The accident that changed my life

Author’s note: My mother was one of six kids in the family. She grew up with this large family, moving from house to house in Mifflin County. When her sister was in a life changing car accident in 1999, it changed her perspective drastically. It was one thing that happened in her life that really made her stop and think about how life can change in the blink of an eye. I chose to write this story from my mother’s perspective because she is one of my role models, and her story is interesting.

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I picked up the phone. My voice sounded hoarse and cracked in a whisper as I sleepily said “Hello.” The voice on the other line was frantic. My eyes instantly popped open. I pulled the phone from my ear as I listened to the words my mom spoke. I felt the room spin as I heard her say, “Your sister has been in a terrible vehicle accident. She is being life-flighted to Danville Geisinger Hospital. You will need to meet us at the hospital right away.” What, Wait, How, Who, Huh, Where, were questions that I asked that did not get an answer. My mom replied, “This is all I know. I don’t have any information. We were told to get to the hospital as soon as possible.”

I remember feeling numb the entire ride to Danville, wanting to hurry to get there yet dreading what we would find. I worried about my parents. They were on a mini vacation and were hundreds of miles away when they received that dreaded call. They drove for hours that night on their motorcycle to meet the rest of the family at the hospital.

We finally arrived, walking into the hospital, to her room to find she was in an intensive care unit. There was little to no hope she would recover from the extent of her injuries.

The room seemed so big. The bed in the middle, so small. I stood frozen at the door; my legs would not move, as my eyes darted around the room. Everything looked clean and sterile, but alcohol antiseptic and stringent smells burned my throat. I hated it.

Beeping, everything beeping, ventilators, pressure cuffs on her legs, her hands swollen, her face unrecognizable, her chest rising and falling with the machine. I felt like I could not breathe.

In that moment I realized life can change in the blink of an eye.

A team of doctors entered the room. I could not think, could not comprehend what was being said. Thinking back, it reminded me of the teacher from Charlie Brown. “Blah, blah, blah.” I tried to block out the words the doctors were mumbling – “blah, blah, blah broken jaw, blah, blah, blah broken pelvic bone, blah, blah, blah possible amputation of her legs, blah blah.” The thought of my sister without legs? I could not imagine what life would be like for her. She would hate living like that. She would not live like that. So many decisions for my parents to make. Do they give consent for this treatment? Ugh, I hated it.

Months later, when my sister was in recovery, I remember her being in Health South, sitting on her bed. I walked into her room excited to see her. She had swelling on her brain. She did not recognize me, and my heart sank. Everyone was talking differently around her as if she was a baby. It was like, you had to talk very slowly for her to process and understand what you were saying.

How do you not know who I am, I thought.

As I walked closer to the bed, she looked at me and smiled. She said to me, “You look like someone I’ve seen before, maybe from a movie or something?” I smiled and rolled my eyes as if it was silly. But this was very real; she did not recognize me. I held her hand tight and tried to remind her that I was her sister. It was so painful to me that she did not understand.

My sister’s boyfriend came into the room to see her and when I saw him, I got so angry. There had been an argument, alcohol was involved, and my sister got upset because they were fighting. She hopped in his big truck and took off down a back road. He followed her in a car. There was fast driving, and she must have been frantic and hit a tree. I could not look at him; I hated him. I blamed him for this. If they had not had this argument, she would not have been in this hospital; she would have been healthy and not injured. I knew he felt bad because he kept apologizing, and I kept asking him not to leave her. I was so worried he would leave her. She was not going to be the same, sassy spitfire girl he fell in love with. She had scars now and needed recovery. Would he stay by her side and take care of her? I did not want her to wake up to nothing; I was so scared.

After numerous surgeries and countless days and nights in the hospital, she was finally able to come home. She could not walk. We had to carry her. She was weak and needed rest and constant care. Her legs had been through so much. Both kneecaps were removed. She now had metal plates and hardware below her knees. One leg was fused together and would no longer bend. This made one side of her body longer than the other. The daily challenges she now faced were met with determination. She did not let anything stop her. She would scoot on her bottom to go up and down the steps.

I remember her coming to stay with me after her hospital stay. I would try to talk to her about the night of the accident. Looking back, I think I asked too many questions, pried a little too hard. What do you mean you do not remember? I would silently scream these words in my head. I could not understand how the details of the most traumatic experience of her life were lost in her memory. The doctors said she might not ever recollect the incident. They said that some patients never regain that part of their memory and that it was for the best. It just did not make sense to me. I needed to know, needed someone to blame. I wanted my sister back the way she was, the way I remembered her. I knew deep down I was being selfish. She was alive and healing. I was at least grateful for that.

To this day, I always wear my seatbelt and encourage others to be safe and to drive at safe speeds. Do not drink and drive. Be considerate of others, and do not drive recklessly. Think before you get behind the wheel, and never drive without a clear head.

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