10 years ago to the day I was sitting in the passenger seat of our old Toyota corolla while my younger brother drove. We were on an impromptu 20 minute drive to rescue my dad and sister after his car broke down. Little did we know what would happen next.
The road was in the hills behind our town, we’d learned to drive on these roads. My boyfriend lived on one of these roads. We knew these roads so well.
My brother was driving at the speed limit of 80km/h and was driving along a straight section of road. Halfway along this straight section was a t intersection with a side road. As we approached, a 4wd approached the intersection. When we were approximately 30m away I remember so clearly seeing the driver look towards us as they rolled up to their stop sign, then continue to turn across our path instead of coming to a stop.
The next part I think I have blocked from my visual memory. I remember yelling out a swear word and bracing my legs against the front of the car. Then I remember the loudest crash I’ve ever heard. Then silence. I had a brief loss of consciousness and apparently I asked my brother if he was okay as soon as I opened my eyes, then asked him 3 more times straight away. I only recall asking once.
The other driver got out of their car, asked if we were okay, then said our car was smoking. So while we’re trying to scramble out of our car, she got back into her car and reversed it to safety. Turns out it was just steam from the engine, but we were teenagers and had watched too many movies with cars exploding from crashes so we scrambled out.
I remember her telling us we should probably call someone about our car (it was completely totalled) to which I retorted “I’m calling the police”. Due to the lack of reception I was glad I remembered the emergency 112 number for mobiles.
I remember the operator asking if we needed an ambulance which I said “no”. Growing up with brothers I like to think I’m okay and stay strong.
But as the phone call went on I started to realise I was in a lot of pain in my stomach when the seatbelt had held me in. So I requested an ambulance. I’m glad I did as after hanging up the call I jumped over some leaked oil to get to my brother and felt the most intense pain shoot through my stomach.
The pain became too much while standing so I managed to lie down on the side of the road. Lying there the pain subsided a little but frustration kicked in when I heard the other driver tell the people who had come out of their neighbouring house that we “drove into her”. I couldn’t contain my anger and practically yelled “you turned out in front of us!”
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. I remember the ambulance turning up, and as it’s a small town I remember them being the dad’s of girls I went to school with. The tow truck driver was also the dad of an old friend.
I remember messaging my older brother to let him know what happened and begged him not to tell our mum as she would just worry. He messaged back apologising but that he’d told her and she was on her way to the hospital to meet me.
I remember there wasn’t enough room in the ambulance so my brother had to wait at the crash site. I don’t even remember if we knew how he’d get home. And now as a parent I feel guilt ridden that I left my little brother (while he was 17 he was still my little brother) alone after such a traumatic event.
I found out later that my father had never received my messages telling him we’d been in a crash and after getting his car working again he was driving to meet us when they rounded a corner and came across our crash site. He later told me as soon as my brother finished talking to the police and sat in the passenger seat of my dad’s car, he broke down into tears. This still breaks my heart, him thinking he’d been the cause of the crash when he had done nothing wrong.
I remember getting to the hospital and needing to use the toilet. I remember trying to sit on the toilet being the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life. Even to this day after going through labour, that toilet trip was still more painful.
I remember waiting around in the hospital for hours until the medical staff decided I could be discharged. One doctor however decided she wouldn’t feel happy until they did an xray before sending me home.
Lucky they did as my abdominal pain was masking something else. I had a fractured L2 vertebra.
The rest of the day was spent with me being kept as still as possible. I had to use a bed pan to wee, they put a neck brace on me, put a cannula in my arm (until I was in too much added pain from my hypersensitivity to needles that they had to take it out). I had to wait for another ambulance to drive me another 40 mins away to a larger hospital where they completed a CT scan. I’m so fortunate the CT revealed the fracture was stable so was sent home with some endone and advice to rest for a few days, and not bend, twist, or lift anything heavy for 3 months.
I was second year university, working at a bottle shop. I had to stop work and postpone exams. I had to sit through a conversation with the head of my course telling me I should postpone my studies to the following year. Little did she know that just gave me more motivation to get back quicker. I stopped pain killers 3 days post crash even though I could barely move from the pain, and I studied like I never had before. My GPA actually rose afterwards. Years later I remember seeing her at our graduation drinks and wanting to go up to her and tell her how wrong she was, but luckily a friend realised how much I’d had to drink and thought it best to avoid doing that.
I remember trying to work again after the 3 months was up and my muscle had atrophied to the extent that I could barely lift a 6 pack of beer. After a conversation with my boss I decided it was best I resign.
I won’t bore you all with the details of rehabilitation and the insurance process, but it was lengthy.
10 years on I still have referred pain in my shoulder and hip. I’m told this is common post back injuries. I still feel pain in my L2, and it gets worse after lifting my baby for long periods.
I have to be extra vigilant to stick to an exercise routine to keep my core stable and strong otherwise the pain gets worse. I have friends tell me how they’re jealous of my abs, to which I respond “it’s actually really simple, break your back, then you HAVE to do core workouts otherwise you end up in pain”.
I’ve had a close friends tell me how they wish they could get an insurance payout. While the insurance money was a bonus, it went towards rehabilitation, time off work, and “pain and suffering”. My response is always “I would prefer to not have the pain or money”.
I’ve had to change the way I sleep to mainly sleeping on my back as my shoulder and hip pain get worse if I sleep the way I used to. This because a problem in pregnancy when it’s recommended to not sleep in your back. So sleep was a struggle then.
To this day I still can’t be a passenger in a car without constantly bracing myself. Everytime I see a near miss while driving I get a shooting sensation in my brain. I call it my “mini freakout”. I’ve tried seeing a psychologist but the exposure therapy of getting into near misses wasn’t my cup of tea.
I was lucky. I was able to get back into doing things I love such as playing sports. I was able to carry a pregnancy without too much added pain.
I can’t help but think how different my life would be if that driver hadn’t turned into us. Or if speed had been involved. Or if my brother had been distracted behind the wheel and hadn’t braked or tried to swerve.
In the last 10 years I’ve had a lot of pain
On the flip side, the compensation meant I could afford a house.
While I was lucky enough to walk away, others aren’t so lucky.
So please be safe on our roads. Look both ways before pulling out, respect and follow all road signage (it’s there for a reason), strap yourself in with your seatbelt, stick to the speed limits, and leave your phone alone.
If you take away one message only from my story it’s this: please, please be careful on the roads. You’re in control of a heavy metal machine that can change a life on an instance. Make sure you take that responsibility seriously.
Posted anonymously, 8th September 2021