This is how a distracted driver put my life and my next year’s Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike attempt in jeopardy.
Friday morning, June 14, 2019, I got up early and headed out to my favorite hiking spot, hoping to get 10 miles in before it got too hot. I have 8 months until I step foot on the Appalachian Trail and begin my 2190 mile journey from Georgia to Maine and I needed every minute possible to train.
I turned onto the 2 lane road heading to the park. It was a beautiful morning that would soon come to a screeching halt thanks to a woman who decided that paying attention to the road was not important.
I had just turned onto the road and got up to about 35 mph when I noticed a car (Volvo) coming in the opposite direction start crossing the yellow double line. I honked my horn and hit the breaks as I tried to hug the right side of the road (there was no shoulder and just trees and a ditch) then the car came completely into my lane.
Despite my horn blaring, the distracted driver didn’t take notice. There was nowhere for me to go and no time to do it. The distracted driver hit me head on.
I thank God I was in my Chevy 2500 HD pickup. Upon impact, I lost my breath from the seatbelt and my chest hurt something fierce. I was sure I broke my sternum. It hurt to breathe. I was gagging from the airbag smoke as 6 of my 8 airbags had deployed. I look up and remember I had opened my sunroof before leaving that morning. Why did I do that? I never open my sunroof! I see the smoke escaping as fast as it could through the opening and I am thankful for whatever higher power knew I would need it open.
My right arm hurt and had injuries (burn marks from the airbag). I didn’t stop honking the horn and move my arm in time. Did I fracture it? Or simply jam it?
I see the distracted driver (a young woman) get out of the other car. I hear her say something about “I am calling your mom now” to someone in the backseat.
Then another voice, it’s OnStar. “We have detected airbag deployment, do you need EMS”? “Yes”. I am dazed and think back to all the people we (the Fire Department) have helped during times like this. All the motor vehicle wrecks I have been on. I know what they need to know and try and tell the OnStar guy. He’s not listening. He’s following a script and I am giving too much information. “Ma’am, I need you to focus and answer my questions”. I am focused, it hurts to talk just listen to what I am telling you, I think to myself.
The cab is still filled with smoke, my driver door opens. It was the guy behind me. He yells to someone else that I am talking to OnStar.
My seatbelt is so tight. It tightened something fierce right before impact. It had locked when I slammed on the breaks, but it sucked me into the seat and tightened even further right before impact. Was it supposed to do that? Or did my truck have a mind of its own and was it trying to cradle me? I am trying to talk, but the smoke is filling my mouth. It hurts to breathe. I try and tell OnStar to get ahold of my husband, he’s at the Fire Department. All they can keep saying is they have questions they need to ask me. I am getting nowhere with them.
A lady comes next to my driver’s door. She is on the phone. “Is she on the phone with 911”, I ask the guy? “Yes, she is”. She comes to my door, “are you injured”? “Yes, are you on the phone with 911”? “Yes”, she says. “Give me the phone, please”. She hands me her phone.
I get on the phone and while I don’t remember exactly what I said, I did tell her that I was with Central Bell and I was injured along with a size up of the scene. I’m still dazed and it still hurts to breathe. The seatbelt is so tight. I inform them that my husband is a Cpt at Central Bell, to please get ahold of him. I hand the phone back to the lady as I now see the ambulance pulling up behind me.
Thank god they have arrived. All of a sudden, as the airbags have finally deflated, I hear my seatbelt unlock and as if my truck is saying you are safe now, my truck fully releases the seatbelt. The pain in my chest is now worse. My arm is on fire. Why is my arm on fire? Oh it’s not, it’s just the burns from the airbag.
The paramedics go to the woman (distracted driver) and two children standing outside walking around. When will they get to me? I hear one ask if anyone else is hurt and she says no, then a witness says yes the driver of the truck is still in the truck. Yes, please hurry is all I could think to myself.
One of the Paramedics comes to the driver’s door. Can you move? What hurts? Any neck pain? All the standard questions. He asks me to turn off the truck. Wait, my truck is still on I think to myself? I remove the keys from the ignition and set them in the center console. Can you unbuckle your seatbelt he asks? I have no idea, I push the button and it releases.
“Can you walk”, he asks? “I can try, do you have CBC main on your radio”, I ask him. Someone else is saying something to him. I don’t think he heard me. Everything is chaotic. Everyone just needs to calm down was all I could think to myself. I’m calm why is everyone else (besides the paramedics) freaking out?
He helps me to the back of the ambulance. “Stand here”, he says, “while I get the stretcher”. “Ok”, oh wait, not ok. “I am about to faint”, I yell to him as he is pulling the stretcher out. We quickly get me on the stretcher and the lightheadedness starts to fade.
He loads me into the ambulance. Where is my husband, I think to myself? He should be here by now. I ask the paramedic to get ahold of my husband. He says we will do that when we get to the hospital. I don’t think he is understanding me. Or maybe I am not making sense even though I feel like I am coherent. There’s just too much going on at once.
Shortly before we leave, I see Med 51 (which is our Fire Department’s medical vehicle), pull up and a man in a red polo get out. It’s my husband. Someone was able to get ahold of him! I can tell by his walk, he is on a mission. He must not know that I am conscious and talking.
He gets into the ambulance and an instant relief flashes across his face as I say hi baby, I hurt but I will be just fine. PD is in the back with us. I give a brief statement and then give my husband a honey do list that I need him to do before he comes to the hospital (get my hiking gear out of the truck, my keys, and also get recycling out of the back so it can be dropped off). PD laughs, “she’s injured and on her way to the hospital but is still giving you a honey do list”, he says.
I am known to be completely calm in times of crisis. In fact, that is when I really shine, even if I am the crisis. I knew I would not be able to focus on healing if I did not remind him what needed to be done. I’d be worried about those things instead of concentrating on myself.
Thankfully I had no broken bones or life-threatening injuries (although I swore upon impact I had crushed my chest it hurt so bad).
The day after the wreck I noticed my neck kept popping and grinding every time I turned it and my lower back was now sore, and my chest hurt even worse and now there was a huge bruise on my chest that started at my collar bone, covered half my boob, and part of my sternum area (more than likely from the seatbelt). Healing will take a while.
Because of my chest, neck, and back injuries, I am unable to carry my pack which means no training. Basically, it has all come to stand still. Yes, I am lucky as it could have been worse. But, I have been planning for this trip for 3 years just to have some lady who didn’t even have a driver’s license, drive a vehicle distracted and hit me head on. The worst part was it wasn’t even her car. She was apparently a nanny (from what I gathered from the witnesses who overheard her) and the owners of the car allowed her to drive knowing she had no driver license.
Not only is my AT thru-hike in jeopardy, but we have had to cancel all of our summer plans (no way to tow our RV now), I am unable to travel or hike, so sponsored posts (how I get paid) are no longer coming in for the blog and I have no idea how long this will go on for. I was supposed to start a new contracting job as well, which has also had to be put on hold.
I am thankful it wasn’t worse but I am livid!
So the next time you think about driving distracted, whether it is texting, putting on makeup, turning around to yell at kids in the backseat, searching through your purse, or trying to reach something that fell on the floorboard; I want you to remember this post. She could have killed me and the 2 kids she had in the backseat. There is no excuse good enough. She could have simply chosen to pull over to do whatever it was she was doing, but instead, she decided to endanger the lives of everyone on the road. Don’t be a distracted driver, pull over!