The Accident, 11 Years Ago

 

I was at work and my boss at the time and I were laying out who was going to write what parts of an RFP bid. I had left my phone in my office and when I got back I checked it and was surprised to see a number of missed called and four voicemails (two from my mother-in-law, and two from my wife) all within the last 10 minutes. I listened to the last message and she said that my wife and my son had been in an auto accident and they were being rushed to the local level 1 trauma center. I rushed there and enquired about my wife and son. A nurse said that she would take me to my son and I was escorted back into the Emergency Room. As I entered I saw two stocking feet sticking out from a bevy of yellow-gowned figures working frantically, but was so focused on my son that I didn’t really process that it had to be my wife.

My son was three, almost four, at the time and had a speech delay so his Mom had taken him to his speech therapy session and they were on their way home when they had their accident. He had about 12-15 words in his vocabulary at the time and the staff was worried because he wouldn’t talk to them. He had a head injury and wouldn’t let them touch him. He clutched his stuffed rabbit (Bun Bun) and they had given my son an IV and also given one to Bun Bun.  The nurse would come by and ask him if he needed anything for the pain and he would shake his head and say no, but if she asked if Bun Bun needed anything, he would say yes and she would give him something and then pretend to give Bun Bun some as well.

They wanted to do a CT on his head because of the head injury and wanted me to stay with him and hold his hand. The only thing that I could do to help him was to sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to him (his favorite movie at the time). I had to make up many of the words, but it helped him and he held on to my hand really tightly, especially when they straightened out his legs (he had a radial fracture of his tibia but they didn’t know that concentrating on the head injury).

While we were waiting for the CT to start a doctor came and got me to let me know that they were taking my wife to emergency surgery that she had a lot of internal injuries and I would get a chance to see her, briefly, on the way to surgery. I asked him if he could give me a prognosis, but he said he couldn’t because it was touch and go. I had come to grips with my son’s injuries and he seemed to be in pain, but not in danger of dying, but my wife it seemed wasn’t so lucky. I got to see her as they wheeled her by and briefly hug her but they were in a hurry and I didn’t want to delay them.

After the CT, my son and I were back in the ER and my phone was dying the nurse was able to track down a cord to keep me going and we waited. My in-laws showed up but there wasn’t much to do except wait. My Father-In-Law knew that my oldest would need to get picked up from school and he volunteered to do so. She was in third grade. I used my LiveJournal to keep everyone up to date because it was easier than trying to call everyone and waiting. They brought in a portable  X-ray machine and saw the break in his leg and called in Occipital-Maxilo-Facial surgeons (they have MDs and DDS degrees) to fix his head injury, and were going to set his leg as well while he was under. His surgery was at about 7 p.m., about eight hours after he arrived. By then, my wife had had two surgeries and a procedure to stop some of her bleeding (she would go through 11 units of blood that day alone).

While my son was in surgery, they prepped my wife for her second surgery of the day. This was going to fix the issues they found in the first one. It turns out they had not closed her up and wouldn’t after this one either because she had one more surgery on her insides to go and another on her hip. This time I got the full array of docs who were going to be working on her. There were six or seven, as I recall, and each had to give me informed consent and get me to sign off on the surgery. By the last one, I was able to recite the side effects to them, and she was off for a few more hours in the operating room.

My son came out of surgery with a cast on his leg and a bandage on his head. The staff had taken Bun Bun with him into the ER because it made him less scared and Bun Bun also had a bandage on his head and a cast on his leg. He got a room on the peds floor and my best friend came by to take me to Walmart to get a change of clothes and while I was there I got a boom box that I could hook up my phone to and play the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang soundtrack to make him feel better. By the time I got back and after all the surgeries, it was about 3 a.m.

My son was fairly lucky, he had a scalp laceration and a fractured leg. My wife, well she bore the brunt of the damage. Collapsed lung, burst diaphragm, lacerated liver, burst bladder, damage to her elbow, and a shattered acetabulum. We would find out later that the hip injury has about a 40 percent mortality rate because of all the blood flowing through that area. It was one reason why she needed so much blood that day. I had to go to the junkyard to see if I could find her glasses (I did) and anything else and saw the car.

car at the junkyard

At the junkyard.

