Saturday, April 02, 2011

April 2, 1991: It just wasn't my day to die.

It was a warm and sunny day on April 2, 1991. I'd decided to take my hour-long lunch break and drive home which was only about a 15 minute trip one-way. After enjoying my lunch and tidying up my place, I headed back to work. As I was driving in the left lane of a long stretch of major highway, I noticed ahead a car and large heavy work truck in the paved area of the median, waiting for the road to clear so they could pull into traffic going in my direction. I noted immediately that instead of the truck waiting behind the car for its chance to pull in, it actually went around the car, blocking its view.

Suddenly as if time had stood still, the truck pulled right out into the left lane and hit me. I tried to get my car under control but it was useless considering the speed I was going (which was in fact within the limit) and the force in which the heavy truck hit me. My car spun around and hit the grassy median that separated the two lane highway heading north and south. It all seemed like a dream, time slowed down yet it went so fast. Once the tires went off the road into the median the car flipped and I began rolling over and over until the car finally stopped very close to the two lanes heading in the opposite direction. When I finally stopped rolling, I was trapped upside down with my seat belt holding me in and cutting into me. My arm was trapped outside the drivers side window, I could feel blood pouring from the side of my head and I felt like I was going to pass out. I vaguely remember my radio blaring something really loud, the song I can no longer remember.

I smelled fuel and I heard voices around me. The smell of the fuel panicked me more than anything because I guess I'd seen enough movies to know what can happen. As I tried desperately in vain to free myself from my vehicle I heard a number of voices around me, one of them was Steve, a guy I worked with. He'd been in his truck and several vehicles behind me when the crash happened.  Suddenly my left arm felt like it was on fire and it was then I realized that the car had landed in a pile of vicious fire ants. These weren't just your ordinary small ants either, these were the large fire ants. And they were crawling up my arm and biting me. My arm was on fire, it started to swell up and Steve noticed immediately and ran to his truck and got his Igloo cooler full of cold water and brought it over and began pouring it over my trapped arm to cool me and relieve some of the pain of the bites. My head was hurting terribly and I felt like I was going to pass out. I heard the sound of rescue vehicles and even though it seemed like an eternity, eventually fire rescue was able to cut me out of my seatbelt and ease me out of the car and into an ambulance. I vaguely remember the trip to the hospital.

Fortunately the CT and MRI showed no serious permanent damage. I suffered no broken bones or fractures. I suffered a severe concussion and had lacerations on my head and behind my ear so bad that it took numerous stitches to sew the ear back in place, which is hidden because of course the stitches were behind my ear. Also had stitches on the top of my ear, which if you look closely you can see a slight difference between the left and right ear, but I have long hair so nobody's ever noticed it. My left arm was swelled up to three times it's size and my face and body were scraped and bruised all over. I was in pain for weeks afterward. Films of my neck and back showed desiccation (loss of fluid) between a few upper disks which I indicated the possibility of problems later on, though I've been lucky and haven't had any serious problems.  Given that horrific accident, those were the only physical injuries I suffered.

The emotional anguish was something that took a long time to get over. Mom and grams drove down to see me when I'd gotten out of the hospital and they took me to the salvage yard to retrieve my belongings from my car, which was at just 18 months old, a total loss. It was when I saw the car that I lost it and I'm sure mom remembers that day well. I just started bawling as I looked at my car and realized how lucky I was to be alive. The guy had hit my car on the left side and his bumper had torn the metal near the gas tank. The drivers side roof was crushed in while the passenger side received hardly any damage. There was blood all over the drivers side. I could see what was left of the seat belt.  I suddenly felt damn lucky to be alive.

The state trooper who was at the scene had come to see me in the hospital and told me I was damn lucky because witnesses said my car rolled a number of times and he said had I not been wearing my seatbelt I surely would have been thrown and probably died.

For a long time after that I had a fear of driving in the car without having the window down next to me. My claustrophic fears were heightened. I would not ride in a car with power windows or power door locks (I still won't buy one that has them). I've always worn my seatbelt (thanks to grams who, when I was a teenager learning to drive, stressed the importance to me over and over again), but I have this fear of something happening to me even if I pull out of a parking lot without my seat belt.So where I goes, it goes on. I also am still paranoid, though to a lesser extent all these years later, when I see people waiting in the median to pull into traffic. I am always very cautious and try to avoid being in the inside lane in those situations.

There's one more thing I must add to round out my story.

