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The Day I Drove Alone

Interstate-89 is a long, straight road with little twists or turns. It’s very easy to go fast without even realizing it. Having recently moved to a small New Hampshire town, I found that I-89 and I-93 are the main ways to get there.

One cold, November afternoon in 2020—the day before Thanksgiving to be exact—I went to a doctor’s appointment in Boston at Tufts Medical Center in my friend’s beaten-up 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee. A week previously, the mechanic told us not to take it on the highway—“Only use it for around town driving.” It always shook when it got up to the higher speeds as something was wrong with the front wheels. Alas, I drove up to New Hampshire from the South Shore of Boston in it while moving so I saw nothing wrong with taking it to Boston for a short two hour drive—there and back. Easy.

It was cloudy out but no sign of rain or slick roads. I was driving along smoothly in the farthest left lane until I felt the front wheels lose control, I slammed on the brakes after seeing the speedometer at 70 mph but it was too late. My first thought when I hit the guardrail was, “Oh fuck, this is gonna roll.” The Jeep flipped. It happened so fast I couldn’t even prepare myself for what was about to come. I was wearing my seatbelt but my body landed on the passenger's side with the car’s solid metal body on my hair. In order to get out I would have to pull my hair out; in our body’s weird way of needing survival, I ripped a good chunk of my hair out while Neck Deep was playing in the background. The car was still running. My legs were stuck but obviously not broken; there was a tremendous pain in my head and in my left hand. I must’ve been knocked out with the amount of people who came to the rescue after coming to. I unplugged the bluetooth transmitter because even in my discombobulated state I knew I didn’t want, “The Beach Is For Lovers (Not Lonely Losers)” to be the soundtrack to my death. Then, after shutting off the car, I could hear people calling to me but I couldn’t get my legs unstuck! I looked out where the rear window used to be and all I could see was car liquid and streams of blood pouring out the back. It was so cold. I finally pushed my legs free and did an army crawl out of the car.

Immediately, people were asking me my name and age. But I made the mistake of looking at my blood-soaked hand and seeing the mangled skin and what was left of my two little finger tats, and I couldn’t stop screaming. One man held my gashed head up under his arm while a teenage boy put his coat around my shivering legs. They found my green leather jacket in the car and covered my hand so they could get my screaming to finally end. I kept telling myself I needed to be brave and strong but the pain was so intense. There were two E.R. doctors at the scene—both driving by but one, the man, was a higher up at the hospital where they brought me, and he put my neck in a brace. The same teenage boy who covered my legs lent the woman E.R. doc his phone so I could call my dad. I yelled into the phone, “Pappa, pappa, I rolled the jeep.” Tears were streaming down my face. She quickly took over the call. Blood was dripping down the front and sides of my face from my scalp and into my nose ring.

Paramedics and New Hampshire State Police showed up soon after. The paramedics started asking me questions but got me onto a stretcher as soon as they could. I really started to feel the cool breeze and cold pavement against my body, though I was wearing a coat and long-sleeve polo. I asked an officer to please get my phone and fanny-pack … conveniently referring to it as my bag … from the car. When he did all I could think was, “Maybe we *should* back the boys in blue.”

In the ambulance they broke apart my St. Benedict medal necklace and took off my rings in case my hand was broken, so they wouldn’t have to cut them off. Brandon, the paramedic in the back with me said, “How attached are you to these rings?” [Que a flashback to my highschool boyfriend gifting them to me in 2016.] “Yeah I like them alright.” Keith, the other paramedic, cranked the heat while Brandon tried to get my vitals to put an I.V. in my arm on the way to the nearest ER trauma center.

With my body strapped to the stretcher and my head locked-in via neck brace, they wheeled me into a room full of trauma doctors and nurses. Because of the injuries to my head and hand they had to cut off my down jacket and recently thrifted grandpa shirt. Right before getting to my favorite pair of cargo pants I pleaded for them not to cut them off and as I lifted up my body one doctor said, “At least we know her pelvis isn’t broken.” The pants and belt were *saved.* This was a small victory as I kept crying from the pain of laying on the lacerations in my head. They also rewrapped my hand from what Brandon and Keith did already. It was too much to look at so I was grateful for the bandages though the blood soon seeped through the pure white wrappings and dripped onto my hospital blankets. As my hand dripped blood, two x-ray technicians came in to x-ray my hand.

