A Second in Time

It’s funny how one second in time can change a person’s life completely. Usually we think that each minute of our lives is precious, and that is true, however, when you are in that split second when you have no idea if you are going to live or die, then it becomes a second in time that your life can exist or be lost.

That is what I discovered one day when I was leaving work and heading for home. A terrible winters’ day when the wind was blowing so strong from the north that my vehicle was rocking just sitting in the parking lot. It carried with it heavy snow, blinding snow, and ice.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in the year 2007 when I left my contract job in London and was heading for home. I was very glad the day was over. Work had been extremely stressful, my contract for one year was almost over and no one had decided if I was going to continue on or not.

When I stepped outside to head for my Dodge Ram 1500 truck, I was shocked to see how bad the weather had turned that February afternoon. It was extremely cold and the wind was blowing so hard it made it difficult to walk across the parking lot. I managed to get my truck cleared off and started off for home.

At this time we lived on the North-west side of the city and I was working on the South-east side. There was one main road I usually took to and from work every day. It was a direct route but had many stoplights and once I started off on Oxford Street I was shocked to discover how icy the roads actually were. I decided rather than taking a chance on trying to stop at all of the stoplights, and you never know how sometimes drivers overcompensate or react poorly when a bad storm hits, I decided to take the long way home. This route went to the north side of the city and skirted around most of the busy areas. This route didn’t have many stoplights so I felt I was making the best choice.

I was raised in a small town and spent many years on farms and on snowy country roads. I was also fearless when it came to driving in the winter but at the same time I respect the winter and what havoc it can wreak on the roadways.

So I began my journey home, confident in my driving skills and feeling very safe in the fact that I was driving a heavy truck and had 4 wheel drive and had gotten me through many snow covered roads before.

Once just outside of the city, heading north, everything seemed fine. It was very difficult to see due to the blowing snow but there was very little traffic so I felt confident with my choice of route. I saw one vehicle in front of me and noticed one behind me. We all kept our distance from each other. There was I would guess approximately 15-20 car lengths in between each vehicle. None of us changed the distance for many kilometers. It was as if we were all seasoned winter drivers and each knew what needed to be done.

When I reached Fanshawe Park Road, I had to turn left. In 2007 this part of the road was still what I would consider out in the country. It was not very populated or built up at the time. Time has changed this which for me is a good thing. There are no longer any reminders of the exact location.

I turned west onto Fanshawe Park Road and headed for Wonderland Road. I knew I would be fine and believed that the only area that may give me an issue is around Masonville Mall. This is a busy section where there is a huge shopping mall on the south side of the road and the north side was being built up rapidly with another shopping center.

I did notice that when I turned west that the wind from the north was so strong it was trying to push my truck across the road. The road conditions by this point in time had deteriorated even more from when I began my journey. The roads were ice covered and driving was hampered by the drifting snow and wind. I was still keeping my distance from the driver in front and behind. We all respected each other’s space and even though conditions where bad, I felt confident in myself and my vehicle.

The speed limit on this road was 60 km per hour. To give you some idea of how bad things were, I was driving at a speed of 5 km per hour. All the other vehicles were doing the same. After all, we are seasoned Canadian drivers.

The closer I came to the shopping mall area the more alert I became. The traffic was starting to get a bit heavier for those heading east out of the city, but I was heading west and as far as I was concerned everything was going well. I was tense and on high alert but was still confident I was going to get home unscathed.

Just as I approached the outer edge of the traffic area I began to notice every little detail of my surroundings. The minivan in front of me was a cream coloured vehicle and the pickup truck behind me was red. I watched as cars drove past me heading east and all the time I was fighting the wind to stay on my side of the road. The big trucks are great vehicles but when the wind is so strong it can really cause a power struggle to keep the truck where it belongs. I felt that at 5 km per hour I was not going to have any issues.

Then up in the distance I noticed a blue pickup truck heading in my direction. I have no idea why I noticed this vehicle at the time. It could have been that my guardian angel was tapping me on the shoulder telling me to be on my guard. I know I have a guardian angel. We have been through a great deal in this life together. I know my angel is always there… I have felt it; and that is a feeling that I respect completely.

The blue truck was still off in the distance but was getting closer. My eyes for some reason were riveted on this truck. I come to find out that it was a good thing that my guardian angel pointed this out to me. I had to be cautious; I need to have my total wits about me; I had to be on high alert; my life was going to depend on it in a few minutes.

As I continued to keep aware of my surroundings I also kept a keen eye on the traffic approaching me. The driver in front of me and behind continued to keep their same safe distance and I felt confident that I was safe in that space. Although it was now that I noticed in the distance that the blue truck coming towards me was beginning to have problems keeping their vehicle on the road. Something terrible was happening and things were about to get a lot worse.

