I remember thinking I was going to break my leg.
I am going to break my leg I am going to break my leg I am going to break my leg.
the headlights were coming at us way too fast. this was a highway I was crossing, and the other car wasn’t stopping.
I am going to break my leg and this is going to hurt.
I hit the brakes, but the roads were slick with ice and we started sliding. the other car’s lights stayed sighted on the driver side of our car like a hunter’s rifle.
a rifle with a single, two ton caliber bullet that was bearing down on us… fast.
even still, I had a long time to wait for them to arrive.
time enough to watch them approach. to watch them get bigger as they got closer. to see them disappear into the side of our car. to feel the steering wheel in my hands. to see my left leg instinctively curl away from the door. to watch as a curtain of white—the side airbag—deployed instantly and took my view away. to push on the brake. to think that turning harder to the left would make the impact point farther forward on our car, away from the backseat where my wife and daughters were. to chide myself that it wouldn’t matter, there was no time. to watch bits of black plastic appear out of no where on the dashboard, on the center console, on the floor. to watch the dashboard reveal its wiring. to watch the driver’s door compact inward… and stop well short of where I thought it would.
to wonder why the radio was still on. why I wasn’t injured. why I couldn’t see through this white thing covering the window. to wonder how I was going to call 9-1-1 when my phone was in the backseat somewhere (my girls had been using it to control the radio via bluetooth).
I love Kia. it was like being in a tank.
my younger daughter, sitting directly behind me, started screaming that she couldn’t breathe. I turned to look at her and asked her how her leg was. “My legs? Fine! I can’t breathe!” she replied. I saw that the door hadn’t come in very far; her legs weren’t broken, which is what I’d been worried about. ok, that’s good. but then what was wrong with her? I needed to get to her. her side airbag had deployed, too. my door wouldn’t open, and neither would hers. I’d have to crawl over the passenger seat.
this is shock. she’s in shock. and I’m not in pain. I should be in pain, where’s the pain?! why hadn’t the impact been stronger? I haven’t processed something. c’mon brain, move faster. process faster. I’m in pain and the shock is keeping me from feeling it. speed up!
the passenger door opened.
I climbed over and out. no pain. that must be adrenaline. the pain will kick in soon. my wife and younger daughter were still in the backseat. my older daughter was already climbing out. there was a man with a tow truck on the scene who had already called emergency services.
this just happened 3 seconds ago, how did he get here so fast?
I looked in at my wife and younger daughter. there was blood on the little one’s face. she needs a rag. or a shirt. I’m wearing a shirt. two of them! I took off my jacket, my long sleeve shirt, my t-shirt. gave the t-shirt to my wife. put the long sleeve shirt and jacket back on. watched my wife press it to my daughter’s face. saw dark spots appear on the orange cotton. noticed that my father-in-law and older daughter looked ok. walked to the side of the road where two other people—they must’ve been in the other car—stood. watched the fire truck car arrive a minute later.
and the other fire truck.
and the police officer.
told the firewoman that I was OK. was impressed at how efficient the firemen were. thought to get my wife and younger daughter out of the car now that an officer was here with an SUV they could sit in while we waited for paramedics to arrive.
I watched the ambulance arrive.
and the other ambulance.
and the other police officer.
at some point, the firemen put out cones and flares to direct traffic around us. things became routine. medics checked us out. I was physically fine—the pain never came. my wife was… wincing. damn, she was hurt. the girls were shaken but physically ok.
I could feel the emotion bubbling up. the “could’ve been’s”. I pushed them down. I thought instead about insurance. flights. ski lessons. dinner reservations. things that needed to be canceled, people who needed to be notified. my dad had called—I didn’t answer. won’t he love the message I was about to leave for him. what the other people would say to the police. I took photos. memorized what happened. worried about everyone.
the paramedics gave our family a lift back to our hotel. we were 9,000 feet high, and my wife’s back was sore. did she hurt her back? break a rib? anything was possible. as the adrenaline wore off, her pain became more noticeable. I waited for the same thing to happen to me, but it never did. I was fine. slight tightness in my back, minor bruise on my hip. nothing. skiing hurt more on a good day than this.
guilt and helplessness filled the space where physical pain would have been. my family had been in danger. it happened on my watch. we were lucky. someone had been protecting us. someone other than me.
physical pain would have been easier to deal with.
my younger daughter was still in shock. she kept reliving the moment of impact, when she’d had the wind knocked out of her and the side air bag gave her a bloody nose. I took her on a walk to get pizza. held her hand. had her tell me again the story of what happened, only when she got to the bloody nose, and was just about to loop back to the headlights coming right at her, made her go on and tell me how her breath came back, how mom had been there with a rag for her nose (my shirt!), how the paramedics had checked us all out… and how we all made it back to the lodge together and how everyone was ok. as she retold that fuller story, she started to visibly relax. she wasn’t caught in the loop anymore.
mentally, I checked a box.
later, the girls didn’t want to be alone, so my wife and I split up and each kept a child company throughout the night in our 2 bedroom condo.
the next morning was valentine’s day.
my wife’s pain had shifted locations, but an inconsistent, sharp twang lingered. sharp pain after an accident is bad. muscle pain isn’t sharp.
X-rays would show 2 broken ribs, a partial collapse of her lung, and possible build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity (a potential sign of internal bleeding). the doctor’s orders were clear: get off the mountain, get to a hospital. internal bleeding could require surgery. the lung may need to be inflated. there would be an ambulance involved.
my father-in-law rode down in the ambulance with my wife. I took the girls with me, returned our mostly unused skis, got refunds on unused lift tickets, packed up our rooms at the lodge, ordered hotel rooms in Denver for the night, changed our flights, fed the girls Oreos and whatever else was sitting on our kitchen counter for lunch, got everything and everyone into the car, fought off a minor panic attack as I started the ignition and thought of what happened the last time… and drove to meet my wife at the hospital.
we’re home now, back in Chicago. the girls are doing great. my wife is uncomfortable but on the mend. and I haven’t yet fully processed what happened.
that’ll come. when I’m sure everyone is finally ok, that’ll come.
by Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing.
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