Friday, September 28, 2012

What day changed your life forever?

That's a question that brings to mind so many life events and generates a thoughtful life review.  Each and every significant life event has had an impact on me and gave me the opportunity to change who I am.  The decisions I have made when each significant opportunity presented itself were based on a choice for positive beneficial change or negative change that would lead to a dead end and stagnation.  I have always chosen to look at the positive side of any life event so I would be able to continue moving forward and to learn valuable life lessons.  When pondering this question, initially I automatically chose the day I was injured because that is the day when my mind and body were set up for fibromyalgia.  This illness certainly has had a monumental impact on my life and has changed my life forever, but I can't say that day would be the one I would choose. The day my daughter was born changed my life forever and I metamorphasized into a different person as a result of having mothered a child.  But I still wouldn't choose that day as the single most significant day in my life.  After all, children leave home and go their own way, as they should, so the ultimate impact she has on my life today is less than when I was actively raising her.  There have been many other life changes:  divorce, a move from Illinois to Indiana to Minnesota to California, relationships that have come and gone, relationships that have stood the test of time, the loss of my father, the aging of my 88 year old mother, job changes, retirement, getting my college degree and completing my Masters degree, so many other changes that have occured through the years too numerous to mention.  But there is one single event that changed my life forever and has been an inspiration and reminder of how precious and fragile life is.  That's the day I survived a high speed car accident.

I had left for work at a community hospital Quality Department in my white Saturn coupe at 6:00 am on a cold, crisp November Minnesota morning.  It was a 45 minute commute so I settled into my seat as I listened to my favorite morning radio show.  I had bought my Saturn only 2 months prior; it was the first car I had purchased on my own.  I was headed south on highway 169; a familiar 4 lane divided highway that winds through the north woods countryside.  It was dark outside since darkness dominates the northwoods as winter approaches and the sun is slow to rise and early to set in the winter sky.  The stars and moon were occluded by a dense cloud cover, a welcome sight since the clouds act as an insulator and maintain a relatively warm ground temperature.  I had left the house just at the right time to avoid the first surge of commuter traffic and I was enjoying the solitude of the road.  The car in front of me was a distant glow of red taillights that moved to and fro like a pendulum as it traveled down the winding roadway.  There are numerous hidden entryways throughout this drive where gravel pits and the local dump welcome the arrival of dump trucks and gravel haulers.  As I made my way south at the 65 mile per hour speedlimit, I came to a curve that straightened out just before one of the entryways to a gravel pit.  As the car straightened out the spread of a bottom dump gravel hauler loomed directly in front of my car's headlights.  Much to my dismay, the truck was stopped with the bed of the truck stretched across the two southbound lanes and was just 20 short feet before me.  I learned later that the truck driver had missed a gear and had to come to a full stop.  I couldn't see the truck's lights because the cab was off the roadway in the gravelpit driveway  and the end of the truck was in the median.  I applied the brakes hard and steered toward the bed's front wheels.  I instantly knew I didn't want to go under that trailer bed.  As the distance shortened in a kind of suspended slow motion animation I thought "My God.  I'm going to be dead!"  The second thought that went through my mind is "My car is going to be a mess!"  I successfully hit the trailer's front wheels with an explosion of crumpling metal as the bumper, front fenders, and hood were ripped and smashed into the car's engine.  In an acrobatic spin there was another explosion of crumpling metal as the rear bumper and fenders collapsed into the trunk.  The back of my car had hit the truck bed's back wheels.  A few feet away my car came to a stop.  I swiftly began a head to toe assessment of my condition to determine the extent of my injuries.  The only thing I knew at that moment was I had somehow survived the initial crash.  Someone or something had been looking out for me on that beautiful November morning.  I was surprised the air bag had not deployed and was doubly surprised to see the air bag hanging limp over the steering wheel with a cloud of smoke that had occupied the car's interior.  I was amazed that the only issues I identified in that moment was my mascara had flaked with the impact of the airbag and I had a hole in my pantyhose just below my left knee where my leg had absorbed the impact along with my seat belt.  I had a deep bruise below my left knee, but no fracture!  In those few seconds the action was so intense that I couldn't even comprehend the events that had taken place.  I realized that I was able to move so I opened the car door as smoke swirled around the car in an eerie haze with cones of light coming from the car's headlamps.   I emerged from the car and started to walk across the roadway in the smoke filled air rising from the crumpled mass of steel and polyurethane.  I must have looked like a bionic woman.  Workers from the gravel pit were running toward my car to provide any assistance needed.  The surprise on their faces told a story of disbelief.  As traffic surged into a full blown rush hour I was aware that my accident had caused a great deal of back-up and lots of irritation for the early morning commuters.  I decided to take the day off work and go back to work the following day.  I thought I must be invincible.   I was checked out in the nearest ER and was informed the only injury I had was a deep bruise just below my left knee.  Yes, I was invincible!  I had survived a high speed crash that was unsurviveable and I didn't know why.  When I went to work the next day it was soon evident that my body had suffered a trauma as the aches and pains began in earnest.  I decided to go back home and give myself some R and R.  I had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome just 3 years prior to this event and that only complicated the trauma of the crash.  Before I left for home that day the hospital's senior pastor came to visit me.  I was grateful for the opportunity to review the events of the previous morning and he listened intently to my amazing story of survival.  He gave me a knowing smile as I finished my story and I will never forget the words he said to me.  He told me that I had been given the gift of life.  What a precious gift indeed!  A gift that I had taken for granted the first 47 years of my life.  Those words transformed my life and I have rejoyced every day that I have had thereafter.  There is no more important gift than life and no matter what comes my way I accept those challenges, because it is those challenges that confirm I'm still alive.  And whenever I am delayed by an accident on the roadway I say a little prayer for those people involved in hopes their guardian angel or a higher power has been looking out for them at that moment.  Blessings to you as you celebrate the gift of life every day!
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