Rick, “What is that car…?!?…its coming into our lane!!!  We’re gonna hit!!!”

Holly, “What the…?!?  eeeeEEEEEEE!!!!!!”  (insert !!CHUNK!! sound here)

Friday morning, yes, December 31, 2010, at about 9am, Rick and I were driving south on the Needles Highway, on our way home from the Avi Casino Resort where we’d spent a blissful (but cold) 5 days (we’re not much on gambling but it had a nice riverfront location).  Coming up to a slight curve in the road, Rick saw a small maroon? Nissan throwing up dust and starting to spin counterclockwise INTO OUR LANE!  There was no avoiding an impact (‘impact’ isn’t a big enough word).

My brain splits into two distinct voices.  One is screaming like a little girl and I’m shifting my body down and to the left in anticipation, and the other is saying “Really?!?  THIS is how you react in an emergency?!?”

From 55 mph to 0 in about 10 feet.

Cars came to a rest at this spot

Airbags deploy (ours were pink) and have a yucky smell, like I should complain.  We don’t pass out and each of us reaches out to the other, “Are you OK?”  “I’m OK are you OK?  I love you.”  Nothing seems horribly broken.  My vision is only of fog…I can’t focus, there are lots of sparkles in my vision.

Rick says “the lady is yelling, we’ve got to help her”.  But his door is buckled and trapped by the other car, his window gone.  My door won’t open either, so I roll down my window and think about climbing out.  Body doesn’t cooperate.

I pull my cellphone from my purse and dial 911…out in the middle of nowhere, I don’t have enough signal to get through.  A young girl appears at my window “Are you OK?”  “Yeah, we think so”  and I, in my effort to get my thoughts together, start asking her where she’s from and has she lived here long…doofus me…

I take off my earrings and put them and all the rest of my purse stuff in its zippered compartments so they don’t fall out during whatever happens next…pragmatic me…

Within 5-10 minutes, CHP and Firemen arrive.  CHP is at my window, asking how we feel, what happened, etc.   I tell the guy that this better be the LAST frickin’ day of the year!  He laughs.

Firemen tell us they’ll have to use the Jaws of Life to get Rick out.

I ask the CHP to tell the Firemen not to scratch my car, we just had it washed!  Ha ha  The CHP says he’s glad we still have our sense of humor, it makes it easier for him.  We are just trying not to be in the way.

The other car has 2 passengers.  Nancy* is driving and Wayne*, her husband, is the passenger.  He can’t be extricated easily because our car is in the way.  They have to get Nancy out first, then him.  They are both in excruciating pain.  Nancy keeps yelling for them to help her husband.

Fireman comes to my window and tells me that my door is trapped by a berm of dirt that runs along the road.  They’ll dig me out after extricating Rick.

Rick is freed and steps out of the car, feeling woozy but overall OK.  My door opens and the Fireman, who must be all of 22, extends his hand to me.  That’s when I discover *ouch* pain…my sternum!  I climb out of the car and lean against it.  That’s when I hear, for the first time, what will be the mantra for anyone talking to me “Take your time”.  There is NO moving quickly.

I’m asked if there is anything I need out of the car.  I want my green satchel because it has water, books, granola bars and I can’t imagine being stuck at the hospital without a book!  But, we can’t reach it, so I give up on that idea.  Next time, I’ll put a book IN my purse.

I want to sleep standing up somehow, so tired.  Dizzy, very dizzy.  The EMTs decide that I might have injuries I don’t know about so they are going to put me on a backboard.  Blast it all!  If they have to cut off my clothes I will be very unhappy (understatement) but at least I have on clean underwear.  They assure me that my arms will be free and they don’t have to cut off anything.  >whew<

My eyes won’t stay open, I’m so drowsy.  I’m on the backboard with a claustrophobic-inducing neck brace and they heft me up and haul me next to the ambulance where they leave me…lying in the dirt.

Rick comes into my field of vision and tells me what’s been going on.  He’s called Austin and has taken a few blackmail pictures of me.  They are extricating Nancy and Wayne.  Rick starts feeling woozy and goes to sit on the dirt berm, where a Fireman sits next to him and holds him up.  They decide Rick needs a backboard, too.  His left knee is really painful now.

dirt berm, perfect for crashing against and sitting upon

I can hear the EMTs trying to figure out what to do.  They have 4 victims in various stages of injury.  Wayne needs to be airlifted but they have to transport him to the helicopter and they don’t want to leave the rest of us by the side of the road.  I’m placed on a bench seat.  Nancy has already been suspended from the ceiling and we can hear the EMTs trying to stabilize Wayne.  He’s calling out but not making a lot of sense.  He can’t tell the EMTs what’s wrong.  The worst damage is his leg.  They say its ‘mashed’.  Nancy is yelling for the EMTs to give him something for the pain.  EMTs place in IV in Wayne’s arm but he pulls it out.  He can’t keep himself still and the EMTs are at their wits end trying to work with him.

