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Volume 2, Issue 1
Spring 2006:

A Blink in Time

Leah Yudle

Cell 2 Soul. 2006 Spring; 2(1):a21

We've all heard it, and now I know it: life can change in a blink. We can plan and train, form attachments to things and life as we know it, become complacent when everything is going well, and it can all disappear in a flash.

A school bus driver with no children on the bus to keep him alert can lose focus at the wheel. Instead of slowing down and stopping at a busy street, the bus can speed into cross traffic, slamming into whatever happens to be passing at that particular moment. There would be no grand plan. Luck of the draw would determine which of the vehicles innocently navigated on a beautiful New England Fall afternoon would take the brunt of the blow.

The ride of my life

My fight or flight reaction wasn't an either-or choice: fight to at least try to avoid the inevitable and flight into the open oncoming traffic lane. Could I speed past the point of impact?

Just when I thought I had made it, the thunderous jolt smacked the passenger side of my van.

Even daring amusement park rides from my youth couldn't have prepared me for the sensation of careening sideways in a super gust of wind at warp speed. Reality twisted into a yet unexplored dimension.

Doctors later asked if I lost consciousness. In truth, I don't know. Things did go dark, though maybe it was just because I closed my eyes when all hell broke loose. If I did black out, it was only for a split second because I clearly remember waiting out an interminable series of thuds and scrapes as my van rolled ... and rolled ... and rolled again and again.

Relaxing, I gave in, my left arm swaying as if on its own ride above my head. My right elbow got hit hard when the car rolled on its roof and a plastic bin stored on the floor demonstrated Newton's Law. I endured each new crash, wondering how much longer I would spin out of control. Later I would become thankful that my eyes were shut, preventing nightmarish swirling visual images for future instant replays.


At last, all became still - and disorienting. Hanging sideways in my seat, my view was a cracked but intact windshield perpendicular to the ground in front of me. To my left, a broken window revealing exposed pavement; to my right, the sky through the opening where the passenger window had been. I briefly considered the possibility of fire, and of climbing up on the seat and up through that opening, and then saw that I'd have to get past the jagged, broken glass around the window's perimeter, not to mention being on top of the car. The body of the van prevented my seeing the street to the right, and I wondered about the state of the school bus.

Photo credit: Community Newspaper Company

Then the thought, "I don't need to hang here." I grabbed the steering wheel with my right hand, undid the seat belt with my left, and gingerly lowered myself to sit on the edge of the driver's window, my left foot on the pavement outside. Stuff hurled from my van on its final impact created a strange landscape on the ground outside: my purse, a box of tissues, a medical emergency kit (a lot of good that did out of reach!), CDs, and more. I sat trapped, strangely calm, looking out at the stopped line of traffic down the road, with nothing to do but wait for the help I knew would come.


Two angels soon peered through the front window. What brave souls! Would I, having just observed a vehicle smacked and rolled around until it slammed against a pole, watching glass fly and every surface crushed and pushed out of alignment, find the wherewithal to go to the rescue of those inside? The young man, a youth minister, assured me that the police were on their way ... they would get me out ... I had done every thing I could do to avoid the collision .... He even reached in with tissues from my own box on the ground for my bleeding hand. His compassionate presence provided a tranquil interlude until the police and fire trucks arrived.

I will never forget the voice of the police officer who leaped into my car through the blown out rear window yelling "where are your babies?" as he passed the two overturned children's booster seats in the back. His question will haunt me forever. How does one express the necessary gratitude that those seats were empty, as were the passenger seats on the school bus?

The police officer squatted close behind me, talking, distracting me from the disturbing pounding and crunching of the Jaws of Life. Finally I slid onto a board that would win no prizes for comfort, and was whisked into the ambulance. Had our local newspaper not printed a photo of my car wrapped around a telephone pole, I never would have known what the accident scene looked like. Pretty sobering.

Humor in the ER

During the ambulance ride, I asked the attendant if I would need to sit for hours in the ER waiting room. "Oh, no," he said, "you're going right in. You get the royal treatment." And he was right. Suddenly, six or seven people bustled around me, attaching fluids, probing, hooking me up to monitors, several asking questions of me at once, and then, I realized, someone was cutting up the front of my skirt. "I can lift my hips so you can take off my clothes," I protested. "No, you can't," she said, "you aren't allowed to move." When she attacked my underpants, I couldn't help being amused. I said to her, "You know how our mothers taught us always to wear clean underwear in case we're in an accident? Well, just this morning, I discovered a hole in the first pair I put on, and that thought went through my head. I replaced them with a good pair, and now you're cutting them off." With a devilish grin, the nurse leaned forward, scissors held in mid-cut, and quipped, "What your mother forgot to tell you? We don't care what they look like." This nurse, with her wonderful sense of humor and spirit, made an unbearable experience bearable over the next few hours.

