"Life Through the Shattered Windshield"
Life is so easy to take for granted, until something happens that changes everything. Every day, I remember the incident that changed the way I look at every aspect of life. It was August 25, 1993, still summer, but starting to show signs of fall. I had worked all day and stopped at home to change my clothes before going to Bible Study at my church. I was in a hurry, but when I got to my car, something told me to stop and put on my seatbelt.
The main road was closed for construction, so I was on a gravel road with very few houses. I pulled away from the stop sign and started to build speed. The sun was bright and warm on my face. I was feeling very tired, and in the split second that I dozed off, my whole life changed. I felt the car veering to the left, woke and slammed on the brakes. In front of me was the yellow and black sign marking the concrete bridge that would soon be embedded in the front of my car. Tires squealed like an animal in pain, gravel flew, glass shattered and metal crunched. My screams pierced the silence as I sat back from the steering wheel that was bent up to the dashboard from the force of my body being slammed against it. The front of the car was pushed to the windshield, the dashboard was slammed into my right knee and the engine was in the floorboard on the passenger's side.
I was alive, but totally helpless. I tried to get out, but the door was jammed and could not be moved. Since my car was sitting at an angle into the ditch, getting out the other side was virtually impossible. With my body in shock and severe pain, I used the only thing that still worked in my car, the horn. I pushed on the horn to alert the people in the only house on that mile stretch of road. In my rearview mirror I saw my friends coming up behind and slow down. My best friend's dad got out and came up to the car. At about the same time, the neighbor came down. He had heard me hit the bridge and had alread called for help. Jenny stood outside the car, holding my hand and keeping me awake. Everyone prayed and waited for help to arrive.
The police arrived first and asked their normal questions. I was alert and answered them all corrctly.
"Were you wearing your seatbelt?"
"You are a very lucky young lady. If you had not been you would probably be another statistic lying in that drainage ditch.''
"Have you been drinking?"
"No, sir. I just got off work and was on my way to church."
I heard the sirens from the ambulance and the other police car approaching. The familiar faces of the volunteer ambulance crew were comforting and they worked quickly to ge me out of the mass of crumpled steel and glass. I could see my dad standing in front of the car with my uncle, who is the chief of police in our hometown. For the first time in my life, my strong dad looked as helpless as I was. I could see the fear in his eyes and I was even more scared. The first of the emergency personnel approached and Jenny had to step away. We reached for each other, but they had work to do and she couldn't stay. I could see my friends huddled together crying. I wanted to tell them that everything would be okay, but I wasn't so sure myself. One member of the ambulance crew got in the car to check things out and put the neck brace on me. Some others were using the jaws of life to remove the door. The breaking of the hinges sent chills through my body. The door came off and they were ready to pull me from the wreckage.
"Watch this knee. It appears to be shattered," said the man in the car with me. The crew turned me around, immobilized my leg, and strapped me onto the backboard. The ditch was steep, but I was safe. They lifted me into the ambulance and prepared to leave for the hospital. The gravel road was very rough and the pain in my body was getting worse. The ambulance crew worked quickly, cutting my clothes off, checking my vital signs and trying to keep the fear out of their eyes. I was able to communicate with them and wanted to know everything they were doing. I was in shock and wasn't really responding to the pain. The ride to the hospital was short and they rushed me into the emergency room. The nurses took over there, but the ambulance crew stayed to wait for my family and see that everything was okay.
I lay on the cold, hard x-ray table, starting to feel the pain again. The young man assisting had to pull on my arms so they could get a clear picture of my neck. I cried out in pain, and he told me to squeeze his hands and he would take my pain. I could see the tears in his eyes. A nurse opened the door and told him that they had called Life Flight, the emergency helicopter service from St. Francis Hospital in Peoria.
"Tony, why are they taking me to Peoria?"
"I'm not sure, hon. They have better facilities there and can take better care of you. That's probably all."
I knew that going to St. Francis meant my condition was serious. Everyone always worried whenever someone had to go to Peoria. My own mom had died there just over seven years before that. When we returned to the emergency room, my family, Pastor Claassen, and my friends had arrived. Pastor prayed and everyone gathered around. The nurses removed the glass from my knee and prepared me for the flight. "Can my dad go with me?"
"No, I'm sorry. There's not enough room in the helicopter."
"I'll drive down and be there shortly after you arrive." The helicopter landed and they were ready for me. I could see the faces of my family and friends and the hospital personnel as I was being wheeled down the hall. What was going to happen? Would I ever see them again? They got me settled in the helicopter and my body finally relaxed. The nurses continued to take care of me and make me comfortable.
The lights in the trauma center were very bright and the commotion was upsetting. I wanted to rest, but they had more work to do. The CAT scan machine was terrifying. It was cold, lonely and only a small light flashed as the images were taken. I couldn't breathe and I felt as if the tube closing in around me.
Back in the trauma center, they took more x-rays, turning my leg one way, then the other. I held in the screams that were trapped in my throat. The final step was to stitch my cuts. The Novocain shots eased the pain slightly. I was dreading the scars, but was thankful I still had my life. By 3:00 AM, I was able to go to my room. I was finally unstrapped from the board but still had the neck and knee immobilizers on. The slightest movement woke me and the nurses came in every two hours to check my vitals. Due to the pain and discomfort, I didn't get much sleep that night. Neither did my sister who slept in the chair in my room.
The doctor came in early the next morning to give us the results of the tests. For the most part, everything was okay. My heart was bruised, my jaw and left shoulder dislocated and I had many bruises and cuts. Nothing too serious, but they wanted to run a few more x-rays that day. I was out of the immediate danger, now I just had a lot of healing to do.
That afternoon, the doctor informed us that everything was okay, and I could go home. They told us that I would be fine as long as I didn't any problems with my heart within 72 hours, so were very apprehensive. It had only been 20 hours since the accident and I couldn't raise my head from the pillow, but we agreed I would feel better at home in my own bed.
Soon after, the nightmares started. My fear of the dark returned. My recovery was long and follow up visits to various doctors showed that I had three fractured ribs and injuries to my spine. I had surgery on my knee in the spring of 1995 and the nightmares are less frequent, but every change in the weather sends pain shooting through my body.
Most of my life has been easy to take for granted, but no anymore. I've heard about other people seeing their lives flash before them when faced with possible death. I saw my life through the shattered windshield, and fought to keep living. Twenty-two years just wasn't going to be enough.