When It's Not Your Time
A crash course in gratitude, God's grace, and German engineering.
Posted Mar 28, 2012
Scott Rockman is an old college buddy of mine. We met 42 years ago as freshmen at Northwestern University. Scott is a consultant to non-profits and lives in Scarsdale, New York with his wife Melissa and dog Riley. When I received this email from him a few days ago, I wanted to share it with everyone:
A bit of advice.
The next time you are cruising down I-95 at 70+ mph and you get run off the road by an unauthorized driver in a rental car with a suspended license be sure to point your vehicle safely towards a cedar tree.
It doesn't hurt to first take out a road sign, then spin and flip a time or two before hitting the cedar. But make certain it's a cedar. Not an oak or a maple. Both are much too hard and less forgiving—at least that is what the otherwise "speechless" State Trooper Gary said when he brought the preliminary paperwork to us at the Yale-New Haven Hospital Trauma Center.
So we figure it was the cedar tree and German engineering (our dearly departed ultimate driving machine) and six airbags and two seat belts and good fortune and God's grace that saved our lives. Apparently, it just wasn't our time.
But talk about a horrific drive home from the Cape. Melissa, Riley and I left Wellfleet around 1:30 pm. Didn't get home until after midnight. Beautiful day—surprisingly warm for March. Made the usual stops. Gas. Fish for dinner. A sandwich to share. (Wonder where we lingered just a moment too long that put us in harms way?)
Was making good time. It was 4:30 pm. Maybe 4:45. Melissa was driving (my shift having ended 60 miles back in Rhode Island). We were around Exit 67 near Old Saybrook, CT. I was dozing.
Melissa (Driver #2) saw it all. She was behind Driver #1 in the left-hand lane. Driver #1 was driving erratically—fast, then slow, then fast, then slow—apparently distracted. Best to pass. Melissa moved to the right-hand lane. The two cars were now side by side. Melissa noticed that #1 was veering wildly to the left. Odd. Then #1 turned suddenly to the right. Maybe an over-correction. Maybe #1 had lost control of her vehicle. Either way, #1 hit us at a 45-degree angle just behind the driver's door and drove both cars off the road. #1 hit a tree (not a cedar?) and came to rest on the grass about 25 yards down the road.
As I said, Melissa saw and felt it all. And it was over in an instant. A long, slow-motion instant. Violent crash into her door. Forced off the road. Hurtling through the brush. Ricocheting off trees. Flipping over. She knew it was a bad accident—her mind went to wondering how it would end. In the moment, more curiosity than fear.
?@&#%. Melissa crashed the car. Seems bad. Grey? Diving? Must be in water. This is how we are going to die. That sucks. Sad to miss all we had hoped for in the future. Really sad.
Waited for that final terrible mortal impact. Didn't happen. Cedar tree. We're alive. Waited for the water to rush in. (How am I going to open the door?) Didn't happen. We're going to live. (Actually, nowhere near water. Silly.) Heard Melissa yell, "GET OUT OF THE CAR. GET OUT OF THE CAR." (She recalls worrying the car was going to explode and struggling to undo her seat belt and then dropping down—remember, we were hanging upside down.) Released my seat belt. Climbed out the window. (All the glass had shattered.) Disoriented. I know Melissa is out. Where's Riley?
"How are you?"—"How are you?" Okay, we think. Riley too. Look at the car. Upside-down in the woods. Crazy. How'd we survive that? What do we do now?
I have blood on my hands. Some dripping on my head. My shirt is torn. Nothing seems to hurt. Melissa looks okay. Riley seems okay but is a bit dazed. The three of us sit down on the hill by the side of the road and stare at the car. Really?
Almost immediately help begins to arrive. Lots of help. Old Saybrook police. State police. Firemen. EMT. Civilians. They stop. Look at the wreck. Ask if anyone knows who and how many are stuck in the car. "We were in the car." "Really?" They look at the wreck again. They look at us again. "WOW." They breathe a sigh of amazement—happy for us, and thankful their night just got better. "Not what we expected when we drove up".
