March 18, 2005.
Five years ago, today.
Things were so different, back then.
I was a freshman in college. I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a ballerina, dancing in a professional ballet company, spending all my days rehearsing and performing. Or I was going to be a physicist (a ballerina physicist?), doing cutting edge theoretical particle physics research. Okay, so I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life. I was single. I was dabbling in all sorts of things, trying to figure out where I fit into UC Irvine, into life as a whole. Trying to make friends. Trying to get through classes.
Just your typical freshman.
It was the first day of final’s week, at the end of winter quarter. A Friday. Odd, but that’s the way it worked out. I had one final that day. It was my modern dance class, in the morning. I was to drive home afterwards, spend the weekend rehearsing for an upcoming ballet, then drive back to school on Sunday for the rest of my exams.
I never made it to any of my other finals.
Four days later, I woke up in the hospital. All I remember are fragments, little bits of memory that seemed to have all happened consecutively, but probably occurred over the span of several hours, or even multiple days.
A car coming toward me. The world spinning out of control. Choking, panicking as someone forced a tube down my throat. Relief when they finally removed it.
I remember standing, getting out of my hospital bed for the first time after the accident, walking over to the bathroom with the help of my mother. I saw my reflection in the mirror – my face was heavily bruised, one eyelid completely swollen shut and laced with stitches, my hair a matted bloody mess, my nose crooked and my forehead slightly bashed in. I laughed weakly (which hurt a bit thanks to the broken ribs), and joked to my mother, “Damn, I’m ugly!”
Visitors. My mother, constantly by my side. A doctor, tall blond and handsome, who seemed familiar but whom I can’t recall ever seeing before, or after. An ex-boyfriend who still cared. A good friend who I was delighted to see, gently kissing me on the forehead.
Unrelated welts, on my arm, that eventually fell away to leave faint scarring that still remains today. Apparently I was allergic to the tape they were using to keep the IV in my vein, in the crook of my right elbow.
“Bird-poo bruises,” as my sister liked to call them. My shoulder was spotted with them, from various shots that I have absolutely no recollection of.
I finally went home a couple of days later. As far as I was concerned, I was fine. Out and about just days later, though my injuries were somewhat awkwardly mistaken for abuse by several strangers. In a way I suppose it was sweet, that complete strangers would go out of their way to show such concern for my situation, though they were entirely mistaken.
The police stopped by, while I was in the hospital, to ask me about the accident. I remember so very little.
A car cutting me off when I was changing lanes. Gray, perhaps? I hardly remember. But I do know I was using my turn signal. The other car was not.
I swerved to avoid the car, and that’s when I lost control. We wonder if a lack of maintenance on the car could have had something to do with it. No way to know now. But I do know my little 1990 Honda Civic saved my life. No airbags – they said I’d probably have been hurt worse if there had been airbags, as small of a person as I am. And almost all of my injuries were from my face slamming into the steering wheel. But it could have been so much worse.
I was the only person injured. After losing control, I slammed into the center divider at 60+ mph. Though I’m told I bounced off and hit a Japanese tourist in a white rental car. Poor guy. I feel bad for him. Apparently I also caused quite the traffic jam… in the middle of rush hour. So if any of you got stuck in traffic on the 405 North that day… sorry about that.
My mother tells me I was conscious after the accident. I don’t remember. My mind completely blocked all that out. Probably a good thing. But it seems I was able to tell the paramedics my name, and that I was alert.
As much as I hate that I have such a big chunk of time entirely gone from my memory… I’m glad I don’t remember the crash.
A week later I was back in another hospital for surgery. After all, my nose was broken, my forehead was caved in… it was decided for me that all that had to be fixed. My surgery was the first day of spring quarter. I didn’t go back to school until summer.
Those memories, again, are fragments. Do recall I hit my head rather hard. Memories from that time, and much of the time surrounding the accident, are fuzzy at best.
I remember arriving at the hospital, checking in, going up to my room. They gave me socks. Brown, with white rubber bumps on the bottom. Quite comfortable, actually. I still have them. They’re still one of my favorite pairs of socks.
I remember them trying to put an IV in my arm. Multiple times. Until the lady just gave up, because she couldn’t find a vein in my small arms. (Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon problem, for me.) Instead, she sent me to the anesthetist to do it. (I remember thinking he was kind of cute. I don’t remember a single other thing about him.) He got the IV in my arm, and then I smiled goodbye at my mom as they rolled me through the door to where I was going to have the surgery.