The day before my accident was April Fool's Day. I had gone home for lunch and on my way back, I spotted my best friend Mike who worked for Pepsi-Cola, he was delivering Pepsi to a convenience store as part of his manager's training. I honked to him and we waved but didn't stop to say hello as I was in a hurry. I called him later that day and played a joke on him. I said,  

"Hey Mike you won't believe what happened but some asshole hit my car and totaled it."

After the incident that took place the next day, I never made a joke like that ever again.

Looking back, I can't believe it's been 20 years since that fateful day. The only way I could ever rationalize what happened to me was by simply believing it just wasn't my day to die.


  1. BarbaraG4/02/2011

    Jess, this is a deeply touching and truly miraculous story. I have a dear friend who suffered a near fatal accident late last year. She doesn't talk much about it. Your story helped me to understand the deep and severe trauma that is related to these kinds of accidents. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I often think back to the day we saw your car at the salvage yard and it hit me how close I had come to losing you. A person doesn't realize what a blessed life they live until something like this happens. Dad always said "I won't die until it's my time", and now I truly believe it. I don't think anyone's time comes until they have accomplished the job that they were put here to do, and yours has only begun.

  3. Anonymous4/02/2011

    "Mom", I absolutely agree with you! I'm believe I won't be done until I am AT LEAST in my mid-90's!! Jessica, this is an amazing story - especially when it is written with your skill. Something like that can really do a number on your mind, not to mention your body - I'm so glad you had your seat belt on!

    I was driving our car in Anchorage in 1985 when I hit a patch of black ice. I had just dropped our daughter off to a party and had our son with me. He was really bad about putting his seat belt on and as we left the house and just before we entered the main thoroughfare I nailed him for it. He put it on, I made the turn and had just begun to accelerate when all of a sudden I was spun all the way around and again until I was actually headed back the way we came. Between the two main streets, there was a wide, rather deep ditch and the car ended up in it upside down. The car only had lap belts so we were hanging upside down. I, too, could smell gas and freaked. I was able to get my son's belt off but with my weight against mine, I couldn't unlatch it. People stopped right away and got him out. Someone reached in and unhooked mine and helped pull me through the window. A few minutes later a state trooper pulled up and said "as soon as I saw the traffic backed up I knew what had happened. It happens all the time during weather like this". Turned out that the ice had formed under a passenger overpass where the sun melted water and then when it got dark, that water turned to ice! He helped me call my husband who called a friend and they can to get us. Our son came through it pretty well. I was tall enough that I hit my head on the ceiling of the car. I was so sore the next day I could hardly move. Another friend called to say he had heard about the accident and offered us his second car until we could replace ours. The accident happened on Good Friday and on Easter morning, I was back soaking in the tub - our sweet daughter was bringing me herbal tea bags to help with the sore muscles, bless her heart. Russ came back in from being outside and said "The car is missing". I just looked at him and said "THAT'S not funny!" He said "I'm not joking. It's gone." OMG! What was I going to tell our friend after he so kindly loaned it to us. We were in an apartment complex and I went door to door to see if anyone had seen or heard anything. About 20 minutes later our next door neighbor came rushing back and said she had found it about 2 blocks tucked away behind a small store. It looked like someone or two had towed it out backward and took it down there and started to strip out the electronics, but apparently were scared off. They left the chain, and we could figure out what happened. It turns out I had actually heard it happening. I was sound asleep and, as usual we had the BR window open a bit. I heard voices and the sound of a metal object being used - never occurred to me that it was the car being stolen! As with you, it took me awhile to feel comfortable driving again. I think since we weren't as badly as you, I likely got over it quicker. Sure was a heck of way to remember Good Friday though. (thanks for letting me tell MY story - being the family storyteller, I pretty much have a story for any topic!) Carol

  4. i read the story and felt that its all about destiny and god who is within you he is and only he is responsible for each n every movement of universe forget about what happened and enjoy the journey of life ....god bless you

  5. Anonymous4/24/2012

    I googled my birthday (which happens to be April 2nd, 1991) and this popped up. I have tears in my eyes reading your story. You truly are blessed to be alive.

    Ironically enough, I have a similar car accident story, however no where near as bad as yours. I was driving on a main road where I live, on the far left side when a car came up and almost merged into my car. I panicked, and tried to pull over into the median but lost control and apparently drove into on coming traffic. (I was completely unaware that I did that, because like you described, time slowed down and sped up. I had no idea where I was, and can only remember seeing blurs of gray and black) A witness told me after I walked out of my car without a scratch (thank God) that I had drove into oncoming traffic and was shocked I was able to walk away.

    It's incredible when you realize how lucky you are to be alive.