even be bold enough to open the car door. I didn’t hear Steve tell her that I wasn’t interested in talking to her about the accident.

Suddenly the driver’s door opened and I heard a man’s voice, and it wasn’t Steve’s. I looked up in surprise at a man kneeling down in a navy t-shirt with a Forensics logo. He told me he wasn’t going to ask me any questions about the crash. He said he realized my car stopped right next to the accident, and he saw me sitting in the car looking upset, and he felt like he needed to talk to me. He told me the woman driving the SUV was a very severe diabetic. She experienced a diabetic coma when her vehicle got out of control. He also said she never knew what hit her when it happened. At this revelation, I started sobbing because I felt terrible for her, and I felt awful for thinking she was a drunk driver or someone under the influence of drugs. I was initially glad that she died because what happened was so awful and damaging to the elderly woman. I felt extremely guilty for having those prior feelings. He also told me that from what he saw with the other woman (the elderly woman in the white car), that he would be seeing her in a few days as well. I continued to sob at this news, because I felt so sad and concerned for her well-being. He kept talking and wanted to reassure me that nothing I could have done could have prevented the tragedy; he said it wasn’t my fault. I knew that, but somehow everything he told me just caused the dam of emotions to break.

Steve drove me home and we prepared to go out for lunch, but I just kept crying and holding my sides and feeling so torn, helpless, scared, worried, sick, angry, and shocked. Those feelings persisted throughout the weekend. I cried in church when Dr. Sproul prayed through a psalm that had something to do with tragedy and God rescuing us from it. I haven’t been embarrassed about crying in church, national board review, or at school. I would have been embarrassed crying in the military, but this is different. And I really don’t care what people around me think. I don’t like the feeling of having snot run down my face, but I don’t mind being emotional. I was the only witness who cried at the accident site. I have the capability to turn emotions off to get my job done, but I haven’t been able to focus enough on school so that everything I’m feeling and remembering that surges into consciousness can be put to the periphery so that I can give school my all. I performed terribly on my exam yesterday [Monday]. Well, terribly for me, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I was concerned that I still had a hard time making simple decisions, and that my stomach kept roiling in knots. I wanted to just catch my breath and calm down and relax—I’d forgotten what that feels like.

Monday, Jorge brought me the article in the paper that had a photograph of the crash. I pretty much lost my composure as soon as I saw it. That afternoon, he performed emotional freedom technique (EFT) on me. During anatomy lab’s movie hour, Craig worked out some trigger points on my back. I LOVE going to chiropractic school! There’s always loving and knowledgeable classmates around who can adjust, do trigger point, or just listen. I’ve been fairly calm and relaxed ever since. Today is much better; I feel more like my relaxed and focused self.

Since the accident, I’ve also thought about the EMS personnel, fire rescue, and police officers who had to work through the remains of the crash and keep by-standers at bay and help the surviving victim to emergency care. They were never broken. Their response time was impressive (it helps that the fire department was only 2 blocks away). I wondered if that forensics officer or if the firefighters are jaded by seeing so many awful tragedies involving serious trauma and death. I wonder if the other by-standers who didn’t react with any emotion were desensitized from movies or just life experiences. I appreciate all the work the rescue personnel did that day. I can’t believe anyone would actually want to sign up to do that job for a living, day in and day out. I want to help people achieve their optimal health, increase their energy levels and life span. But, I’m grateful for these selfless heroes who help people in such extreme circumstances.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have our prayers......


15 November, 2005 18:37  
Anonymous Sapna said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through that, Dolly, that really bites. If after a few weeks you are having flashbacks, insomnia, and other stress problems, please consider seeing a therapist. Those are systems of post-traumatic stress disorder (as I'm sure you probably know) and a psych. might be able to help.

16 November, 2005 12:37  
Blogger libbyann721 said...

Oh honey, I'm so sorry. How hard to stay there and try to be helpful... I think you did exactly what you should have done and you were most helpful in the situation. No, it was NOT your fault... These things just happen and while that doesn't make it any easier to watch, the truth is they do. Like I told you the other night, cry, cry, cry, cry. Grief is so healthy. In a way, what the people who are left behind deal with is much harder than those who die in these situations. Like when my dad went to the ER for ODing on sleeping pills, he was fine when it was all said and done. Hell of a nap! But my mom and I sobbed at the reality that he almost died. Grief is real. Cry!

Love you,

16 November, 2005 18:54  
Blogger Dolly said...

Thanks to all of you for your kind words and concerns. Life has felt much more normal since Monday afternoon. I can talk about it and not get emotional. As my friend Melissa summed up today, I've processed it. Still catching up on sleep from the emotional drain that sucked energy out of me. But, no more exams until after Thanksgiving, whew!

16 November, 2005 19:41  
Blogger Jon in Michigan said...

I'm late to read about this, Dolly, but I'm sorry to hear you were there to witness the accident. Horrible for someone to die like that, and nearly as horrible to be caught up in it like you were. I hope you are feeling better now this weekend.

18 November, 2005 22:21  
Anonymous thebaymans said...

I'm glad you wrote it down. That must have been therapy in itself. I never wrote down what happened in '97, and everytime I talk about it in detail, I'm overcome w/ emotions as if I'm reliving it all over again. Writing and crying it out is very good for the body and soul. Thank you for sharing your experience w/ us. I never told a story the the media either, I only wanted to talk with the police and detectives and rescuers, and since I wasn't 18 they couldn't interview me on camera. They got the story all wrong in the papers too. Remember, your picture was in the Palmetto Press, so the reporter may have read about you there.
You were incredibly sharp and composed in that situation and directed people appropriately. I'm SO glad that Steve rode his bike to get to you. Isn't it wonderful how God connects us and brings our husbands to our side, even when we tell them we'll be fine? He knows just what we need and He nudges our loved ones w/ the Holy Spirit to do what they have to do for those they love.

Thank the Lord that you and the woman in the white car are going to be okay. I'm glad that the forensics guy told you about the woman in the SUV, and I'm glad that she didn't have to live to suffer even more. I think it helped w/ your coping and understanding.

Greg and I will be praying for you. Love you, sis.

Keep writing and talking to God. I'll call you in a couple days.


21 November, 2005 09:47  

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