Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Monday. It's 7:30am.
The wife has just left for work, a routine that's just becoming routine again after being unemployed for more than a year. Still in my pajamas, I've settled back down to doze for another hour or so. I work evenings and am rarely in bed before 3:00 am, so a doze is definitely in order. Ordinarily, I might have made coffee and cooked up a quick breakfast for us, but not this morning; I'm tired. I'm just staring to drift away. Naturally, the phone rings.
So much for nap time. Is it work? One of the kids? Whatever, at 7:30 it's an imposition no matter who it is. I might just let it go to voice mail, but no. I suck it up and answer the phone.
"I'm in a bad accident on 39. Come and get me hurry." She was crying.
Seven seconds - my phone timed it. By 7:34, I'm starting my car and trying to figure out how to get the frost off the car FAST. It doesn't happen that way. I scrape the window in record time and roll down the side windows in my old heap and drove to the end of the driveway. Out the driver's side window I can see the ambulance making the turn to go south on 39 and I CAN'T SEE A DAMNED THING OUT OF MY WINDSHIELD because the inside has fogged up and frozen. I hit the windshield a lick and try to keep going, but have to pull over after turning out onto the highway because it's just no use. I compose myself and finally get the windshield clear enough to see and I work through the school traffic as quickly as I dare and head south on 39. By this time the ambulance is well out of sight.
Indiana State Road 39 is a two lane blacktop highway that is the main route between Podunk and the next town south where my wife works at the local middle school as a para-professional (meaning non-degreed and not under contract and underpaid teacher. She loves her job.*) It's about 10 miles of curvy road and lots of the intersections with county roads and driveways that make driving in rural Indiana a hazardous proposition. In the seven second conversation, she didn't mention where she was on the highway and she hasn't called back with more information, so I don't know when I'm going to come upon the accident scene and I have no idea what to expect when I get there and inside I'm half frantic and I'm going over all the reasons that it can't be all that serious - I mean she called after all so at least she wasn't unconscious or anything and she's been in accidents before and everything nothing serious and I see the accident scene finally and she didn't make it TWO MILES and there are two ambulances and rescue crews and there's a mangled red pickup truck parked in its own debris and her minivan is 30 feet into a muddy, harvested cornfield, stubble stretching as far as I could see and I park on the northwest corner of the intersection and half trot toward the minivan while trying to absorb as much infomation as I can and there's someone in a neckbrace and back board strapped to a gurney - not her she's still in the van and a paramedic is working on her and the van is a godawful mess the left rear wheel has broken completely off and is lying next to the van and I get to the door and she's alert and talking - thank God! - and I can begin to calm down. What happened?
The driver of the red pickup was probably on his way to work. He stopped at the intersection where the county road met Highway 39. He looked both ways - my wife saw him do this - and didn't see the van. He started across the intersection and laws of physics, unmerciful as they are immutable, took over. As the van smashed into the pickup, the driver was tossed violently to his right. When his head snapped back to the left, his head smashed through the driver's side window and his neck fractured under the strain - thank God it did not dislocate. Injured and bleeding, his first thought was to come to my wife's aid, at one point collapsing to the ground while he tried to call for help. It was about this time that others arrived on the scene and the wife collected herself enough to call me.
The wife never had a chance to avoid the truck; all she saw was red and she thinks she just managed to lift her foot off the accelerator. When the minivan struck the pickup just behind the right front wheel, suddenly, the westbound truck was headed south and the southbound minivan headed southwest, the van and truck touching once more side-to-side before separating. The second impact as the two stricken vehicles careened out of control broke out the side windows and snapped the left rear spindle of the minivan. She was comparatively lucky. As the van drove into the pickup at about 55 mph, she was thrown forward. The air bags deployed and her forward motion was arrested. She settled back into her seat and while stunned and bruised was relatively unhurt.
A cop is sifting through the litter in the passenger compartment of the minivan, looking for the van's registration like it's some kind of holy grail. WTF? Who cares? Any info on the registration he can get by running the plate. The glove box exploded when the air bag did and the contents are scattered all over the interior of the van. The registration - I know this - is actually in the center console. I pluck it out of the console and hand it to the cop. Meanwhile, the paramedics have cut up the wife's right pants leg to get a look at the knee and ankle, which had taken a shot and were swollen and painful to the touch. Oddly, the destruction of her pants - bought new just the night before and worn for all of thirty minutes before the accident - affects the wife more than the demolition of the van. The paramedics and hospital personnel destroy about a hundred bucks worth of clothing with scissors as they expose her layer by layer to the scrutiny of doctors, nurses and machines. Pants, shirt, bra and panties will all succumb to the shears before the day is over, but it's the pants she's most upset about.
Finally, the paramedics fit her with a neck brace - de rigueur in this type of accident - and pull her out of the van and load her onto a back brace, then onto a gurney and into an ambulance for the 20 mile ride to the hospital. Knowing she's okay I stay and survey the scene for a few minutes, sifting through the wreckage looking for glasses, cell phone, purse and other items that she will need before they haul the sad remains of the minivan off to the impound yard to await the final judgement of the insurance adjuster. Someone - fireman I think - just notices that the fuel tank has broken and is spilling gas under the van. I actually like the smell of gasoline. I've been a mechanic too damn long. Good thing I don't smoke; I continue to go through the van and ignore the fumes.
I finish poking through the van for the important stuff, leaving the rest for a follow-up visit to the impound yard. The ambulances are gone now. The emergency crews are sweeping the debris out of the roadway and waiting for the arrival of the wreckers. A cop directs traffic around the site and after one final survey, I take a couple of pictures using the cell phone camera. I walk back across the street and get into my beat up old Honda. As I sit in my old beater, built before the advent of air bags, I shudder at what could have been. The same crash in this smallish car could easily have meant death or serious injury for my wife.
The windshield still has frost on it. The side windows are still down and I pull onto the road and drive off to be with my wife at the hospital, thanking God and the Chrysler Corporation's engineers for my wife's escape.
Several long hours at the hospital. A small fortune in MRI's and x-rays and blood tests and exams later and all for bumps and bruises only, thank God! She's going to be sore for a few days, but I still have her, and that's all good.
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