I learned a lot that day, though I didn’t know everything that I learned until much later. I learned that living in the same city as a level 1 trauma facility is really important sometimes. I learned that even critical situations take hours to resolve at a hospital. I learned that being able to focus on my son allowed me to not think about my wife when he needed me and there was nothing I could do for her. Music can be really important, and every time I hear Chitty Chitty Bang Bang it makes me think about how it helped us both to get through that day.

I learned from the ICU nurses that you look at the progress every day and realize it is a win. My wife was in that ICU for 11 days, but she got a bit better every one of them. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it was a steady improvement. I learned that holding her hand when they would take her off the vent helped her breathe even though she doesn’t remember any of it.

I learned that community is really important. My company was great giving me a ton of support from a hotel room near the hospital, to some gift cards for the fast food places nearby, to a flexible work schedule when I was ready to get back to work. Our friends were amazing, but so were my daughter’s teachers and my Catholic ACTS brothers. They cooked every meal for my in-laws (where my daughter stayed until my wife came home 26 days after the accident) dropping off a meal each morning on their way in.

I learned that being able to accept help from others is a tough thing. We are taught to be independent and tough, at least I was, and letting others help us isn’t something that many of us find easy. We are able to offer help, but accept it…not so much. I credit the ACTS retreat that I went on a few years prior where learning to let others help you was a big lesson that they imparted to us.

This day 11 years ago resonates today because we never fully recovered. When I would see a news report of an accident on the roads and they said that no one died, I used to just move on and think everything was fine. It isn’t. For my wife, it was six months before she could walk without a walker or crutches, and still today her hip hurts at times. She has other health problems related to her other injuries and scars from the accident and the operations. Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” and in many ways we are stronger, but at the same time so much of our strength is taken up just existing.

So, the next time you hear about an accident and no one died, it may still have changed their lives as it did ours.

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  1. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    Thanks for sharing your story @dbroussa.  For some odd reason when I hear and ambulance going by I know that it’s not on its way for anything fun and I do my best to say a prayer for those involved.  Like you said, just because one lives through a traumatic situation doesn’t mean they won’t have tragedy of some other sort ahead.  I’m glad that your wife and son survived and that you all have had the opportunity to not just recover, but develop from the situation.

    • #1
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Looking at the picture, I just can’t believe that the driver of that car survived.  Oh my goodness.

    Did she slide into a tree or something?

    You are so blessed to have everyone here with you today.  I can’t imagine what you went through…

    • #2
  3. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Coolidge
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    What a story!

    I got a call like that . . . worst phone call of my life. My wife was coming home from work and was hit by a guy who ran a red light, just four blocks from our house. With the side of the vehicle smashed in, they had to tear the door off to get to her. “We’re taking her to the ER,” the officer told me.

    The hospital is barely two miles from our house. Longest drive ever. And when I saw her, I, who had not shed a single tear in 30 years, completely broke down. My wife was 38 weeks pregnant at the time, so there was a lot of concern for the baby. Thankfully, both were fine. After an evaluation they let her go. She was bruised and sore, but okay. So was (and is) our seventeen year old daughter, born about a week later. We sometimes joke about trying the car accident method of inducing labor, . . . but that’s no joke.

    To this day, when I drive through that intersection, I sometimes think about that evening. And sometimes when the phone rings while my wife or kids are out, I get a stab of fear.

    I’m glad your wife and son are okay.

    • #3
  4. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    I have a big family, and we’ve been through some similar situations. Until I felt real fear as an adult, I had no idea what it was.

    I’m so happy you still have your family with you – but you’re right. Some traumas last a life time.

    • #4
  5. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    After an evaluation they let her go. She was bruised and sore, but okay. So was (and is) our seventeen year old daughter, born about a week later. We sometimes joke about trying the car accident method of inducing labor, . . . but that’s no joke.

    This explains a lot about your daughter’s “Oh no, suddenly you get hit by a car!” moment….I’m glad they were okay.

    I’m also glad that Dbroussa’s son was okay, and that his wife eventually made a (mostly) full recovery.

