Sometimes, life bites us in the arse and we turn around, surprised and, perhaps, more than just a little knocked off our not-so-proverbial feet.
I prepared. I tried to do everything right. And yet, so many things went wrong.
While driving up Nawth to attend my nephew’s high school graduation, I had an accident. Traffic was heavy but going at a fast speed. There had been the usual “Why are we suddenly going 50mph??” places so, like a good driver, I kept distance between me and the car in front of me. Near Woodstock, VA at mile marker 285.5 on I-81 at about 6pm, the car in front of me slammed on their brakes. I knew they did because the back of their car was hopping and fish-tailing. I put on my brakes and went to the right, into the right hand lane, so that if I didn’t stop in time, I would go beyond them. I didn’t want to go to the left, into the median, because of gravel and grass not helping me to stop. But my rear-wheel drive truck went into a slide. The back of the truck, an ’03 Chevy S10 Crew cab, slid to the left into the grassy median. When it did, I could not correct the slide. I knew, in that brief moment, that I was going to crash. I knew.
According to witnesses, the truck slid a few feet on the two driver’s side wheels, lay on that side, continued to skid, then rolled onto its top. I do not know if it rolled again or just landed on its top. I hit no one else. No debris hit anyone else.
During the slide, my left elbow hit the highway and I felt it get road rash. Then the next thing I know, the visor is in my face. It takes a few seconds for me to gather my thoughts. I didn’t realize I was upside down until they (the bystanders who stopped) reached in to unbuckle my seat belt.
Before I would let them do that, though, I was saying over and over, “Where’s Quinn? Where’s my dog?” Someone removed Quinn (who never made a sound) and then someone unbuckled me. I assumed my left arm was hamburger or at least broken so I tucked it under me and rolled out of what was left of my truck. Someone comes back and says they need the leash. I say backseat. They reach in and I see someone take the Flexi leash. Someone else is saying don’t move her further (meaning me). My neck is resting on some guy’s foot. He is shaking. Just as the paramedics get there, someone comes up and says “Don’t panic, but your puppy ran off”. Yeah, don’t panic. I try to get up but so many hands held me down. And, really, I don’t think I could have gotten up. I am told later that only my shoulders and head were out of the truck and I was twisted because of the way I rolled out of it.
The paramedics had to get creative. They needed to brace my neck and back yet because of my position, they couldn’t get a collar on me. So, bless their hearts, they used towels. And, really, I couldn’t move once it was all on. Once they got that on, they then concentrated on getting me on a back board and getting me out of the truck. (meanwhile, one of the tires was leaking and screaming that high pitched sound) All the time they are doing this, I am saying “I can’t go, I need to get my dog.” The paramedics assured me that I couldn’t do anything, that the trooper would look, that others were already looking. Against my wishes (but for my own good), I was extracted and taken to the hospital.
My time at the hospital is kind of blurry and not very pleasant. But what I remember is this: my painstakingly accurate spreadsheet of my medications on my phone was worthless. They needed something fast. And trying to resize the spreadsheet constantly wasn’t working. They wanted me to tell them my allergies. I couldn’t remember them all. A print out in my wallet case (which the trooper brought later) did not include my allergies.
I had the ICE app on my phone that listed medications and allergies. Did I think of it? No. Did they ask if I had one? No. I have a MedicAlert bracelet (several actually) and a necklace. Where were they? In my bag. By the time I thought of it, they no longer thought it necessary to know all of my history.
My arm is not broken and was barely bleeding. I was offered no ice pack. At one point, I was on the back board still, waiting for results of something, and I am bawling. My phone is across the room. I have no button to call a nurse. I called out about 4 times before someone heard me. It was not a busy night. She gave me my phone and left. I feel so fucking alone. My Quinn is missing. Lorna is 6 hrs away. Kevin (my brother) and his wife are still several hours away. I punish myself by refusing all medications but ibuprofen. So they don’t take me seriously, thinking I am not in that much pain. I am discharged at midnight with a prescription of ibuprofen. No diagnosis, not warnings or things to look out for. One of the papers talks about nightmares. Another talks about how to care for a bone contusion. At least I knew then was was up with my arm.
