There I was, just minding my own business, driving along on my way to a 10 a.m. class. It was about 9:40 and I was one minute away from the college parking lot. I slowed to accommodate the long line of cars at the stop light, all headed toward the same goal, the often unattainable hope of finding a spot which isn’t located in the mud. As I looked in my rear view mirror, I could see the driver behind me in a large, old truck, not slowing, not stopping. I tried my best to quickly turn the wheel and get out of the line of fire, but to no avail. He smacked me right in the bumper, and when he was hit by the car behind him, he hit me again, and when they were hit, he hit me again, and that cycle repeated itself three times.
I’m not going to exaggerate — I was apoplectic! Imagining the damage to the nicest new car I ever bought myself and premonitions of the total disruption of my life, led me to get out of the car, limp to the back, while yelling, cursing, and screaming, “No fucking way! Are you fucking kidding me!???”
I took a snapshot, and then felt my neck snap … What the hell was I thinking… I got back into my car and felt the back of my body writhe in pain, sharp jabs coursing through my right side. Ankle, knee, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck … aching, pulsing … Shit!
I felt at once both ashamed and enraged. What now?
That question was soon to be answered. Ambulances, injured parties, people knocking on my car window. A tear-filled call to the insurance company, and an attempt to reach my husband at work. Earlier that week, he had dropped and broken his Christmas gift, a brand new smart phone, so I had to call 411 to get the number to his store … I felt terrible for cursing and crying when he called. He kept asking me questions and I kept not knowing what to say or do. So unlike me. I am usually good in crisis! I’m the friend you call when your shit falls apart, yet… I didn’t understand basic questions people asked me. And that stressed me out and made me angrier as the day went on.
The ambulance arrived for me and the tech got in the back seat behind me and used his hands to hold my head at a certain angle. I could no longer see my phone or purse or keys and could do nothing but sit there and watch the rubber-neckers stare.
Sitting in the car in front of me, a car which I did not hit, was one of my students. I’d only met the class once as the semester had just started, and we’d been on a “snow day” schedule. She remembered me, though, and tried to comfort me. She also wanted to know if she could go… I couldn’t blame her, she needed to find a parking spot on campus.
Finally the ambulance arrived to take me away. This would be the first time I’d ever been put in an ambulance, though I’d imagined it with dread my whole life. After they restrained my neck with the worst-designed neck brace ever (who thought it would be a good idea to put metal pieces on the part of the brace that touches your chin?) they struggled to get my body onto the gurney.
Oh please! I can do without all the grunting and straining. Seriously? Have you never had to pull a large-boned person out of a car before? Angrier.
They ask me, as my uncovered body is freezing in the wind, if I minded sharing an ambulance with another crash victim. Seriously? If I say yes, I better receive only HALF the bill!
Little did I know they were planning on putting me in with the guy who hit me! And taking our physical histories in earshot of each other … So I learned he was 67 and had a stroke before and heart disease and diabetes… And he learned that I had chronic pain syndrome, Sjogren’s, and RA … Oh, the lawyers will have a good time with this!
The ambulance crew, while calling ahead to the hospital, listed him as “patient #1” and me as “patient #2.” Is it bad that that made me mad? I am always number one, dammit! Why did I feel like I’d just been demoted? Foolishness and mayhem, I confess.
Nonetheless, I stared blankly at the roof of the ambulance, the roof of the covered emergency room shelter, the roof of the hallway of the emergency room, and the hundreds of squares on the ceiling of my room. As they rolled me through the hallways for X-rays and CT scans, I counted the squares on the ceilings, while pulling desperately at the poorly designed rim of the neck brace, gasping for air and growing more annoyed and angry as the day went on.
In each room, at each juncture of the humiliation, people grunted and gossiped, talked about me as if I weren’t there, treated me as invisible, addressed me as “hon,” “sweetie,” and “sug,” and generally provided the worst, least sensitive care ever. It was no longer early morning by the time I was being poked and prodded by the doctor, and to be honest, I had to pee. Something awful. I thought about it and thought about it and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I heard every faucet and water fountain and soda can open … I really couldn’t figure out what I was going to do… I mentioned it the nurse several times, but she wouldn’t take me seriously. Finally, the doctor, poor inexperienced thing, started to press on my abdomen and I warned him that it would not end well. I couldn’t see his face, because of that damn neck brace, but I could feel his disgusted, frustrated vibe. A nurse arrived with a bed pan. I had absolutely no idea how the whole bed pan thing is supposed to work, but I had on my good black corduroy pants, my favorites, with a sharp slate blue turtleneck and matching suit jacket. I felt SO good that morning! And I didn’t want urine on my clothes, so I could lie around all the rest of the day smelling like a nursing home patient. The nurse assured me that she had it. I asked her how she was going to avoid getting my clothes wet, and she quite exasperatedly said something to the effect of, “Hon, I’ve got you down at an angle!” And she reached over enough for me to see her arm heading in a downward direction. “You just haven’t noticed because of the neck brace.” Yeah, that’s not the only reason I haven’t noticed, I thought. She couldn’t get my super tight corduroy’s unbuttoned and really didn’t seem to want to try to help me pull them down, in spite of the fact that I was bound! My arms and legs and shoulders were literally tied down to the gurney! Ugh! Finally, she noticed and un-restrained me. But she didn’t make much of an effort to help me, and with all the pain in my right side, I managed to pull them down a bit. Enough. I let loose a wonderous and abundant flow, one which had surely never been recorded in the history of emergency medicine, or so you would have thought by the reaction she had to the full container. It was confirmed by whomever she almost knocked over at the door trying to get out of there. They both remarked about it and seemed quite impressed with the amount of urine I had produced. Almost had me thinking I should feel proud of such an indubitable accomplishment, but really, all I could feel was anger. Stop talking about my pee!
How I cleaned up after that debacle I shall spare you the details, but I can assure you, it was equally as humiliating and ludicrous.
At the end of the day, they gave me Valium and Hydrocodone. I didn’t understand the Valium, but chalked it up to their perception of me as an angry Black woman? I really had no idea. When I asked, the nurse mumbled something about calming me down. What the hell?
My husband and I left, and a nurse came running through the parking lot with my release papers, prescriptions, and instructions for care.
As I sat in the car reading it all, I noticed the last straw. That which added insult to a full day’s worth of injury! The doctor had written, as the reason for my visit that day, “obesity, neck strain, back strain.”
There they were. The words that cut and kill. How in the hell did he feel justified writing obesity as my reason for being seen that day? And why didn’t he have the nerve to say it to my face? Coward! Did he weigh or measure me? Did he offer any treatment for my evident obesity? Was he marking me as a fat woman on spec? Engaging in fat shaming for sport?
My head hurt too much to focus on the anger boiling up inside of me. My blood pressure in the ambulance had been something like 177/121… And I could feel it rising.
But no rest for the weary or injured, for that matter. There are insurance adjusters, claims to be filed, rental car needed, alternative work arrangements to be made, students to be answered and warned… It was all so much, but it had to be done. But I was fading. Fading under the strength of the prescription meds. I would have to wake another day to deal with the shame and anger of my experience that day.