It was at this point in time that I notice the truck went off the road and touched the gravel on the side. I don’t know whether the driver was inexperienced or nervous but this split second decided the fate of a few people.

Rather than taking their time to recover the truck back onto the road, the driver made the classic mistake of turning the wheel to sharply. The truck made it back onto the road alright, but began to fishtail. It was a simple thing to have happen because the roads were icy and it really would not have taken much of a movement to cause this reaction.

I don’t know what caused me to take the action I did but it was now that I realized this situation was going to play out and I truly did not want any part of it. I stopped my truck on the road in my lane and the driver behind me was respectful enough that they did the same. I was watching the blue pickup swerving off and on the road, going from one lane to the next, crossing over from one side to the next and knew at that moment that my life was in God’s hands. There was nowhere for me to go. There was traffic around me; no streets to turn onto to get out of the way. On my right side there was only ditch and farmers’ fields. I was trapped and there is nothing worse that feeling trapped and sitting and waiting for fate to play its hand.

My purse was on the passenger seat beside me and in that purse was my cell phone. I so desperately wanted to call my husband of eight months and tell him what was happening and tell him one more time that I love him. At this point the fear was welling up inside me. It was a horrible feeling. I had no idea what was going to happen. Was I going to get hit and die or was this truck whose driver had obviously lost control going to miss me completely.

So there I sat. My black truck parked in the west bound lane being blown by the strong north wind. I had my right foot planted firmly on the brake and I had what I now refer to as “the death grip,” on the steering wheel. I decided that day not to turn on the radio in the truck for the drive home. I wanted to totally focus my attention on the roads so I could get home safely.

The driver in front of me had decided to stop his vehicle also. We all realized this scenario was going to play out however the person in the blue truck decided.

I watched as they continued to lose control of their vehicle time after time. They would go off into the gravel on their side of the road only to turn sharply and swerve back onto the road, then continue to fishtail and spin. It was when the truck began to spin that I knew we were getting closer to what I thought was going to be the end. One spin across the road took the blue truck down the side of the van in front of me. The driver’s mirror was taken off and fell to the ground and lay there like a dead animal.

The fear in me began to rise even more. I wanted so desperately to talk to my husband. Was I ever going to get that chance again? Would I ever see my two sons again? I was screaming inside as I watched the blue truck go off the road again on their side only to go back onto the icy road and start to spin in circles right in front of me. The terror that was rising inside me was about to explode, but I held my foot on the brake pedal and gripped the steering wheel even tighter… if that was possible. I’m sure I was white knuckled by this point in time.

I began to pray as I watched the truck hit the gravel, come back onto the road one last time, spin around and backwards was heading for the ditch on my side of the road; directly in front of me!

Oh my God! What was going to happen? Someone please help me! Someone please get me out of this situation! I didn’t ask to be here. I was a good driver, I was just newly married to the man I had waited 46 years for. My life was finally heading in a great direction and I was happy, truly happy for the first time in my life. Was my life going to end here on this cold icy winters’ day?

The blue truck went backwards in front of me into the ditch side of the road. They only missed me by a few feet. What I failed to realize was that this vehicle had built up enough momentum in the spins that when it finally hit and grabbed the gravel and the back end of the truck stopped moving, but the front was not finished.

I was so petrified by this point in time. I couldn’t believe what was happening right in front of my eyes. I prayed harder as I grabbed the steering wheel more and prayed to God I was going to survive.

It was at this split second that I knew I was going to be hit. I knew the blue truck wasn’t finished moving. It had one more move to make before it finally came to a halt. Now I turned my head slightly to the right as I saw the vehicle about to crash into my truck. The fear of the unknown is a horrible thing. They say that in the split second of such a horror a person’s life flashes before their eyes. They only thing I saw was my husband. I was afraid I was never going to see him again. I was afraid of what this was going to do to him. If I didn’t survive this accident what would become of him. He was alive for the first time in his life. He was happy, he was no longer living under the shadow of his abusive, manipulative first wife. Life for the both of us was happy and we loved each other deeply. Faced with the fact that I may die all I could see was my husband and feel the love that we had for each other. But the terror took even that feeling away from me.

Time actually felt like it stopped. For a brief period I was able to have all these thoughts and feelings but my body was so frozen in terror I was unable to move. Even if I could move, there was nowhere to go. So I just sat and waiting for this impact. I had never in my life heard anything so deafening as when the truck finally did impact mine. The sound was so loud nothing else could have been heard over it. It is a sound I will never forget as long as I live.