An off-duty EMT happens to be driving by. Nice guy. Told us not to move. "Important to keep the neck steady and the spine straight." My bloody head looked worse than Melissa's so he wrapped his powerful hands around my neck and held tight. For an instant, I wonder if he's going to kill me. "This should help until the EMT arrives with a collar."
A few minutes later the Old Saybrook EMT arrives. Very serious. Very nice. Lot's of quizzes. "What day is it? Who is the President?" Neck collars. Need to go to the hospital. Are you sure? "Look at the car." "Anything hurt?" Maybe my chest. I cough and clear my throat a few times. They look nervous. Wait. What about Riley? "Sorry, but the dog can't get in the ambulance." A few minutes of negotiation. Donna the EMT is a dog person. Established a chain of custody. Police Sergeant Bill. Pound. Niece (Fortunately, Jessica lives just a few miles away in Madison). Agreed.
Jessica got the call we all fear. "Old Saybrook police. Aunt and Uncle. Accident. Ambulance. OKAY BUT Yale Trauma Center. They'd like you to watch their dog." Bad call. Word spread. Sisters. Daughters. "OKAY BUT Yale Trauma Center." Freaking out. They need to hear our voices. Jessica and Justin get Riley out of the slammer. Family.
Arrive at Trauma Center. Probably before 6 pm. Rolled into emergency room. More ceilings. Met by a team of doctors. Lee. Bruce. (Obvious joke—another quiz?) Ready, lift. Transferred off the board. Melissa is on the other side of the curtain with her own team. Lots of poking and questions. Another IV line, just in case. Ultrasound. All clear.
Rolled back into the hall. Still restrained. Still need a chest x-ray. But they need my bed for another trauma patient. Good sign, I guess. Where's Melissa? Still in the trauma room. Why? "She's okay." Having a portable x-ray. Finally, she's rolled into the hall too. Together again. Squeeze her hand.
I get my x-ray. Collar comes off. Everything's okay. "Hang around to be observed for an hour or so and we'll send you both home." Need a phone. (Ours were in the car.) Get a phone. Call the girls. Need an outside line. Not easy. Finally get through to Katie. Voices. Tears. Joanna is on her way to pick us up. It's around 7:30 pm.
Allowed to get up and get dressed. Given a paper shirt and a package of giant wet naps to clean up the blood. Men's room. One of the small head wounds hurts. Something inside? Nurse Kathy checks. Agrees. Calls for doctor. Lidocaine shot to the head. No scalpel. Dug out a small pebble-sized piece of glass. Feels better. No stitches. Apple juice. Turkey sandwich.
Have I been clear how wonderful everyone was? Kind. Caring. Professional. Thoughtful. These folks are saving lives, assisting families, protecting pets. Going above and beyond. Never making us feel like our crisis is just a job. From EMT Donna who talked us through those first chaotic minutes... to the hospital support staff who helped us use their phones to connect with our girls... to the anonymous animal control officer who opened the Old Saybrook pound on a Sunday night to let Riley in and, more importantly, out. Dozens of men and women who we will probably never see again doing whatever they can to contribute to a positive outcome.
Left the hospital around 9:15 pm. Went to the trooper's car. He had Melissa's purse and her computer from the wreck. (Someone had put my phone in her purse. See what I mean about the people?) The computer was smashed. Grateful goodbye. Knowing smile.
Got into Joanna's car and headed back towards I-95. Really? Call Katie again. Rendezvous with Jessica off Exit 57. Hugs. Riley. More hugs. Sweatshirt. Head back towards New Haven. Traffic is slow. Then it stops. Didn't mind. App says there is an "incident" near Exit 42. Sat for an hour. Didn't mind. Then I-95 closed. Seemed appropriate. Side streets. Eventually found our way home a little after midnight. Under 11 hours door-to-door. Off season. Lucky.
The app said the "incident" near Exit 42 involved a vehicle and a pedestrian. Never good. I'm guessing someone missed the cedar tree.
Do me a favor. Think of someone you love. No, make that everyone you love. Think of all you hope for them in the future. And give them a hug.
This is our hug for you.