My Little Blue VW has seen its end...

My Little Blue VW has seen its end…

I lost my car today.  At this moment that is all that makes me sad. The rest of me is happy. Seems ridiculous, that l would feel that way – most people wouldn’t if they had just lost their car!

And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I have to say, it makes sense when the other possible outcomes are losing more than your car.  I could have been damaged permanently, or even dead. But again, something was on my side. I am alive – bruised, banged up, sore, stiff – but mobile and functioning. Not a bad result, really, but my supply of cat lives is dwindling.

The chain of events that led to the accident are strange…a series of decisions and actions that could have altered the outcome in many ways. And when you throw in the other person’s decisions too, so many ways this could have been so different

Concept image of a signpost with Decision Right or Wrong against a blue cloudy sky

Choose Wisely, I say….

.Last night was a topsy-turvy night…and when the alarm went off at 5am, there was decision point. We all have it. Stay cozy, toasty, and warm in bed, stealing another 60 minutes of sleepy-time, or get up and get to the gym to exorcise the demons of happy living. I chose the latter, and up I rose, still grumbling as sleep slowly ebbed from my body. By the time I was out the door, there were no more misgivings – the morning started with the promise of moral superiority over my slothliness – a well-paced morning workout with all my early morning friends of Sherwood Park.

And covered in the satisfying dew of a middle-aged workout, I headed off home. The dog awaited her morning walk in the wetlands behind the house, an invigorating shower was in store, and there was kefir and cereal to be eaten, a lunch to be packed, and an action-packed day of business planning and strategic thinking to keep me engaged.

And as I drove home, I looked at other cars and their drivers, wondering why they were on the road at 6.30am – what awaited them today?

As I approached the fateful intersection, I saw the green light and continued on my merry way. A mere few blocks from my home, it was clear sailing. And then I saw the other vehicle; I observed, and noticed he was hoping to turn left across my lanes.  I do not know what he was thinking, I do not know what he saw; I only know what he decided and what he did.

A fine example of Newton's First Law...same feeling as a car accident in the end.

A fine example of Newton’s First Law…same feeling as a car accident in the end.

It was as if I was cloaked like a Romulan bird of prey. As I crossed into the intersection, expecting the customary yielding of right of way to oncoming traffic, our worlds converged and Newton’s First law kicked in:

Every VW Golf in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external “big-ass Alberta lump of steel on wheels” is applied to it.

Decisions and actions....Newton's First Law

Decisions and actions….Newton’s First Law

And for that instance, time slowed. I saw it but I could not do anything about it. I could not stomp on the brake hard enough, I could not will him out of the way, I could not engage the Delorean’s flux capacitor, and I could not hit rewind.

I know He could not hear me yelling, “What the f*ck?” or else why would He have crossed the imaginary yellow line. And funnily enough, I couldn’t hear myself either. I have no idea if I cursed out loud or blasphemed silently, or even if I only screamed obscenities in my mind.  I could not see him, he was too high and I was too low and too close. Like a frigate stuck under the deck of an aircraft carrier, I knew nothing could be done. I saw his headlights and his grill coming at me, assessed my speed and my lack of braking and I knew that it would hurt.

And it did.

I have felt that bone jarring thud before…about 25 years ago when I fell from a great distance and fractured my legs. This one was less painful, but still as jolting. I heard the plastic crushing, the steel bending, the glass breaking simultaneously in one sonic symphony of distress. It was so fast, but yet so slow. I don’t remember the airbags deploying, but I smelled them deploying…

And then it was over.

For a millisecond, there was incredulity. Then for another millisecond, there was anger. And for a final millisecond, there was a rationale thought… “Wow, this really going to screw up my day.”  And then for a short while rationale thought departed me.

My brain tried to deal with all its inputs.Comenius-Orbis

My eyes soaked in the micro details. Though I could barely see the other vehicle as my line of sight was obstructed by the airbags and the crumpled hood and pieces of engine sticking to and fro, I saw the cracked windshield, I saw pieces of the car’s interior strewn all over the cab, I saw the airbags floating like jelly fish or sad, old, neglected party balloons with their dimpled ends.  I saw smoke, or rather the haze of NaN3 and KNO3 filling my space, post explosion. I was barely aware of shadowy images approaching us, in urgent though hesitant strides as if uncomfortable with their new roles as good Samaritans.