The hit was quick and terrible. When the other truck hit the gravel with its back tires, the front of the truck swung around and hit my truck. It impacted with the front passenger side of the truck. I was hit so hard that the first person to approach me afterward said he watched the entire scenario play out, and saw the back end of my truck lift at least one foot off the ground. Also I find out after that Dodge Ram trucks are built with a steel frame. My Dodge was hit so hard the frame was bent eight inches back. The radiator was ruined, the engine block was moved back towards me and the frame was bent so badly that the right tire was a right-off. The other thing I noticed at the time of the impact was the stereo cover plate popped right off and flew into the back seat of the truck. I believe that I was fortunate that my air bad did not deploy. I wear glasses and had the bag inflated I’m not sure what would have happened to my nose and face. As it turns out, there was not one mark on me. Nothing on the surface at least.

After the initial impact the blue truck bounced back off of my truck and finally came to a stop. The nightmare for both of us was over… or so I thought. The other truck was damaged on the driver’s front side. The airbag went off in the other truck and it was at this time that I saw the other driver. I was so angry at this person. I was so furious that this person had just hit me. But then I saw the terror in her eyes and realized she was just as much a victim of circumstance as I was. This poor woman tried her best to control her vehicle and lost the fight. The fear I saw in her eyes matched my own. How could I be so angry at her?

Suddenly there was a tapping noise beside me. I tried to turn my head to see who it was but I couldn’t move my neck. I pressed the button to lower the window. A man’s voice asked if I was OK. I said, “No, I’m not OK. I can’t feel my legs.” The man then said to me, “I smell gas.” “Just a minute, I’ll be right back.” Fear once again was my best friend. All I could think of was, “oh my God. He smells gas and if there is a spark my truck is going to blow up and I won’t be able to get out because I can’t feel anything from the waist down!”

The man left me sitting there in a panic. He looked around the outside of my truck and then left to check on the other woman. He came back and gave me his phone number and name and said he would be a witness to the entire accident. Somehow that really didn’t make me feel any better. Here I sat, unable to feel my legs but could see that my right foot was sitting completely sideways on the floor beside the brake pedal. I think maybe it was a good thing I couldn’t feel my foot. It was sitting at a rather odd angle.

To my horror, when I looked up I saw the other driver getting out of her vehicle. She came over to me and asked if I was hurt. I told her I was. She looked at me and then said, “I knew I should have stayed in the Chapters parking lot.” then she just turned around and left. I’m not sure but I think I yelled at her. I knew I was in shock because I could feel the terror inside me. I felt that if I let a slight bit of the terror out I would not be able to reign it back in. I kept my eyes glued to this women who had hit me and as I sit here trapped and frozen in my truck she is out running around. The lady did get back into her truck and like me, waited for the authorities to come. It seemed like an eternity had passed already but in truth it was only about 15 minutes since things started to go wrong.

Somehow even though I couldn’t feel my lower body I managed to lean over to the passenger’s side floor of the truck and grab my cell phone. That’s where my purse ended up after the impact. My phone luckily had fallen out. There was an excruciating stabbing pain in my low back and hips when I leaned over but I had to call my husband; I had to let him know what had happened; I had to talk to him before I lost my mind with fear.

I made my call. The second I heard my husband’s voice on the phone it was like an explosion happened inside me. I tried to remain calm and not lose control. After all, he was in Brantford, an hour away and if the roads were this bad it would be a very difficult drive for him to get to me. I also knew he would push himself to get here for me.

I told him that I had just been hit and went on to explain what had happened. Even though I tried to hide the terror in my voice… he knew. As I was talking to him tears started to roll down my cheeks. I knew I had to stop this because if I didn’t, I was going to completely lose control. I honestly felt like I was losing control.

It is an amazing thing how in the midst of terror the human mind can find some little piece of stability to grab on to. The terror subsided for a while; common sense and logic were beginning to come back as I talked with my husband. We talked about how bad the roads were; what we needed to do as far as calling insurance people and he was going to call his son to come and pick up the truck once it was cleared from the police and other emergency services.

So we said our goodbyes for now and I told him I would call him back to let him know which hospital I would be going to once the ambulance arrived. I sat and waited. I shivered and felt some tears running down my cheeks, but I didn’t think I was crying.

After what seemed like an eternity, no emergency vehicles had arrived, so I decided to call 911 myself. They assured me that the response team were on their way but because the road conditions were so bad there had been a number of accidents across the city. I guess I just had to wait my turn.

Sometime later I saw a fire truck approaching. It was heading straight for us. Thank God someone was finally coming to help. I felt relief but at the same time the terror was about to jump out of my throat again. I was having difficulty controlling it.

Once the truck arrived they went to the other lady first. She seemed fine and was walking around again. The next time I looked up I saw her climbing up into the cab of the fire truck. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Why was she able to get out of her truck and walk around when I still couldn’t feel my legs and had such pain in my neck?

