Ah life. Just when I think I’ve learned enough to graduate summa cum laude from the school of hard knocks, it reminds me that I am not done yet. There is always something new for me to learn.
Case in point: I took the day off from work to wrap up some matters related to my child’s “transition to adulthood”. By the way, at age 18, she is now officially known as “my adult” rather than “my child”. Sorry, but (unofficially) she will always be my child. Just as I am still my 81 year old mother’s child.
But back to that fateful day . . . I was feeling pretty good about crossing several things off my continuous-loop To Do List when I decided to text my husband and ask him to pick up a few things on the way home. (Tick tock. First decision)
On second thought, why bother him? I had the day off and that child, I mean adult of mine, would love to go for a car ride with me. If you read our blog, The Long Way Home, you know that a ride in the car is about the most satisfying thing in her life.
So I asked her. Once. Twice. Thrice. (Tick tock. Second decision)
Much to my surprise, my adult declined. She doesn’t talk but she communicates well her wants and needs so off to the grocery store I went.
Heading out on our street, I met my husband driving home for work. I rolled down my window and said “Hey, I’m saving you a trip to the store and going myself because I took the day off and I have time”. (Tick tock. Third decision)
As I approached the intersection, I put my right turn blinker on because I decided that since I had time, I’d swing by the new housing development going up that we get a glimpse of from our front yard. Typically, I’d turn left to go to the store. (Tick tock. Fourth decision)
What I’m going to tell you now will sound as if it took place over several minutes but it actually occurred in just seconds. You’ve read stories where the writer describes an event that seems to play out in slow motion. This was one of those events and I saw it coming before it happened.
On this busy two lane road, a mother in a minivan decided to take an abrupt sharp right into her driveway at the same time a man in a F250 truck going 45 mph decided to pass her on the right. On their one-lane road. Truck-driving man slammed on his brakes to avoid Minivan Mom, lost control, and crossed the center line.
I saw and heard this much unfold and as he passed my field of vision, I said aloud, “Please don’t hit me. Please don’t hit me”.
Wham. He hit me. Hard.
Did I tell you the part about it being a new car? A car much bigger than the one I initially had my heart set on?
Once the initial shock subsided, I became aware that my lower back had seized up in spasm. On the pain rating scale, it was somewhere less than child birth, but right up there with passing a kidney stone.
I’ll give you the digest version of the rest of the story so I can get on to the more meaningful (I hope) part of this blog. The sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene. As did my husband. Then the aid car pulled up. My door was pushed in and I couldn’t lift myself over the console to the other door so my door was pried open and I was put on a back board and in a neck brace before being carted off to the ER. In the retelling of this story to my family, my mother has added that the Jaws of Life was needed to pry me out. It makes for a better story so I haven’t corrected her yet.
I haven’t decided if this was a near-death experience or not (I’m told it was merely a couple seconds away from being a head-on collision) but I am processing it as if it were. I come from a long line of mathematically/scientifically inclined people so physics came first. But I also got a fair number of philosophical/intuitive genes (I don’t claim to be a geneticist) so my brain also seeks meaning in everyday occurrences, particularly those that are very good or very bad.
Physics told me that it was simply a matter of time and space. Give or take a few seconds, I’d have been out of harm’s way. Or far away at work instead of lollygagging at the grocery store for Panini. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Physics also told me that two objects cannot occupy the same spatial region at the same time – as much as that F250 tried. I could go on about momentum, velocity, and acceleration but why, when the philosophical angle is so much more interesting.
What about all the little things – those timely little decisions – tick tock – that led to my being there just then? There seemed to be so many things that I don’t usually do that put me right there.
Yes, all the what ifs . . .
They went like this:
What if . . .
• I had asked my hubby to do the errand
• We hadn’t stopped to chat on my way out
• I had turned left as I usually do instead of right
• I had bought the sub-compact I’d wanted
• I hadn’t taken the day off from work
And the one that reverberated in my head
• She had said yes to the car ride (her door took the brunt of it and she would’ve gone to the ER too). I am trying not to fixate on this one but I did learn a thing or two.
• Insurance – I’ve been driving for 42 years and have never paid much attention to the “uninsured motorist coverage” or the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) under my plan. Yes, Mr. F250 had no insurance. I am thankful I have good insurance that is covering the treatment for my injury. It’s a good idea to know what you have – just watch TV and those insurance ads will remind you. “You think you’re covered for this but you’re really only covered for this”.
• Preparation for an emergency – While she wasn’t with me this time, she often is with me. I wrote an In case of emergency note, stating that she has autism, is nonverbal, doesn’t understand much of what is said to her, will be anxious and may respond physically. I listed people to call if I’m unable to communicate. I placed it in my (rental) car on the visor – just in case. I sent it to her dad, her caregiver, anyone who drives alone with her. I also talked through this scenario with all who drive with her so we have a plan – just in case.
• What Iffing – We all do it. Parents of kids with autism do it constantly. While there can be value in asking “what if”, ruminating on these unanswered questions can drive you batty. I have decided that I was there because the car behind me was a tiny one, with a tiny baby in the driver-side rear seat, and a nervous new mama at the wheel. I have no proof of that but it sits well with me and has stopped what could have become a bad case of the “what ifs”. If you can find a reason that seems to stem the flow of unanswered questions in your head, keep repeating it in your head.
• Self-Care – You know I am a big advocate of self-care for parents of kids with special needs. And I have tried to practice what I preach. When my dad, who was my running buddy for many years, passed away last summer, sharp as a tack, at the age of 90 with what his doctors described as pristine arteries, I decided I needed to do better or I won’t come close to his long, healthy life. I started working out with good results – physically and emotionally. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness (stay tuned for more on this!) and find it has helped with sleep and stress. If you only do 10-15 minutes of walking or floor exercises at home a couple times as week, that’s 20-30 minutes more exercise than if you did nothing. Time. I know. It’s hard to find time. Make it! We get up at 4 am to work out. Many days we’re already awake because our adult is.
• Your Own Team – So here’s another thing I’d never thought of. My own team. Not my adult’s team. My team. Because of this accident, I now have some pretty wonderful new members of the team that not long ago was made up of my PCP, my dentist, and my pharmacist (who are also very wonderful people). I am learning so much about my physical and emotional well-being. If you don’t have a team for YOU, think it over. Who could you have on your team working toward better self-care?
• Look Ma, No Guilt – the best part of self-care now is that I don’t have a twinge of guilt. Perhaps because I know that there was no choice if I didn’t want to have a life-long injury and pain. Perhaps because I realized that guilt has never served me well. Perhaps I am getting smarter after all. If you feel guilty about self-care, remember that guilt is for those who do something wrong, something bad. Self-care is nothing but good. For you. For your loved ones.
In retrospect, I have come to know this much:
• Bad things happen to good people for reasons unknown.
• It could have been much worse.
• Good can come out of a bad situation.
• You have to get back on the horse. Or in the car. Keep going forward.
• There are many good people who are there when you need them. You might need to summon them. But they will come.
• Be safe out there. What happened to all the law-abiding, polite Seattle drivers I came to know in my three decades here? Please come back!
• Take care of you as best you can.
You are worthy of the same care and attention you give so freely to so many others!