I’m a professional car crasher. This isn’t my occupation. But if it were, I’d sure as hell be rolling in dough.
You see, I’ve been in car accidents since before I was even old enough to drive. My first one was in the womb. Most of you were just hanging out sucking your thumb. I was setting myself up for a path of destruction and doom, that would ultimately lead to July 16th, 2000.
I was an idealistic teenager, spending my nights drunk on jello shots and romantic notions about boys. I’d been sleeping over with one such boy fairly regularly, and dropped him off at work on what would become a life-altering day.
I had recently moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Having the beach close by was a novel enough concept that I decided to take the 17th street bridge home and take a look at the ocean. I rolled down the windows of my crappy '88 Nissan Stanza, breathing in the salty ocean air. Toad the Wet Sprocket blasted on my radio, as I cruised slowly up the bridge.
Things get a little fuzzy here, but the next thing I knew, I'd lost control of the wheel of my car and was plowing down plastic construction dividers. I was headed straight for a motorcyclist and a semi truck. I panicked, screamed "OH SHIT!" and braced myself for what was coming next.
I watched for a split second as the motorcyclist flew over the hood of my car. I would later find out he survived with minor injuries. I was focusing all of my attention toward the guard rail, hoping I would collide with it instead of the Mack truck.
I didn't. As the truck ran over the hood of my car, the steering column collapsed under its weight and crushed both of my legs. I knew I was pinned, and didn't try to move.
Adrenaline pumping, I looked down at my legs. There was blood everywhere, but I wasn't able to process the severity of my injuries. In fact, I was telling myself that I couldn't be that bad off.
Fire rescue came fairly quickly, and an officer named Tim sat in the passenger seat making small talk with me as about a dozen workers used jaws of life to cut the roof off of my car.
While I was waiting to be pulled out, we chatted. He asked about school, my boyfriend, my family. He told me about his, too. I signed a consent form to have an IV filled with morphine inserted into my arm, apologizing for my bad handwriting. They cut my clothes off to check my vital organs, but all I could think about, as a broke college student, was that my new bra was ruined.
Rescue workers strapped me onto a board and loaded me into the ambulance. The last question I remember was: "Ever ridden in an ambulance before?" I didn't get a chance to answer before the morphine took over my body.
I woke up with my family standing around me. Hours had gone by as surgeons worked to put me back together. The doctor asked if I remembered what happened. "Yes, I was in a car accident."
He asked if I could wiggle my toes, and I could.
"Great," he said, "you broke both of your femurs."
I was a Broadcasting major interning at a rock radio station. It seems trivial now, but my first thought was that I'd be in the hospital recovering instead of going to my first big station concert. I was angry and sad to be missing work and school. My life as I knew it had come to a halt.
Fast forward ten days: I was released from the hospital. My boyfriend accepted responsibility of taking care of me, even though we'd only been dating a few short months. Since he was also in school, and working two jobs, I was virtually alone from 7:00a.m.-1:00a.m. every day.
This happened long before Facebook, MySpace or even Friendster. I would spend hours and days at home, unable to move from the couch. I watched the same handful of movies I owned over and over.
I was stir crazy. After being trapped in a one-bedroom apartment for three weeks without seeing the outside world, I did a crab-crawl toward the front door and threw it open, sitting in the doorway crying because I felt so helpless.
My weight had dipped under 100 lbs. while I was in the hospital, so I was thankful when friends would bring me steak dinners from the restaurant I had been working at before the accident. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and my broad frame usually carried about 130lbs.
On my best days, I worked toward rehabilitating myself. Insurance covered a nurse for the first month, but once those benefits ran out, I had to do my own physical therapy.
Little by little I would work on standing. A few seconds at a time became minutes. This led to baby steps. By Halloween I was getting out of my wheelchair. By the first of December, I was getting around with a walker.
On my worst days, I was pissed off at the world. Why had this happened to me? I would sit on the living room floor in tears, frustrated and screaming at my empty apartment.
I can see in hindsight that this accident was meant to make me a stronger person. Enduring a traumatic experience gave me the tools to cope with future speed bumps in life. In 2009, I gave birth to a son that has a congential heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Having already gone through extended hospital stay and having my own physical limitations made it easier to relate to what my son was going through.
Breaking my legs made me appreciate the little things so much more. When you've never been close to death, you tend to sweat the small stuff a lot more. Pre car-accident, I certainly did. Things that seemed like a big deal become pretty small once you're unable to walk or do other basic things without assistance.
More than 11 years later, I still have chronic pain due to joint inflammation. Pins and rods were inserted in both legs, for the bone to grow back around. There are pins inserted in my left pelvic bone, to connect my femur. My left knee has half of a knee cap, maybe less. When it rains for more than one day, my legs swell. Thankfully I still live in South Florida, because cold weather is practically crippling.
But when I become impatient or unappreciative of my life, I remind myself to just keep moving. I'm thankful I can.