The other day I wrote of the Biblical injunctions against drunkenness. In modern times drunkenness behind the wheel of a car is still a major problem; innocent people are getting hurt and getting killed. I am one these injured people.
One night, I was coming home from Graduate school. I always liked to take a back way home, a way that I had driven hundreds of times as I also did my undergraduate studies at this school. I turned down a lovely tree-lined street- it could be any manicured development in suburban America. The road ended in a T-intersection. I was about halfway down the street when I saw a car making a turn onto the street, not unusual. However, he had taken the turn too wide and was now swerving out of control. I pulled over to the side of the road, hoping to give him as much room as possible and avoid a collision. I stopped. He turned right into my car. He hit me head-on, as I like to say, headlight to headlight; a direct square-on crash. To this day, I can see those headlights careening toward me and having no place to go. I thought I was going to die that moment. Since the whole event took only a couple of seconds, it felt like it was in slow motion, I would have no time to receive the final sacraments.
I heard the sickening crunch of metal and glass, I remember being thrown around within the seatbelts, but by the grace of God I felt no pain- yet. I remember only snapshots of images from the rest of the night. I recall the confusion with the police and first responders arriving. I remember the hospital and seeing the other driver handcuffed to the bed, but I did not know what was happening. I remember the faces of many nurses and doctors. By now my mother had arrived. My mother was not good at directions and was driven to the hospital by neighbors who, for some unknown reason, were sent home upon arriving at the hospital. A sweet lady doctor came over to us and spoke to us. She was very pretty, as I recall, which was amazing considering the hectic environment of an ER. She said, upon a preliminary examination, that, first, I was lucky to be alive. She said most people who are in this type of crash come in “with a toe tag”. I had a lot of swelling throughout my body, but she could determine several things: a major concussion, soft tissue damage in my right elbow and, to a lesser extent, wrist and shoulder. My left arm was not injured as extensively because of the way I gripped the steering wheel. I was a professional arm-wrestler (no kidding) and my right hand, my wrestling hand, gripped the wheel and this caused my right side to absorb the impact. My left hand, not as strong as my right, released the grip and went through the opening in the steering wheel. However, this caused leather to be embedded from my wrist to my elbow. This caused an interesting moment in the ER. A nurse had to clean the leather out of my arm. She brought over a big bottle of Betadine, a normal antiseptic. Having just read “Misery”, I thought she was going to cut something off, so I started screaming in fear. The other nurses calmed me down and the “crisis” was averted. The other area of concern was my knees. It seems that the engine block crashed into my knees, knocking them out of alignment. With that, she discharged me saying that there was little they could do and I should rest. My mother and I went to parking lot and she realized that she had no way of getting home! Just then a taxi pulled up, no one knew for who, and got us home. Was this the hand of God? Was it just a peculiar coincidence? You decide.
I went to my doctor after a few days when the swelling went down. He confirmed the ER doctor’s diagnosis. He feared that my right arm may never have full range of motion again. Also, without surgery, my knees will always be “off-track” and arthritis will probably develop in all my joints. He was correct, to this day I am plagued by arthritis. Other lingering effects that still impact my life are the inability to read or write for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, my right hand falling asleep often, an odd gait to my walk, and severely restricted movement in my right arm. I had to accept the reality of becoming a left-handed person in a right-handed world. I had to accept the reality that I was now “disabled”.
This changed every aspect of my life; academics, athletics, and my faith. I prayed to God to reverse the damage that was done to me, to release me from my lifetime of pain for one man’s lack of self-control. Finally, I came across a Rabbinic teaching; instead of asking “why me” ask “what can I learn from this event”?
I realized that God still had work for me to do. I realized that God could have prevented the crash but he picked me to deal with this ordeal. Perhaps if the driver crashed into someone else that person would have been injured more severely or killed and his/her family would not be able to handle this circumstance. Or, was God providing a chance for the driver to change his drunken ways. After all, God is a God of forgiveness. With the realization of God having work for me to do I did not have to live between the expanse of those accursed headlights, though nightmares have not yet stopped, and move onto the path God has prepared for me.