Finally the ambulance arrived. They came to me first. Someone was going to help me. They opened the truck door and we talked for a minute or two. I told them about the pain in my neck and back and that I couldn’t feel my legs. They told me to try to stay calm and they would be right back because they had to get some equipment from their truck. I took this opportunity to call Don again and gave him the update.

Suddenly the attendants were back beside me. They placed a collar around my neck and then spent the neck five minutes trying to figure out how to get me out of the truck without bending me because of the back injury. They decided to try to pull me out straight sideways and then get me onto a board. I thought they should have tried to lay me down on the seat and then pull me out on the board. We ended up doing things their way. After all, they are the professionals.

So out I went sideways without bending at all. The first thing that happened was they hit the side of my head against the door frame. Brilliant! Let’s just add another injury to the list. This wasn’t working the way they thought it should so they ended up bending me over anyway to get me out and then placed me directly onto a board on the stretcher. Then came the tape. Because there was a head, neck and back injury they taped me to the board to keep me still. I didn’t mind the tape around my body and feet but when they taped my forehead to the board and I was now totally immobile, that started the panic all over again.

I must have looked like I was in shock because the attendant kept telling me to take some deep breaths and to try to relax. Right! Like I can relax after everything that has just happened.

They lifted me into the ambulance and began hooking me up to machines to monitor heart rate and blood pressure. When I looked up my stepson Geoff was standing in the ambulance with me. He had such a scared look on his face. He told me that his dad had called him and that he was going to take the truck home for me and not to worry. He got my purse out of the truck for me and then called his dad and told him they were taking me to Victoria Hospital. He grabbed my hand and I told him I would see him later.

Once they closed the doors on the ambulance I was on my way. This day felt like it was never going to end. It felt like part of me was actually killed in that crash and the part that was still alive had a long way to go.

After what seemed like hours the very bumpy ride ended and I was wheeled into the emergency unit. My husband was standing there waiting for me. I could no longer hold back the emotion I had been feeling for over an hour now. All I wanted was to be held by him. I needed to feel safe, loved and protected but I was still taped to this board.

I had to wait in the hallway for a while and as I waited another person came in on a stretcher. It was the woman that had hit me! I was so surprised. I remember saying to Don that she had no reason to be on that stretcher when she was running around outside of her vehicle and climbing up into the fire truck. Why all of a sudden was she flat on the bed? Then I remembered adrenaline. Adrenaline is such a strange thing. It’s nothing you can see or touch but you definitely can feel it. I know from before the time I was hit until the next morning the adrenaline that was running through my body probably could have powered a train. The woman lying in the other bed probably had the same problem as me. She was a victim of the icy winter roads and adrenaline just like I was. Sometimes I think she had it worse. She was the one who could not control her vehicle, hit not one but two vehicles and then in the hospital emergency unit was being yelled at by her husband because she caused this. He yelled at her because their insurance rates were going to rise now and their truck was a right-off. He never once asked her how she was or showed any signs of compassion. I felt badly for her.

After being taped to the board for five long hours, having x-rays with staff that couldn’t remove my necklace, but tried to repeatedly without removing the neck brace, and having to go to the bathroom the entire time and not being allowed to get up, I was told that I had a severe whiplash with soft tissue damage to most of my body. The doctor gave me an injection for pain along with pain medication and told me to rest for the next few days. I was released without a brace for my neck even though I could barely hold my head up.

The years that followed have been filled with appointments with therapists, doctors, examiners, and lawyers. Now eight years later things have improved for me as long as I manage the pain I live with every day. Some of the damage that was done to me during the accident will never heal. Because of the force of the impact I suffered a concussion. My balance is getting better as time goes on. I no longer fall downstairs because my eyes shift when I look at something or get nauseated by the slightest of eye movements.

As the old saying goes, “time heals all wounds.” It can as long as you continue to move forward and pay attention to your health and what your body is telling you at any given time.

I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a direct result of this second in time. The Canadian Mental Health Association defines PTSD as the following: “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness. It involves exposure to trauma involving death or the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence.”

Many people suffer with this disorder. It is real and the best thing you can do for someone who lives with PTSD is show them you care, be patient, be kind and above all, be supportive. The worst thing you can ever say to a person suffering with PTSD is, “just get over it.” All that does is show the person you don’t understand or don’t really care. That is the comment I received from my sons when I told them I was having trouble driving after the accident.

Time is an amazing thing… we as humans are ruled by it, we run with it and never seem to have enough of it. When you actually stop for a second and take a look at how a life can be changed, altered or taken away in a second of time… it really does make you appreciate how precious life is. So I think we should all stop for a second and appreciate our lives and what life has to offer each of us. For you never know how dramatically your life can be altered in one second.

Source by Teresa A Syms

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