Through it all, the speech and language pathologist I was trained to be hovered above in diagnostic mode. What a relief to assess that I understood what was said to me, that I could formulate sentences and find the right words, that I could remember facts and details. Before going for a CAT scan, I asked to call my son so he could pick up fresh clothes (in what would they have sent me home had I not done that?!?) and come to my rescue. Not having my cell phone with speed dialing, I was overjoyed to remember his phone number. I felt even better when I began to describe the clothing I wanted and exactly where he could find each item. At least my language skills seemed intact.

Finding equilibrium

My son arrived and, after several hours of lying prone, the radiologist finally pronounced me fit to go home. There were no apparent fractures and the CAT scan looked okay, though he advised that I had probably suffered a concussion. I happily sat up, only to experience another reality, and grabbed onto the sides of the gurney as a wave of dizziness hit me. "Whoa!" I exclaimed. The nurse sized up my state immediately. With a twinkle in her eye, she pointedly announced, "if you faint, we'll have to admit you into the hospital overnight." She already knew of my feistiness, and that staying overnight was not on my to-do list.

My son and I shared a knowing look, and I lay back down. Better not to rush. He raised the angle of the gurney in slight increments as my brain adjusted to each new level. Once I could sit, standing seemed elusive. I wasn't going to get off that gurney until I knew I could walk unaided. The astute nurse helped by wheeling me to right outside the bathroom door, raising the odds for success. Remembering that I had eaten only an apple all day, I asked for orange juice, which did the trick.

Once dressed, the nurse put me in a wheelchair to deposit me in the waiting room while my son went to get his car. She admonished me to take it easy, warning that pain levels would increase over the next few days. "Where can I go without my car?" I lamented. "I loved that car!" She leaned over, put her hands on my shoulders, and said matter-of-factly, "Cars are replaceable, grandmothers are not." For the first time all day, tears welled up in my eyes and a lump in my throat prevented speech. What a wise and wonderful woman. There is no doubt that she is fulfilling what she described as her childhood "calling" to help others, and it was a privilege to be one of the beneficiaries of her loving care.

The physician isn't in

A few days later, I shared my experience with my physician's secretary, requesting an appointment for assessment of intense chest, neck, and back pains, and to see if physical therapy would be indicated for my elbow. Though no fracture was visible on the x-ray, there was bone bruise and possible tendon damage. I was stymied by my physician's response. Through her secretary, she conveyed the message that she has no room in her schedule for acute care, recommending that I attend the hospital's walk-in clinic that evening.

Have hospital administrations with a bottom line taken the care out of medical care? Are we to receive caring attention from passers-by and strangers in the ambulance and ER, while our personal physicians are kept so busy they can't see the very patients they are supposed to know and treat when a problem arises? Was I to hear expressions of care and concern from everyone but my own doctor? Is it any wonder that I have a long history of turning to complementary approaches?

My acupuncturist agreed to see me the next day, beginning a helpful, healing course of deep tissue massage, acupuncture, and electrical stimulation. I drove to my first appointment with my hands at the bottom of the steering wheel of my rented car, my first trip in it, unable to lift my arms any higher. On the drive home two hours later, I held the top of the steering wheel. Continued treatments maintain post-concussion dizziness at a controllable level, though I still can't dance and spin or manage certain yoga postures.

Gift of time

Hearing witnesses' accounts of my van's egg roll, and looking at the accident scene photo and others I later took of my crumpled, humbled van, bring home the fact that my being alive and functioning is a gift. Maybe it was the crash-test rating of my van, or that blessed seat belt that held me tightly in place through it all, or relaxing and giving in to whatever happened rather than trying to fight the motion, or maybe it was the protective angels who transferred from my Grandma to me when she no longer needed them. Along with all the bumps and grinds, I am aware that just two feet forward, and the dent from the pole would have been over my head instead of an empty seat.

I've been spared to do whatever it is I'm yet supposed to do. I've been granted time, which makes me think about how we use our time, something we often forget to do in our busy lives.

For me, it has become time to play and laugh ... to love and treat others with patience and compassion ... to seek beauty and truth ... to give back to others and the community in exchange for our blessings.

It is time to rearrange our priorities ... to see that overload often prevents personal commitment and sharing ... to realize that pride often prevents our telling those we love how much we care about them ... to admit that we are vulnerable beings in need of love and help ... to practice forgiveness for ourselves and others ... to enhance the future of our offspring, humankind, and our planet Earth.

May we all be gifted with the time to make all these and more happen, without needing the blink of a wake-up call.

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