Thanksgiving (the US version) is right around the corner, and with it comes two anniversaries of different head injuries I sustained. At least, two that I can remember;)
The first of the two happened back in 1996 or so, when I was headed out to visit family several states away. I had gotten off to a late start, and I was driving on the day before Thanksgiving, which was a very poor choice (… and in itself could be seen as a sign of impaired cognitive ability 😉 ) Anyway, I was in the fast lane on a multi-lane freeway, and traffic was stop-and-go. The fast lane was the most erratic of all four lanes, as a lot of really impatient people (myself included) were weaving in and out, trying to get past one another, so they could just get down the road.
I was getting really tweaked by all the stop-and-go, but I steeled my nerves and hung in there. I was driving a fairly new rental car, and I was comfortable. I adjusted the radio and focused my attention on just getting down the road, keeping an eye out for what was going on around me. The fast lane started to pick up speed — to about 40-45 mph, which wasn’t mach speed, but was a lot faster than we’d been driving.
Suddenly, I sensed something was wrong. The distance between my car and the car ahead of me was quickly closing. I didn’t see any brake lights… I couldn’t see anything other than the rear end of the car in front of me quickly approaching. In a split second, I flashed on the ABS (anti-lock braking system) logo I’d seen on the hubcaps of the rental as I was getting in, and I hit the brakes quickly.
Not quickly enough, though. As though in a dream, I saw the gap between my car and the one in front of me disappear, and my front bumper bounced off the rear bumper of the car in front of me. Still no brake lights of the car in front of me. I breathed a sigh of relief, as it didn’t look like there was any damage. I could see the back of the car in front — I’d bounced back about a foot — and I hadn’t heard any breaking glass or crunching steel or fiberglass.
Then came the rear-end collision. SLAM! Behind me, another car and smashed into me with much more force than I’d hit the car in front of me. My car bumped forward, amid the sickening sound of a splintering impact. I held very still, listening for anything else, bracing for another possible impact. None came. Everything went eerily silent.
I was dazed for a minute… frozen in place… I saw the person in the car in front of me jump out of their car, walk to the back, see if there was any damage, and then drive away quickly. I didn’t have time to get their license plate, and I didn’t have time to talk to them. They were just out of the car — around to the back — and then they hopped back in their vehicle, pulled out of the line of cars that had all run into each other — and took off.
At my side window, I heard someone tapping. It was the person who’d hit me from behind. They were checking to see if I was okay, and I nodded that I was. I got out of the car and walked around to the back, and I found lots of pieces of their front grille lying on the road between their front bumper and my back bumper. My own car seemed to be unscathed. There was no sign of any impact at all — just some smears of paint from the car behind me.
The sight of the car that rear-ended me was pretty unnerving, though. The grille was smashed and lying on the ground, and the front hood was buckled and splintered and smashed. The headlights were — from what I could tell — stilli intact, but the front was otherwise creamed. I wasn’t sure if it was driveable, but that was not the thought that stuck most in my mind.
I traded insurance and car rental info with the person who’d hit me — they were driving a rental, too — and after a few minutes of each of us checking that the other was okay, I drove on, while they stayed. I’m not sure if they were waiting for a tow, or if their car was driveable. I remember very little from the rest of the trip — just that when I got to my relatives’ place, I got on the phone with the rental agency and told them what had happened.
They told me to fill out the form in the rental agreement and report any damage. So, I read through the form — which made no sense to me at all. No matter how often I re-read it, I couldn’t make head or tail of the words. They all jumbled together, and I couldn’t understand them at all. I looked over the car — from top to bottom, I thought — looking for any signs of damage. I could see nothing other than some cosmetic issues — little smears of paint and a little scratch, but nothing else.
I finally just signed my name and checked the “no damage” box and put it aside to mail when I got home.
And I had Thanksgiving with my family, which was a blur. It often is, so it’s hard for me to tell if I had some immediate after-effects of the accident.
I did notice after-effects later on, though. Like the fact that I’d missed finding the absent reflector on the back left side of the car. It may have popped out on impact, but I hadn’t noticed it was even missing, until it was time to go back home.
Also, when I got back to work, I found myself having increased difficulty following what was said to me, keeping my tasks straight, navigating the political landscape of my administrative job… things really fell apart for me at work, after the accident. I was clumsy and hurt myself by bumping into things. I was disorganized. I was irritable. I couldn’t articulate the way I’d once been able to. And within a few months, I had left that job — hopelessly lost — and started on a new career that involved computers, not office politics.
Ultimately, it was a good move, and it vastly improved my life. I hated that job by the time I left it. But I would have liked to have made the move to a different job out of pro-active choice, rather than re-active avoidance of problems I didn’t realize I was having.
Thinking back now, I can see how the first months of my new job were pretty slow going and very painstaking in many ways, probably because of that accident. I couldn’t follow instructions very well, I had trouble understanding what people were saying to me, and the one saving grace was that I was new, so people could blame it on me being green and a newcomer to a company that by its own admission is a bit of a confusing maze for the newly initiated.
I do believe that working with computers and being basically sequestered in my cubicle to sort things out, did help me recover. I was all alone, and I was quite happy that way.
So, that’s my first Thanksgiving TBI anniversary story.
The first of two that changed my life.