There is a helicopter waiting to transport Wayne.  EMTs talk about what to do first.  They decide to take us all to the heliport and offload Wayne, and then take us to the hospital.

I reach above me and put my hand on Nancy’s shoulder, ‘Who is that?” she asks.  I tell her I was in the other car, “I’m sorry” she cries.  I’m the least of her worries, so I tell her not to think about it, just concentrate on herself and her husband.  She and I hold hands.

I can’t remember if Rick is placed on the bench before or after Wayne is suspended from the ceiling.  I can’t move my head, just my eyes.  I want to text my sister but I can’t reach my purse, which is at my legs.

The ambulance ride.  Sometimes they use the siren and sometimes they don’t.  The siren isn’t earsplitting from inside, I’d wondered about that.

A bit bumpy, and one of the EMTs practically sits on me – oomph!  The EMTs decide that Rick should be offloaded first, then they can lower Wayne to the bench where they can work with him more easily.  The helicopter team won’t be able to take Wayne unless he’s somewhat stable.

Wayne’s vital signs degrade.  The EMTs talk about intubating him.  They’d have more trouble with that if they wait until he’s loaded on the helicopter so the helicopter team RN says to do it now.  Wayne’s pupils become fixed and dilated.  They start compressions on his chest.

His wife and I are listening to all of this, right there.  She’s crying, I’m crying, praying.

EMTs decide to go back to the ER.  Its not far, barely a minute away, helipad must be on the same property as the hospital.

They offload Wayne, offload me, offload Nancy.

I can hear Rick in the other room.  He sounds good and I’m praising God for that.  At this point, I’m so woozy I can barely think, vision foggy, brain foggy.  Nurses and doctors, CHP and who-knows-who are coming by and asking for info, doing things, does it hurt? Where?

I can hear the doctors and nurses working on Wayne.  He dies at 11am.  His wife wails “I killed my husband”.   Oh, God, I pray, unable to think anything more.

Coroner Case #xxxxxxxxx; On 12/31/2010 at 09:12 AM, a 911 call was received reporting a traffic collision on Needles Highway at Budweiser Rd. The California Highway responded to find that a 2006 Nissan Altima traveling northbound on Needles Highway failed to negotiate a slight left curve and crossed over into the southbound lane. It was struck in the passenger side by a 2005 Dodge Magnum. Three people were trapped in their vehicles and had to be extricated by Fire Department Personnel. The victims were airlifted to the Colorado River Medical Center in Needles where xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, a 61 year old resident of West Covina, was pronounced dead at 11:07 AM. The California Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

Whatever is going on with me feels so small.  I’m just glad to be alive and glad that Rick is alive and so very, very glad that our kids weren’t with us in the backseat.

Its so cold in the ER, they put blankets on us.  After a time, hours, I’m freed from the backboard.  I try to sit up.

Ever had vertigo?  A horrible experience.  Panels of gray are overlapping each other and I’m falling down Alice’s Rabbit Hole.  Throwing up is another revolting aspect of vertigo and I’m sick as a dog and throwing up  for hours.  I still get a little dizzy if I move suddenly.

They x-ray my right foot, no breaks there, they say, just a strain.  My neck and head get a CT scan.  I throw up moving from the CT bed to the gurney.  I hate throwing up.  But, I feel like death warmed over and don’t care about anything anymore.  Its just like in the movies, where the hero is being moved on a gurney and his eyes open – he sees ceiling lights moving past, then everything grays out…that was me, from about 11-3pm on Friday.  Gray, then throwing up, then gray, then throwing up.

Someone comes to my side and says they are going to do an EKG.  She starts putting these little beads on me, all over.  Then she right away takes them off.  I ask her “what, are they wireless?”  She laughs, because I slept through the entire thing.

I’m hallucinating a little.  Reaching out for things in front of me that aren’t there, people that aren’t there.

Rick and I were moved into a hospital room together.  A first, the doctor said, for a husband and wife to share a room.  We encourage each other and compare notes.  Rick says CHP told him Nancy and Wayne weren’t wearing seatbelts.

Aack, I have to go to the bathroom.  My foot is so painful, like being stabbed with an ice pick and I can barely sit up without shooting pain from my sternum and at my left side.  Its impossible to use those muscles without pain.  Sitting up, lying down, holding onto something, breathing, raising my left arm, leaning, its all pain.  I feel silly complaining because I’m alive.

