January 17, 2011
The Whole Harrowing Story
It was the perfect birthday present: a botanical illustration retreat in Gateway Canyons, Colorado. Everything that could possibly go wrong, it seems, did when it came to this retreat I had been looking forward to for months. I won't go into the boring details of the other things that happened in the retreat debacle story. But, it culminated with me totaling my car just three miles before I would have made it to the beautiful resort.
I should never trust Mapquest. They are always wrong about at least one...or a dozen things. If it's not the map itself, it's the directions, or the time duration of the trip (those don't seem to ever be even slightly accurate). The Mapquest directions I had printed out for this drive said to go straight at a "T" intersection where my only alternatives were a right or left turn, of course. I got lost.
I had planned on making it to the resort with plenty of daylight left. Instead--by the time I finally find the correct route again--I'm driving down this twisty-turny, beautiful, two-lane canyon highway as the sun is setting behind the mountains. It was gorgeous, but I started to worry.
I saw the "deer crossing" and "bighorn sheep crossing" (yes, we have those out here in The West) signs right away. Ironically, I didn't pass any "elk crossing" signs and I didn't see any deer, or bighorn sheep. But, I did see a ton of elk. First, I saw a few scattered individuals, then I saw a herd that must have been at least 50-strong, in a valley near some water. "Oh, great," I thought to myself, "the animals are going to be coming out of the trees to my right, crossing the damn road, and then going down to get a drink of water and do their evening grazing to my left. I better drive slow and look out." I really did not want to hit an enormous elk with my car.
As much as I was annoyed and frustrated that I would have to slow down and arrive at the resort even later, I felt this was the safe thing to do. I turned off the car stereo and concentrated on looking out for deer, elk and bighorn sheep at the side of the road and/or crossing the road. I hardly saw any cars, people, or man-made structures of any kind. Sometimes, here in Colorado anyway, you can get some great photos of elk or bighorn sheep when you see other cars slowing down for them or stopping to take their own photos. You can also avoid the mule deer we have here (named for their very large ears) in this same way.
By the time I crashed my car, it was completely dark and black as pitch. There were no street lights in this remote location, and no light coming from any nearby buildings. All I had were the headlights of my car. I had just come around a corner and there he was, caught in those headlights. It was a huge mule deer buck. He was standing, right in the middle of the road, in my lane, perpendicular to the line of my car.
It's strange, the things that can go flying through your mind, in a matter of a few seconds at times like these. My first, weird thought was, "Huh. He doesn't look like the proverbial deer in the headlights at all. He looks more like a sedate cow, chewing its cud."
I noticed, however, that he did appear frozen to the spot. Once it was apparent he wasn't going anywhere, I noticed his big rack of antlers. I wondered if I should "T-bone," or broadside this huge animal. I figured the damage to the car would be worse and I had horrific pictures in my mind of this deer's antlers coming through my windshield and skewering me.
I put on the breaks a bit and turned the steering wheel to the left to see if I could just clip him instead of broadsiding him. But, it was like skidding on ice or hydroplaning on the pavement when there is a lot of water. I was aware that I could roll the car and I wanted to avoid that as I knew the damage that could be done there, from hearing about the experience when my sister rolled her car while hydroplaning years ago. But, I knew, no matter what I did, it was going to be bad. I was not making it to the resort that night, that was certain.
I remember the impact of my car hitting the buck. I felt the impact and I heard it as well. Then, I was careening off the road, watching trees whip past me. "Oh, God," I prayed, "please don't let me hit a tree!" I don't remember the airbags deploying (but they did) and I don't remember hitting the tree. (The state troopers told me later--at the ER of the Grand Junction hospital--that I had, indeed, hit a tree.) My life didn't flash before me, but I know I was praying. "I don't want to leave my husband or my child," I prayed, "please, God, don't let me die!"