     

    • #5
  6. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    My best friend’s family was in their minivan with some other kids – his wife was driving, he was at work.  They were in the left turn lane on a busy road, waiting to turn into a parking lot.  This was around 2 pm on a Saturday.  A woman with a BAC of 0.12 (when it was tested 2 hours later), traveling at an estimated speed of 60mph in a 35 zone, slammed almost directly head-on into the minivan.  The drunk, while dazed, suffered nothing.  The van was thrown 50 years backwards, spinning into park.  Thankfully this van was brand new, and had every safety feature you could imagine, including footwell airbags – those saved his wife’s feet from being mangled.

    Everyone was back home that evening, all with bruises and cuts and tintinitis from the airbag bangs, but all seemingly OK.

    At first.

    Over the coming months, his daughter began to complain of joint pain, and couldn’t stand upright easily.  Her spinal column had suffered trauma not noticed at the time, and had begun to swell.  After a little over a year her spine’s curvature was off by about 60 degrees.  She had 3 vertebrae fused, and a stainless steel rod bolted to her spine.  For the rest of her life (she’s 16 now), she cannot ride amusement park rides, and has to watch other rattling kinds of motion as those could shake the hardware loose.  Still, it could have been worse.

    Had that van been a slightly older model, without quite so many safety features, or had the collision been 100% head on, as opposed to 90% head-on, or had there been a car behind them to sandwich them, or so many other possibilities, it is possible that none of them would have walked away.  I’ve seen the pictures of the wreck. 

    The kicker, of course, is that the drunk already had a suspended license – had lost it ages ago. 

    • #6
  7. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Looking at the picture, I just can’t believe that the driver of that car survived. Oh my goodness.

    Did she slide into a tree or something?

    You are so blessed to have everyone here with you today. I can’t imagine what you went through…

    Yeah. That driver side impact looks terrible.

    Amazing the damage that can be survived with air bags and seat belt.

    As an ER doc, nothing gets us as anxious as a critical child.

    As a resident I was doing trauma in  the ED and a little boy about 3 was hit by a car. When they wheeled him in from the ambulance I took one look at him and for the only time in my career I felt faint, and had to leave, one of my fellow residents took over.

    My son was the same age at the time, and looking at that child in the ED all I could see was my son, and I just couldn’t cope.

    • #7
  8. PHCheese Member
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Oh we live in such a blessed age whereas someone can live through something like your wife and son did. Praise be to God.

    • #8
  9. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Glad you can retell the story. I can’t believe anybody survived that car. I forget myself how lucky we are in the Raleigh/Durham area to have such healthcare options. UNC, Duke, and WakeMed are all trauma centers and within 20 miles or less of each other. We are spoiled here. It is a consideration when we talk about moving.  

    • #9
  10. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Wow – that puts everything into perspective – so many lessons here. God bless you and your family and thank God they survived!

    • #10
  11. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):
    Looking at the picture, I just can’t believe that the driver of that car survived. Oh my goodness.

    If I saw the picture without reading the story I wouldn’t have believed that the driver could have survived.

    Dbroussa: So, the next time you hear about an accident and no one died, it may still have changed their lives as it did ours.

    My wife was diagnosed with cancer 11 years ago and while she has been completely cancer-free for years, she went through a lot (nothing as traumatic as that car crash though). Surgery, chemo, radiation, and then a few years on a drug with all sorts of side-effects. Surviving is great but it is not like you get better and go back to normal . . . but still way better than the alternative.

    • #11
  12. TheRightNurse Member
    TheRightNurse
    @TheRightNurse

    When I see that car, I think that there were angels somewhere helping your wife.  To even get out of that car alive is a miracle, let alone only 11 days in the ICU!

    I say a prayer when I hear sirens.  I will continue to do so.  Thanks for reminding me why I do what I do, even if I don’t work in trauma.

    • #12
  13. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Looking at the picture, I just can’t believe that the driver of that car survived. Oh my goodness.

    Did she slide into a tree or something?