I need to have help getting up and getting into the bathroom (all of 3 steps away), I have an IV to pull along, too, stupid IV.  The nurse requests help and asks me what exactly I will need to be doing in the bathroom (#1 or #2) just as the Respiratory Therapist, a nice-looking young man (don’t I sound old?) comes over.  I tell the RT to close his ears and his eyes because my hospital gown isn’t tied in the back and I’m flashing the world.  Tell him to just give me his arm to hold.  He and the nurse laugh.  I’m glad somebody is because moving hurts so much.

card from Rick's sister, Magen, and her family

The doctor comes by and says that we have no broken bones (hmmm) and that we can be discharged on Saturday, whenever.  We are a little shocked by that.  We start asking questions about hotels, airports, taxis.  Yikes, no taxi service. Airport is 90 minutes north, in Las Vegas. We can’t drive, obviously.  What are we supposed to do?  I picture us discharged, sitting in wheelchairs at the front of the hospital thumbing for a ride.

I call my sister, Susan, she might need to come down and we’re also calling Rick’s brother, Ron.  We’d have Austin come down but he’s not old enough to rent a car, so that’s out.  (Andrew is in Washington visiting his girlfriend, Andrea’s, family.)

Flurry of calls giving status, making plans.  Ron will fly down to Las Vegas, rent a car – a big GMC Yukon – and drive to Needles.  Ingrid, Ron’s wife, made hotel and plane reservations for us – doing magic on a holiday weekend!  We stayed in Needles Saturday (I think Rick and I were asleep by 9pm) and the next day, went to Rite-Aid to buy a cane and a pair of sandals for me, reading glasses for Rick.  Then we steeled ourselves for a visit to my car in the tow company’s lot.

The tow company had removed all the luggage from the car and anything else they could see that looked important.  We found almost everything intact, my eyeglasses, Rick’s sunglasses.  It’s a good thing we weren’t wearing them, so we don’t have cuts from the airbag impact.

My poor Dodge Magnum.  I loved that car.  I would have been happy to drive that car until it fell apart – which, apparently, I did.  (I’ve decided my next car will be a Sherman Tank)

Tank link: <p><a href="http://www.freephotos.com">Free Stock Photo: FreePhotos.com</a></p>

We drove to the crash site.  Its near a gentle curve, not even a different speed limit posted for it.  The skid marks are strangely short.  Rick takes pictures of the area…where the Fireman used a shovel to dig the berm away from my door, the skid marks, the road itself.  He’s so nervous with me standing on the shoulder of the road – afraid a car will hit me.

Then we drive to Las Vegas and spend the night in a Best Western next to the airport.  Rick is telling Ron to slow down, watch your speed, be careful here…poor guy, we are both Nervous Nellies.

Putting on my jammies I notice that there is a strange squiggly bruise on my tummy…looking closer I realize it looks like a Spirograph made with a blue ballpoint pen!  How did that happen?  Someone leaned over me and their pen wrote on me?  Odd.

Monday, at the airport, I get a wheelchair, as does Rick.  What a pair.  The distance between the check-in counter and the gate is long and we are a bit late because the shuttle driver from the Best Western was late leaving.  We barely make it to the gate in time for pre-boarding.

Thankfully, the bulkhead seats are free and Rick and I sink into the seats, exhausted.

Arriving at the airport, Susan is there with her van and Austin to help with getting stuff at baggage claim.  We had bought 2 Native American-looking rugs in Kingman, AZ…who knew we’d have to package them up for a plane ride?  At home, Austin takes Ron to the BART station in Fremont and Susan helps us get situated at home.  She goes and gets us Jamba Juice for dinner…nice, cool, refreshing…I request mine with an energy boost, not sure it helped, though.

I call Kaiser and set up appointments for Rick and me for Tuesday.  We are there from 9:20am til about 5pm.  X-rays, CT scans, one doctor after another and the prognosis is that Rick as a broken left wrist (with a cast) and I have a broken right foot (with a boot).  Neither of us has broken ribs.  His left knee isn’t broken, either.  >whew<  We have follow-up appointments next Tuesday.

Bruises from seatbelts are enormous.  Picture the seatbelt across your body – lap and shoulder harness – now color that area a marvelous burgundy, with a starburst at your sternum.  The funny thing is that some of the bruises didn’t manifest themselves until Tuesday, Wednesday or today!  Weird.

Rick has even more bruises than I do, because the cars crashed together again side to side and the driver’s door caved in somewhat.

We were driving on a lonely byway with nary a car on it.  Yet, we managed to get into an accident.  Guardian Angels have enough to do, give them a hand and wear your seatbelts.

* Names changed at the request of the family.

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