The next thing I remember, everything was still and quiet. All I could hear was the car's radiator hissing. I had come to rest in a narrow, deep ditch. My first thought at that point was, "Thank you, God! I'm alive!" I was amazed that the windshield hadn't shattered. I looked down at myself and I held out my hands in front of me. There wasn't even any blood anywhere. It was a miracle! But, I was also very scared even though, I'm sure, I was still in shock. I saw a lot of smoke pouring out of the crumpled front end of the car, from under the hood. It was emitting a terrible, noxious smell. I was afraid the car might burst into flames or something; I decided I should get right out of there.
Between the smoke and the dark, I couldn't see very well, but I felt around for my purse. It had gone flying, and my cell phone had flown out somewhere to unknown regions. I unlocked the car doors, I unbuckled my seat belt without any problems and also opened the driver's side door without any trouble. Amazing! I was thinking, "I've got to get away from this smoking car and get to the road to flag somebody down." I didn't have much hope of that, however. I was, literally, in the middle of the beautiful, picturesque nowhere. Somehow--pure adrenalin I'm sure--I marched up the steep incline, out of the ditch.
Miraculously, I spotted a car coming quite soon. It seemed like only about five minutes, but I'm not sure what my perception of time was at that point. I saw the headlights and didn't worry too much about getting hit by the oncoming car. I stood in the middle of the road and waved the car down with everything I had. It was a woman driving a white van. She slowed down. I stepped out of the way. But, she passed on by. "Oh, shit!" I started praying again. "Please, God, make her turn around!" Mercifully, she did. She was the local pastor's wife and I felt that she was an angel. She wondered, at first, what was going on, who I was, and where my car could be. Then, she saw the smoke and figured my car was down in the ditch and she should turn back to help me. Bless her.
She parked the van at the side of the road and walked back to me. She asked me all the questions that I just indicated she had already figured out for herself. Then she asked, "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
It's ironic that the auto safety features that saved my life were responsible for my only injuries. I had some really gruesome looking bruises that came from my seat belt's lap belt, I had a bruise across the bridge of my nose from the airbag and the shoulder harness snapped my clavicle. But, it really is a miracle I am alive, and I am grateful.
The next day after my accident, my husband drove out and got me. We went to the vehicle tow lot to get my luggage and other stuff out of the totaled Subaru Outback Legacy wagon. The front end, all the way up to the windshield, was smashed in so completely as to be unrecognizable. You could see lots of broken-off branches and sticks from the tree and the round, broken spots on the windshield where either the buck's antlers or hooves had impacted. The tow truck driver pointed out where the clumps of deer fur were still stuck to my car.
He said he had a "hellava time" getting my car towed out of that deep ditch. He, and everyone else I had met the previous night, kept asking me, "How did you get out of that ditch?" How did I get out? I don't know. That was a miracle, too, I guess. I'm lucky and I'm happy to be alive. My bruises are gone and I'm healing from my collar bone surgery. They put in a plate and some screws to hold the two broken pieces in place, with one final screw between the two portions as a bone graft.
I'm sleeping better now and I've weened myself off Percoset. I am currently weening myself off of Vicodin, which my doctor put me on because, I guess, it is less habit-forming. But, both have side effects and uncomfortable withdrawal effects. I still can't lift much, but I'm doing my assigned physical therapy exercises and I'm getting stronger on my left side again. I can type with both hands now but it is slow and a bit painful. I make a lot of typos. Thank God for spell-check!
And thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, get-well wishes and healing vibes sent. I start my botanical illustration classes up again in the middle of February and I'm looking forward to that. I hope that the winter isn't being too hard on you and that you have something nice to look forward to, too.
(((((((hugs back to you, dear!))))))
So glad to her that you're healing and that you escaped a very scarey situation.
sunandar: thanks for visiting. Greetings to you, too. I assume you mean by "nice story" that I told it well or wrote it well or something. The experience itself, nice? Not so much. ;)
You are a miracle. I am so grateful that God spared your life and gave you and your family this miracle. What a story.