My ears heard muted sounds. Overpowered by the thunderous collision, they heard sounds but did not register them. I remember that the serendipity of hearing Thunderstruck by ACDC playing on K-97, but all other sounds were strangely obscure, like Tom Hanks’s young Ranger captain experiencing deafness in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Someone was asking me some kind of Don Corleone version of “Are you ok?” I couldn’t decide.

And I smelled smells. Not the pleasant, exhilarating smell of detonated nitroglycerin from years of happy and rewarding explosives work, but a nauseating, buzzing, electric smell of sensor controlled rocket booster, nitrogen gas from the air bags. I could sense the odour of hot oil and transmission fluid.

And I felt pain. Every neuron in my body was transmitting a distress signal. Some had priority access, but all were screaming about something amiss. My head was telling me about some strange obstacle it had encountered inside the car – what, where, how I do not know; but there was a goose egg on the back of my head. My neck was screaming at me not to move it quickly. My chest and ribs were protesting against the nylon tether that had left them bruised and chafed – oblivious to the fact that it had prevented them from being crushed and broken against the steering wheel.  My knees were throbbing from the body check received from the console. And a myriad of other minor pain points were obviously transmitting – fingers, ankles, elbows – but were not heard until later when the major players were acknowledged and quelled.

But most disquieting was the disorientation and incapacity. I knew I had been in a collision. I knew I was banged up.  Years of training kicked in and I did a quick physical triage, but I could not remember or process the results. Was I seriously hurt or not? I couldn’t think. I sat in the smoke and smell and chaos, and tried to collect my thoughts. I tried to make sense of the nonsensical. I tried to call my wife and I knew how to do it, I just could not do it correctly. Nimble fingers had been turned into thumbs, and a mind programmed to multi-task and assess multiple threats was turned into a Nintendo 64, as I tried to process what I needed to do.

Slowly, I started emerging from the fog, the shock. In tiny incremental bits that gained speed as I gained control of myself. As I realized that I was going to walk away from this.

And seemingly out of nowhere, my wife appeared like an apparition. She was rudely awoken by my phone call and by my words, “major accident” as

The aftermath and clean up.

The aftermath and clean up.

she awoke from her fog of sleep. Given that men are prone to understatement, those words probably awoke that primordial beast of fear that lives deep in all our bellies, as she frantically hopped into action hoping that I was not badly hurt. She arrived, teary-eyed, full of relief to see me walking around the site, trying to crack very bad jokes with the fire crew. But she knows that is how I handle stress; bad jokes and puns let her know that the real me was still functioning and struggling to break free of the Wonderland that I was trapped in.  There is no overstating the comfort of her caring, friendly voice and reassuring touch. It is something I will remember when I am called on to be a Good Samaritan. I may not know the person, or be someone they know, but I am confident that anybody’s gentle, caring words, or steady, firm hand will have an incredibly calming effect on the shaking and distressed and let them know that help is coming.  My wife was my calming balm.

And then the clean-up – amidst the anxious, frenetic jumble of suburbanites who only saw us an impediment to their day, a flash announcement on their morning radio show, an accident to avoid on the daily commute. We were an opportunity to gawk and reflect, an incident to talk about around the cooler, and a misfortune to share in the coffee room to prove just how fortunate they were on this day.

The insurance people give you a checklist. The checklist is handy when you have a fender bender and angry grimaces turn to polite smiles as you exchange information and then drive off assessing the nuisance and nauz that is involved in repairing your cracked fender or quarter panel or rear lights. But when your car is beyond all economical repair, when you can’t really remember what day it is or what just happened, the checklist is hard to sort out.

That is where you are at the mercy of the emergency responders. And they did not fail me. The fire crew who arrived quickly (their firehouse was only 500m away), and the constabulary – local and federal – collected the necessary information and took charge, as they should and as I hope I could, if I wasn’t involved.  Under their control, like Formula 1 race marshals, they arranged for the clearance of the carnage, collected information allowing me the freedom to be comforted, and reassured by my wife.

The rest is mere drudgery – another episode of shaved chest hairs and ECGs, of CT scans and IVs – all precautionary given my history and all needed to ensure that my body was still in one piece, with no internal leaks, after being hit by a truck. And as I sit here, battered but thankful, I appreciate their thoroughness. It means that all the people I love can sleep soundly knowing that I am ok. Tomorrow is a new day, full of many potential decisions and actions.

I hope I choose wisely.60117047