The beeping of the machinery filled with my own thoughts was almost unbearable. Still laying on the lacerations in my head, I kept repeating to myself I needed to be brave and strong for this. My dad finally showed up with his usual smiley face, though obviously concerned. I was just happy to have someone I love so dearly with me finally instead of continuously staring at the ceiling in pain. Now, I was still staring at the ceiling in pain, but at least good ol’ pops was with me!

I noticed that a strange occurrence went on though—my body wouldn’t stop shaking even though I wasn’t cold anymore. A nurse at my CAT scan told me it was probably my body reacting to everything that had happened those few hours ago. For CAT scans, which check for brain injuries, they need to take out all your jewelry. Luckily for them I have four piercings in each ear including a conch piercing and an industrial; the industrial has since closed [womp-womp]. Weirdly enough they kept my nose ring in.

Back in the room, Ellen, the nurse, told me she’d see if they could take the neck brace off of me so I wouldn’t have to lay on my open wounds which would soon be stapled and stitched shut. Finally, they took it off and I sat up with an immediate rush of lightheadedness. My father took pictures of me with the blood around the crown of my head and down my face and nose as well as of my injuries … except for my hand, which was way too gory.

The nurses were able to bring me ginger-ale since I hadn’t eaten or drank anything since that morning but then Nora, my new nurse, came in to clean the wounds on my head and left hand before the doctor came in to stitch me up. *Dr. Russell* gave me lidocaine shots in my head so I wouldn’t feel the stitches and staples while Nora cleaned out my hand; by this time it was 8 p.m. and they convinced me to take some Ativan to calm me down as my heart rate spiked when I saw the gauze, needles, medical stapler, hydrogen peroxide, and blood. After I was all stitched up, I was able to go back home to my small New Hampshire town with my dad dropping me off. I had five stitches and six staples in my head that would get taken out in ten days and a tightly bandaged hand I was supposed to keep on for five days.

As soon as I got home, I was in so much pain as the lidocaine started to wear off and I had to face my mistakes head on. The people at the hospital cleaned off most of the crusted-on blood and picked out the glass but there was blood in my hair for days afterwards. I took a shower when I got back and clumps and clumps of hair kept falling out. My beautiful, black curls. But all I could think was that hair could’ve been my head or my arm caught underneath the car. I was so lucky. Why was I so lucky?

My father later took the plates off the car at the tow shop and got pictures where I was able to see the crushed windows and the blood-stained sunroof where I hit my head. I slept a lot in the days following the accident suffering from a slight concussion.

In the next few days I found myself with feelings of survivor’s guilt because how did I survive and why was *I* able to live when so many people perish in car crashes like these? I wrestle with this thought and sometimes I’ll wake up in a cold sweat reliving the accident and the minute I realized I was going to flip the car. I’m glad I blacked out when I did. I did find a lot of support in this tragedy from friends and family and the boy who lent me his phone and had texted my father. When my father responded to tell him I was okay he replied, “Wow that is the biggest relief, I'm so happy to hear such good news. I don't know if she remembers me, but I was the teenage boy that put my jacket around her legs and stood with her. I'm so thankful there were no serious injuries. Tell her I say hello and I hope you all have an amazing Thanksgiving!!!” I can only imagine what he was thinking when he saw my blood soaked hand and face crawling out of the Jeep, non-stop screaming and crying from the pain and shock of it all. Not as traumatizing as my experience but I’d be thinking about that for a couple weeks after if I saw that crash and the state I was in.

The collective effort of the Good Samaritan was another shocking moment for me in this. *So* many people stopped to help me, from the side the accident was on and across the other side of the Interstate. If you believe people are inherently evil, I beg you to consider what happened to me. No one *had* to stop. No one *had* to call an ambulance. Those ER doctors did *not* have to pull over. No one *had* to talk me through it. That man with the beard holding my head up didn’t *have* to get all my blood on his sweatshirt. But people *did* stop. Someone *did* call an ambulance. Those ER doctors *did* stop to help me. People *did* talk me through it. That man *did* get my blood on his sweatshirt to help *me.* That boy *did* lend me his phone.

How did they know if I had COVID-19 or not? How did they know if I had a blood borne illness or not? They didn’t and they still chose in their hearts to help a broken girl on the side of the road. With all the hardships that came with 2020 for everyone, *that* should be the spirit of this hellhole year. Oh, and wear your seatbelt.

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