    You are so blessed to have everyone here with you today. I can’t imagine what you went through…

    She hydroplaned onto the median and hit an oak tree right on the driver’s door.Car in the tree

    the car was almost literally wrapped around the tree.

    • #13
  14. Dbroussa Coolidge
    Dbroussa
    @Dbroussa

    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone (View Comment):

    To this day, when I drive through that intersection, I sometimes think about that evening. And sometimes when the phone rings while my wife or kids are out, I get a stab of fear.

    I’m glad your wife and son are okay.

    I spun out on I-10 just east of Schulenberg spinning around on a wet highway with an 18 wheeler bearing down on me.  Took me over a decade to not get really nervous when I hit that stretch of highway.

    I’m really glad your wife was OK.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What a nightmare of a situation, @dbroussa. It’s a miracle that they survived. I’m sorry, too, about the lingering pain and memories, but I’m glad the family is intact.

    • #15
  16. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    That she survived is truly a miracle. Wow. I’m still breathless after seeing that picture. Thank God. And thank you for sharing. 

    • #16
  17. PHCheese Member
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    Before I meet my wife she was hit by a car traveling at 45mph while she was waiting in a safety island to cross the rest of the street. She was thrown over the car. She broke her back, neck, and leg. Some of her teeth were knocked out. She was in a coma for three days and then in a body cast. She was a nurse on her way to work at McGee Woman Hospital in Pittsburgh. They stabilized her then off to the trauma center at Pitt. She was engaged to a guy who came to visit, took one look and never came back. That’s why she was available when I meet her. Some good comes  from everything. She has suffered from it for 50 years however.

    • #17
  18. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    When I was in high school, we got one of those calls.  Someone ran a red light…car seat belts had been buried and weren’t used.  Two stars in the windshield. My brother was a passenger…his teeth marks were in the dashboard.

    Dad picked up the phone.  Then he left. Dad was a surgeon and he went to sew up his son’s head.  

    I still wonder whether the difficulties my brother has had in his life came from that accident.

    • #18
  19. Rapporteur Coolidge
    Rapporteur
    @Rapporteur

    @dbroussa, thanks for sharing. I had a friend who was in a similarly-severe accident, although it was head-on, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury. I spent a lot of time with his wife and son in the ICU waiting room. Nine years on and many surgeries later, you wouldn’t know anything had happened unless he told you.

     

    • #19
  20. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    Kozak (View Comment):

    As an ER doc, nothing gets us as anxious as a critical child.

    As a resident I was doing trauma in the ED and a little boy about 3 was hit by a car. When they wheeled him in from the ambulance I took one look at him and for the only time in my career I felt faint, and had to leave, one of my fellow residents took over.

    My son was the same age at the time, and looking at that child in the ED all I could see was my son, and I just couldn’t cope.

    For all the times you’ve had to do all you can, even while knowing its hopeless yet forcing yourself  to continue, I thank you.  

    • #20
  21. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    A woman with a BAC of 0.12 (when it was tested 2 hours later), traveling at an estimated speed of 60mph in a 35 zone, slammed almost directly head-on into the minivan. The drunk, while dazed, suffered nothing. …

    The kicker, of course, is that the drunk already had a suspended license – had lost it ages ago.

    I hate drunk drivers.  George W. Bush’s small drunk-driving arrest was one of the few things I really disliked about him, at least at the time.

    Growing up I never really knew anyone who drank alcohol, at least very regularly.  Alcohol is like a religion for a very large percentage of the population, and I always forget about this as it is something I never think about drinking.

    I think the new thing is people who can’t put down their cell phones even while driving.

    Of course, anyone can make a horrible, horrible driving mistake.

    • #21
  22. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Dbroussa:

    For my wife, it was six months before she could walk without a walker or crutches, and still today her hip hurts at times.

    After seeing that photo, she’s just luckily to be able to walk at all.

    • #22
  23. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Thank you for sharing, Dbroussa.  I was similarly traumatized by my first wife’s sudden and unexpected death at home; I will spare you the details.  It’s been 11 years for you, 17 for me.  Be comforted to know that the pain and the anxiety of a terrible family trauma get better with time.  Ten-eleven years is actually where they began to wane for me, perhaps because of my blessings in remarrying.  You’ve been traumatized, you have PTSD, and it takes time to heal.

