Nothing prepares you for a major car accident. There are precautions you can take in case an accident occurs — proper insurance coverage for your vehicle, health insurance for yourself, etc. — but when a crash happens, more than just the hunk of metal (or fiberglass) you’re in is shaken up.
I received a call a couple of weeks ago that my wife had been in a car accident and was admitted to the emergency room. Around the time of April 1, but not on the actual day, I hesitated for a second, disappointed my wife would think this was a funny joke, and annoyed with the caller for playing along with something I didn’t find amusing. As seconds passed and I realized it was no joke, I panicked. My world had been turned upside down and I wasn’t prepared for what could have been a life changer for my family.
My wife rolled the car two and a half times, ultimately landing upside down, buckled in but hanging from the driver’s seat. Her head apparently went through the driver’s side window during the rolling, and injuries throughout her body were thought to be extensive. She was rushed to the hospital via ambulance and was undergoing a battery of tests while I was at home clueless.
The phone call I received didn’t tell me much. I needed to come in and see for myself, so I rushed to do so.
The jitters I felt as I raced up Highway 50 — at the speed limit, despite the urge to go twice it — were some I can’t ever remember feeling before. Not knowing how bad she was, it took a conscious effort to not let my lead foot slam down on the floor. My leg and knee felt heavy the whole way. So did my heart. I started thinking about all the things I haven’t told my wife, all the things I hoped she knew anyway from my actions over the course of our marriage, but I’d neglected to say out loud for whatever reason. I thought about how my kids would do without a mother as I watched them entertain one another in the rearview mirror, themselves clueless. Then I forced those thoughts out of my head altogether the best I could, trying to turn my pessimism into optimism for everyone’s sake, including my own.
When I arrived at the hospital and got to her room — after ignoring perfectly clear directions and roaming like a lost soul — my wife finally allowed herself to break down in tears. She’d been trying to stay strong the whole time, and my presence gave her the freedom to let go that she desperately needed. I could sense the fear she had gone through and tried to hide the fear I was going through, too. She was alive and in one piece, and that was enough for me, temporarily.
The tests weren’t over. Possible internal bleeding and damage to her organs may have meant surgery, and we were far from in the clear. As family members trickled into the hospital, our conversations became more lighthearted, but the fear never wavered. No one wanted to talk about it, but we all knew there was a chance my wife was in trouble.
In the end, she turned out pretty well considering the extent of damage to the vehicle. She needed stitches in her arm, had a bruised lung, bruised kidney, and bruised — and possibly fractured — ribs to join the shards of glass that are still today being pushed out by the healing skin of her forehead and head, but she didn’t need surgery.
The aftermath is a brewing storm of bills, a lengthy recovery process for my wife and the task of finding another car, but none of it seems like that big of a deal to me. My wife asked me today, “Why aren’t you freaking out about a car yet? The rental is due back soon and you won’t have a way to get to work!” I told her I’d take the bus if I had to. For nearly two weeks, I couldn’t focus on anything but what could have been. My life could have been as wrecked as the car she was in. The fact that it’s not is the only thing that seems to matter right now.
Patrick Ibarra is the managing editor of the Mountain Democrat.