March 25th will forever stand out as an infamous date in my memory. Incidentally, it falls 2 weeks to the day after our wedding. Those first few weeks together were supposed to be full of bliss, adventure and starting our lives together. Instead we encountered a very close brush with death. And it was all my fault.
I’ve sat down a dozen times to try and write this story and every time I feel at a loss for words. How do you tell the tale of endangering the lives of your young family?
Anyway, here goes.
The honeymoon was over
After our wedding we spent a week in Hawaii for our honeymoon. The Hawaiian Islands are as close to paradise as I’ve experienced, but don’t go in March. That’s monsoon season and the rain was so bad it made the Seattle news.
The following week I was back to work while LK made short road-trips to move her stuff into our apartment. In the morning I’d head to the office while LK drove back and forth over Snoqualmie Pass. In the evenings I’d help her unpack. The next day the process repeated. The week was a blur of boxes and newlywed giggles.
Since I had the weekends off we headed out together to pack up the last of her belongings on Saturday, March 25th. Because we couldn’t really afford a moving truck our friends, J&A, let us borrow their Chevy Silverado (king cab, lift kit, the works).
As we left town early that afternoon to make one final trek over the pass I stopped to fill up the truck with gas and grab a Mountain Dew. It had been a long week and I needed the caffeine hit to stay alert. After paying for the fuel, I jumped in the cab with LK riding shotgun and little 4-year old in his car seat in the back row.
Everything was going fine on the 2 hour drive until we were 4 miles from our apartment. I still can’t believe we made it all that way only to nearly meet our doom so close to home.
The scary part is I remember everything.
LK and our son had fallen asleep and I was cruising along listening to country music (Big & Rich, actually). All of us were tired from a 3-week whirlwind of wedding preparations, the joyous event itself, happy honeymoon, and moving in together.
During our 6 month engagement I’d driven over the mountains every weekend to see my beautiful fiancé and son-to-be without incident.
No speeding tickets.
No flat tires.
No running out of gas.
In fact, up until March 25, 2006 my driving record was flawless.
At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I started struggling to keep my eyes open. My eyelids felt like anvils and my head kept bobbing. I tried turning the music up on my side, but I didn’t want to wake up the snoozing passengers because they were so tired and we’d had a long day already. Well, it was about to get much longer.
I fell asleep at the wheel.
On the highway.
At 70 miles an hour.
As I woke up we were heading off the road into the grass at top speed. I griped the wheel and glanced over at LK, a look of terror on her face. I fought to control our path as we tore through a cable guardrail, snapping it like a giant steel rubber band.
As we started down the embankment I think we were airborne for a split second before slamming into a column of concrete. I blacked out for a moment on impact.
When I came to the windshield was smashed and a wall of concrete was within reach. Glass covered the inside of the cab and we were all screaming.
I looked over to check if LK was okay, but couldn’t see very well because of the blood pouring from a gash in my forehead. I remember her climbing out the passenger side window.
Someone saw us drive off the road and stopped to help. I couldn’t turn around to see, but he helped LK get our boy out of the back seat. Except for being shaken up he was unharmed. Just a few scratches, but no blood or broken bones.
My part in this saga was far from over.
Jaws of life
I was stuck. When the truck crashed into the concrete column the front of the vehicle compacted and pinned me in the driver’s seat. My shins were stuck and under so much pressure I was afraid they’d snap. I half prayed I’d pass out before that happened.
The man who stopped came to check on me after helping LK and our son to safely up to the grass by the road. He then stayed by my side and gripped my hand until emergency personnel arrived. I don’t know his name, but he kept me conscious and talking despite getting my blood on his clothes.
After the EMTs arrived they got to work tearing apart the truck in order to free me without further injury. This proved problematic because the truck was on an incline. During the extraction the vehicle would shift all while my legs were still pinned under the dashboard. Every jerk sent bolts of excruciating pain up my legs as my bones resisted breaking.
Upon cutting the roof off the truck they tried to clip the base of the driver’s seat to pull it out in one piece. Once the first corner bracket was snipped with a monstrous power tool the seat started to tip forward further crushing me into the front of the truck. That tactic was quickly abandoned as more jaws of life and pneumatic pistons were used to forcibly expand the cab of the truck in order to slide me out vertically.
During the whole ordeal I rarely stopped crying through constant questions of the emergency responders trying to keep me conscious and fighting the state of shock my body was in. I remember saying my full name, ABCs and listing family members repeatedly. I was so tired and thirsty.
As the truck stretched and the pressure slowly relented my heart filled with hope and gratitude. In the end it took 19 emergency personnel, 3 jaws of life and 2 full hours to get me out of the destroyed truck.
But this ray of sunshine amidst a dark day was slightly dimmed by the fact I couldn’t feel my legs from the knee down. The compacted dashboard had restricted circulation for so long that nerve damage was unavoidable.
The ambulance ride to the hospital was mostly a blur (although the fastest “service” I’ve ever gotten at a medical institution) and the hours spent getting cleaned up and tested for internal damage felt like an eternity. A broken nose and 39 stitches later they wheeled me into a standard hospital room to stay the night for observation.
What scared me most was seeing LK after the chaos had subsided and the nurses had left us alone for the night.
Here I was her new husband who was supposed to be her protector and I’d nearly gotten us all killed. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was terrified she’d put her wedding ring on the table beside the bed and leave me alone in the hospital room. It’s not that I had such little faith in her. I had that little faith in me.
Once the nurse left LK climbed into bed beside me, put her head on my shoulder and holding each other tight we cried. A lot. We were grateful to be alive and together.
In the six weeks following the accident I had to use a walker to get around, and a cane for a few weeks after that. Our family and friends helped take care of us and a coworker picked me up for work and drove me home each night until I was fit to drive.
And I called our friends whose truck we totaled to apologize and they graciously forgave me. We’re still friends today.
It’s a miracle the three of us are alive today. And I still have a nasty Frankenstein scar across my forehead as a daily reminder to never drive sleepy again.
And I pray you don’t either.
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