Going through the door backwards… it’s the last thing I remember.
That night was hellish. One of the worst experiences of my life. I was alone. In the dark. My eyes swollen shut. I had to go pee like you wouldn’t believe, thanks to the IV constantly dripping liquids into me. And damn it, where in all of hell was the nurse? She didn’t come when I pressed the button. So somehow I unplugged the IV from the wall and, feeling my way with one hand because I couldn’t see a thing, I made my way over to the bathroom, dragging the IV stand with me.
Have I mentioned that I hate hospitals?
Few memories beyond that, aside from my mother trying to get me to eat disgusting hospital food. I had to eat, or they wouldn’t release me. So damn it, I ate. Jello, I believe. Red. Or maybe it was blue. I can’t remember.
Then the ride home. I couldn’t see a thing, though I remember it being unpleasant. I wore my mother’s white hooded jacket, with the hood pulled up. My face was so swollen, it was almost a perfect circle. I probably looked like quite the terror. Apparently I scared the crap out of a couple of teenage boys. Man, how I wish I could have seen the looks on their faces.
Never mind the car accident. When asked what the worst experience of my life was, that surgery always comes to mind. For that reason, I just cannot comprehend people who actually want to get plastic surgery.
The next few months were a complete blur. I remember very little.
Sitting on the couch, for hours, days, weeks even? I have no sense of how long. It seemed like forever. Sitting there, my eyes swollen shut, unable to focus on anything, plagued with terrible headaches. Sleeping as much as I could, spending the rest of the time in the dark because light hurt my eyes. Because that one eye, the one with the stitches, couldn’t close. It still doesn’t, unless I squeeze my eyes shut.
I couldn’t read. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t do anything, really, except for listen. My sister made me a CD, full of songs that I loved. I still have it. Another good friend who I had only known for a couple of months before the accident burned the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of audiobooks onto CD for me. People called, visited, posted their concerns on Facebook and MySpace. People who I didn’t even think knew who I was were asking if I was alright. There is no measurement for how valuable friends are in times like these.
Gradually healing… getting the splint off my nose, the stitches out of my eyelid, the staples out of my head. The swelling gone. The bruises fading. Ribs healing enough so I could laugh again without debilitating pain. Hair growing back, ever so slowly, along the strip of my scalp they had shaved to do the surgery. Scars healing, as much as they ever would. Getting used to the nerve damage that will never go away.
Going back to school, making up those missed finals, dating a man who I had met just before the accident who I would soon fall in love with.
Getting back to normal.
March 18, 2010.
Five years later.
Done with school. Not a ballerina or a physicist… instead I followed in the footsteps of both my parents and that man I fell in love with, and became a programmer. Still in love with that man, even more so every day. Still trying to find my place in the world, though I know myself, who I am, what I want, and where I belong a little better these days.
I still don’t have a car, after I totaled my little old blue Honda Civic five years ago. I drive, but not freeways – changing lanes on the freeway still freaks me out, though I haven’t exactly made much of an effort to get past that. The man I love doesn’t like the idea of me driving, and likes the idea of me on freeways even less. He worries that I might get hurt again.
The scars are still there, and always will be. The one on my eye is the most obvious – if you look, you can easily see it. There’s another that goes from in front of one ear to the other, over my head like a headband. It’s hidden by my hair, but you can still find it if you know what to look for. There is metal in my face – wires in my nose, and a plate in my forehead. No, I do not set off metal detectors.
My head is numb from just above my eyebrows to the back of my head. The entire crown of my head. It’s not painful for the most part, but incredibly uncomfortable when someone touches it. A very odd sensation, to be sure. I avoid hats as much as possible, and shudder every time something (or someone) touches my head. Amusing, to say the least. My left eyebrow is extremely sensitive – I fractured that eye socket in the accident, so it’s still painful. When my nose gets cold, it hurts too – probably residual from the broken nose. And I get both sharp pains and dull drilling pains in my scalp, completely randomly. Thank the nerve damage for that.
Even so, I’m okay. I’m happy. I’m healthy. I have damage that will last the rest of my life, but I can handle that.
It could have been so much worse.