Meanwhile, Lorna had figured out Facebook and had posted about what had happened and that Quinn was missing. And Quinn pert near went viral by morning. I started getting calls from people asking where should they start looking. And I’m like, “Mile marker 285.5 but who are you?” Two women met us at one of the “cross overs” (those roads that connect the two sides of the highway) and we discussed options. We gave them Quinn’s blanket, food bowl, and some food. They would set up a place for her to return to. The DOT Driver Assist guy stopped at one point to ask what we were looking for. He took notes. The county Animal Control guy met with us and sent us to a road under the highway that had a creek running nearby, thinking she wanted to get out of the heat and went to water. The Shenandoah County dispatch person was patient through all of my calls to her. My GP Nicole Ogg was friends with a GP in Woodstock. That friend happened to have another friend and patient who was the head of the County Shelter. People who knew people who knew other people.
We all kept looking but Kevin (my brother) and his wife Colleen had to get home. And I was really messed up. My arm was huge, my back was screaming, my head was pounding, so many parts of me hurt. We made the decision to head to NJ (it was only 4hrs away). We stopped at the accident site and called for Quinn over and over, just like we had been all morning. All of us frustrated we had to leave. It started pouring rain. Absolutely pouring. We saw the two ladies setting up the tarp over Quinn’s blanket and food at 285.4. We saw a DOT truck stopped just up the road but they were doing shoulder work and we thought nothing of it.
Just up the highway from Woodstock is Winchester. As we neared the exit, Kevin was trying to figure out how we could stay longer and keep looking yet still get Colleen and him their medications (they left home with nothing). Just as we passed it, my phone rang. It was the DOT Driver Assist guy. He had Quinn. He was at mile marker 285.8. He had seen us across the road but lost us in the heavy rain. He didn’t want to leave to go get us, afraid we’d lose her again. He thought she was a bear cub until he got closer.
We turned around and raced back but the heavy rain kept us from driving too crazy. I got another call. The State Trooper was there and they were trying to at least keep her in place until I got there. She was scared and fear biting. I got another call. She was in the Trooper’s car. I cannot tell you how I felt. I just can’t. I mean, I didn’t think we would find her that day. No one did. She was a puppy. Frightened, lost on a four lane highway when she had grown up on a one-lane road. She was lost in the median but at some point that morning, had crossed to the northbound side. We stopped to get her blanket, hoping it would calm her. It was soaked. Kevin wrung it out, grabbed her bowl, and we hurried.
And there she was. On a leash held by the state trooper. My girl. She was soaking wet, covered in green balls and other seed heads. I pulled off five ticks on our way to NJ. Kevin thanked both men many times since all I was seeing was my girl.
So what could I have done differently?
The wreck itself. Rear-wheel drive trucks are stupid. All that power on an empty box when it should be up front. Once the rear wheels hit the grass median, it was over. So not much I could have done there. I had too many loose things in the truck. My laptop bag was open. The case of water bottles was on the front seat, open. Quinn’s toys. Her bag. All of that loose in a sliding, rolling vehicle equals a mess. Where was my wallet? The one with the information they needed? Not in my pocket. Not in my bag. But in the toss bin thing in the console of the truck. Next time I travel, more things will be tied down and better contained.
Losing Quinn. I had them take her out first. She had on a collar and a harness and was attached to a tether hooking her to the seat belt. She slammed into the back of my seat, I do remember that. The harness is not for seat belt use, but more for walking and anti-driver distraction. Meaning keeping the dog out of the driver’s way. Quinn was kept within the vehicle. All she had (besides ticks) was an eye injury that our vet believes happened during the accident and not later. A seat belt harness would have kept her from hitting my seat and perhaps kept her from injuring her eye. Although there were a lot of things being tossed around and any of them could have hit her. As for her getting lost, that was beyond my control. We thought she was dragging the flexi leash but we found it in the truck later. When she was found, she was not wearing her harness but my guess is she chewed it off. I don’t hold any grudge toward the person who had hold of her. She’s stronger than she looks.
My medical information. Oy, I cannot believe all my planning and it doesn’t work. For now I will be wearing the MedicAlert necklace or bracelet at all times. And I will ensure their information is up-to-date. And I will remember I have the ICE app. Duh.
Lessons learned. Life goes on. Bumps and bruises heal. The truck can be replaced. Quinn and I cannot. Life goes on.