March 15th, 2016, will be a day I always remember…well parts of it anyway.
The 15th fell on a Tuesday as I had planned a hiking adventure on Monday, March 14th. I had waited the first three days of my much-needed Spring Break to embark on said hike, only for the individual I was planning the trip with, to cancel minutes beforehand. I went home downcast instead of rejuvenated from a hike up Sharp Top mountain. The dejected attitude did not last long though, as I was to begin packing for the last six days of break. I was going to be spend the rest of the week visiting my grandparents, aunt, and cousins in Indiana, as well as squeezing a trip to Rockford, IL to attend a wedding and catch up with all my Focus One Alumni friends. I was going to do this all before making a 16-hour drive straight home in time for Organic Chemistry on Monday morning after break.
When Tuesday morning came, I got up at 6:00 am and was out the door by 7:00 am. The day before Spring Break began, I had checked out an audio version of the Bible from the library so I could keep myself busy with 32 hours of driving I would be doing over the next few days. It had been part of the homework, for my New Testament Survey class at Liberty University, to read through the whole New Testament. I figured I’d cheat a little and utilize my driving time to knock out as many books as I could via audio “reading.” I vaguely remember stopping somewhere in John before I lost consciousness.
Everything was well through Matthew, but going into Mark I began to get tired. I stopped for a quick nap at the very rest stop in West Virginia my best friends, Dylan, Wiley, and I, stopped at 7 years earlier on our way to Indiana for my cousin’s High School graduation. I was expecting to nap only 15 to 20 minutes, but soon it had been 45 and I was getting toasty with the sun beating down on my green Toyota Camry. I went inside for a quick bathroom break and then, after I texted my aunt and let her know when she could expect me, I was on the road again.
Nothing eventful happened the rest of the way through West Virginia, and I didn’t think anything eventful would happen in Ohio. But as I got on the exit right after bypassing Columbus, I turned onto highway 117 going north west. I thought to myself something along the lines of: “this is the greatest highway in America.” Of course, I only had such a thought because my rescue squad number, for responding to 911 calls as an EMT with Altavista EMS, is 117. And for those who are too shocked by that news to make the correlation, Master Chief, from the XBOX video game, Halo, is also numbered 117. And Halo is my favorite video game. So the number 117 held huge significance for me and was my favorite number at that time.
Unfortunately, highway 117 is the worst road in America as well as my greatest tragedy. BUT, it was also the beginning of my greatest triumph.
About two hours after I had been on highway 117, I was in a head-on collision. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. You see, I don’t remember anymore driving after I bypassed Columbus, and got on highway 117. The next thing I remember is waking up in a bed about 3-1/2 feet off the ground, in a dimly lit room, with several people running around. Of course, my perception of that room was probably muddled, by the intense pain I felt, and the medication I was indubitably on.
I don’t recall how or when the conversation with a nurse led to my next memory, but I was coherent enough when she asked me who I would like her to call and make aware that I was in the hospital. I thought about it for a second and decided my dad would be the best person to call. He almost always answers his phone and I was sure he would handle the news better than my mom. It also helps that my dad’s cell number hasn’t changed in over a decade. I clearly and concisely recited my dad’s ten-digit number for the nurse with my eyes close, then I lost consciousness again.
The next time I woke up, or perhaps the next time I have memory of being awake, I found myself having a conversation with the ER Doctor. He asked me if I remembered what happen. I told him I did not and asked if he knew. He said that I’d been in a head-on-collision with another car and that I had been flown to the hospital where I was currently. Having no clue what could have gone wrong, I asked him how the other driver was. I don’t remember how the doctor broke the news to me, only my next thoughts and actions.
The doctor informed me that the driver of the other vehicle did not survive. All the sudden the gravity of how severe my collision had been hit me, but this time with severe emotional trauma. Tears began streaming down my face as I asked the doctor if I had hit him. In an instant, my mind flooded with the memory of being so tired in West Virginia that I had to take a 45-minute nap. Could it be that I didn’t get enough rest and I fell asleep at the wheel and drove head-on into another person?
WAS I A MURDERER?
I couldn’t believe it. I had just murdered someone because I was an idiot and tried to make a 12-hour drive while I was tired. March 15th, 2016, ended for me crying my eyes out thinking I had just murdered a man.
The next time I remember waking up was about 2 am (or so I thought). As I began to rustle around (maybe make conversation with my nurse), then one of my friends from high school robotics walked out from behind my bed to greet me. I was so out of it (as I had just had surgery on my left femur) that I couldn’t figure out why or how she was there. Truth is, she attends college just over an hour away, and as soon as she heard about my accident, she came up to see me. She was able to keep my family updated on my condition, as my parents were trying to figure out how and when they would travel from VA to Ohio to be with me. I was happy to see a familiar face, but I honestly don’t remember anything we talked about while she was visiting. She’s since told me I spent the whole time in confusion as to how she had appeared from behind my bed. I mean in one moment I was in my car, and the next I’m in a hospital bed and a friend just appears. With that sequence of events transpiring, I would be puzzled without having had a concussion.
At some point the next few days, my parents and some more friends came up, I had a second surgery on my hip and my condition began to regress as gas exchange in my lungs became obstructed forcing me to be placed on oxygen via nasal cannula. I had little understanding of what was happening, but I continued to remain in the ICU with 24-hour nurse observation. I don’t believe I was alert enough to be scared I would die; that or there was just no doubt in my mind I wouldn't pull through.All I know is that the next few days went by quickly and with lots of love and support from friends texting, Facebook messaging me, and calling me. I replied to a good number of texts that I still have no recollection of sending.Thank you for your support! You all were so encouraging and loving I realized I have a support system unparalleled. On Saturday after my accident, I am told I spent 45 minutes on the phone talking to my best friend; I only recall about 30 seconds of that conversation.
The ER physician who related the grave news of the collision to me went on vacation the next day for about a week. When he came back to work, although I was no longer under his supervision having been moved to ICU Step-down, he made a point to visit me and make sure I had heard that the accident was not my fault. He told me last time we spoke I was shaken up and he wanted to make sure I was doing better.
The accident occurred because the driver of the oncoming vehicle was trying to pass a semi (tracker trailer) on a two-lane highway around a curve in the road. I guess from my point of view, the driver was hidden in my lane behind the semi. As I came around the bend at 55 mph (the speed limit), the other driver was travelling 70+ mph. We collided at 120+ mph, which I am told is the equivalent of terminal velocity. Terminal velocity is the maximum speed a skydiver can reach if he or she were to fall to the earth without a parachute. I survived a sudden impact (in the comfort of a car), that a skydiver would experience if he tried to land on the ground without a parachute. That’s insane. Maybe one day I will do the physics calculations for you and determine how much energy was displaced in the collision. Both cars absorbed the brunt of the force, but my body absorbed a significant amount of energy. A VERY significant amount of energy.
In my next blog post I will go into detail about the injuries I received from such a traumatic force. But before that, I want to say how touched I was by my ER doctor. He cared so much about, not just my physical well-being but also my mental health, that he went out of his way just to follow up with me a full week later. I hope I can carry that mantle with me as I pursue becoming an ER doctor. I will share my story in how I discovered I want to pursue medicine, but first let me describe the severe trauma I was inflected with. Stay tuned for next week's update…