    • #23
  24. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    The Cloaked Gaijin (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    A woman with a BAC of 0.12 (when it was tested 2 hours later), traveling at an estimated speed of 60mph in a 35 zone, slammed almost directly head-on into the minivan. The drunk, while dazed, suffered nothing. …

    The kicker, of course, is that the drunk already had a suspended license – had lost it ages ago.

    I hate drunk drivers. George W. Bush’s small drunk-driving arrest was one of the few things I really disliked about him, at least at the time.

    Growing up I never really knew anyone who drank alcohol, at least very regularly. Alcohol is like a religion for a very large percentage of the population, and I always forget about this as it is something I never think about drinking.

    I think the new thing is people who can’t put down their cell phones even while driving.

    Of course, anyone can make a horrible, horrible driving mistake.

    One of my worst memories was when I was an orderly in the ED in Chicago, years before medical school.

    We got in a family on a Sunday morning.  They had gone our for ice cream.  They had been hit by a drunk driver who was also brought in , without a scratch on him.

    The family had 2 children and the wife who were DOA.   1 child survived. The father was hurt, but not critically.

    My job was to prep one of the daughters about 7 for her father to view.  I had to wash the vomit out her hair.  When I manipulated her neck I could feel the bones shifting.  The drunk driver had no idea of the carnage his selfish, stupid behavior had caused.

    • #24
  25. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    My prayers for all those mentioned here who were in accidents and have residual issues. I’m touched by all these stories. Lord, make them whole and pain free. 

    • #25
  26. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Blondie (View Comment):
    Glad you can retell the story. I can’t believe anybody survived that car.

    Well, it was a Ford Mustang, and they are pretty remarkable cars.

    • #26
  27. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Dbroussa (View Comment):

    To this day, when I drive through that intersection, I sometimes think about that evening. And sometimes when the phone rings while my wife or kids are out, I get a stab of fear.

    I’m glad your wife and son are okay.

    I spun out on I-10 just east of Schulenberg spinning around on a wet highway with an 18 wheeler bearing down on me. Took me over a decade to not get really nervous when I hit that stretch of highway.

    I was in a very minor fender-bender with my then 3-year-old son in the car.  Every time we drove past the site of the incident for the next several weeks, he’d yell “look out!”.

     

    • #27
  28. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    That photograph, and your story, are why all my kids drive Crown Vics.  

    Daughter:  “Daddy, this thing is a tank!  Can’t I have a cute little convertible or something?”

    Daddy:  “No.”

    I’ve worked in a lot of ER’s, and I’ve seen a lot of horrible things.  My kids will drive Crown Vics, until they can buy their own car.  

    • #28
  29. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    That photograph, and your story, are why all my kids drive Crown Vics.

    Daughter: “Daddy, this thing is a tank! Can’t I have a cute little convertible or something?”

    Daddy: “No.”

    I’ve worked in a lot of ER’s, and I’ve seen a lot of horrible things. My kids will drive Crown Vics, until they can buy their own car.

    Yup.  There’s no substitute for sufficient mass.  All of my children have driven SUVs until they could buy their own.  (Beaters, too, so they were motivated to buy their own…)

    Two tons is the target.  A car that weighs less is too freaking dangerous.

    • #29
  30. DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone Coolidge
    DrewInEastHillAutonomousZone
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    That photograph, and your story, are why all my kids drive Crown Vics.

    Daughter: “Daddy, this thing is a tank! Can’t I have a cute little convertible or something?”

    Daddy: “No.”

    I’ve worked in a lot of ER’s, and I’ve seen a lot of horrible things. My kids will drive Crown Vics, until they can buy their own car.

    Yup. There’s no substitute for sufficient mass. All of my children have driven SUVs until they could buy their own. (Beaters, too, so they were motivated to buy their own…)

    Two tons is the target. A car that weighs less is too freaking dangerous.

    Around our house, we call these “Not So Smart Cars.”

    Smart Car Crashes Into Back of Dump Truck on 405 Freeway ...

    • #30