Not known to many people is that for someone who survives a car crash with a drunk driver the true struggle begins after the person is released from the hospital. Everyone offers the same tired and empty sentiment; at least you are alive. One can appreciate the kindness in which it is offered, but the sentiment does little to ease the pain, both mental and physical, which a survivor must endure.
Mentally, for me, the image of those headlight crashing into my car still remains sharp and focused as though it happened a moment ago. Sometimes, when turning in car and another car comes too close, I still have moments of panic. Also, there are the nightmares. To this day, the crash still invades my dreams and I relive the crash. These will be a part of my life forever. Also difficult was the realization that I am now handicapped, part of the disabled community.
Physically, my “post-concussion syndrome” still impact my reading and writing. I can only concentrate intensely for interims of 15 minutes and my mind needs a distraction. I have gotten very good at using multiple screens on my computer so that when one topic becomes unintelligible, I can immediately switch to another screen. My knees are arthritic, giving me on odd gait. I have arthritis and calcium deposits in most of my joints (crepitation). My right elbow has very restricted movement. This has made common tasks very challenging. I must eat with spoons and forks with my left hand, as my right hand will not bend enough to allow to bring utensils to my mouth. Such a limitation has also led to some funny, embarrassing, moments. Trying to get on a coat proved difficult. I had to develop, what I call, a “swing technique”. I place my limited right arm in the sleeve. I pull it as high as it can go. Then, I sing the coat around so I can catch it with my left hand, put my left hand through it, and finish closing the coat. Before I mastered this technique, I had some awkward moments. For instance, I swung the coat, misjudged the distance between myself and a fellow diner, and WIPED OUT half of the man’s utensils that were sitting on the table.
Through the years, pain has been a daily companion. In time of bad weather, it gets worse. Some days I can not find a spot in which my elbow does not throb. My doctor told me that there seems to be pea-sized piece of calcium in my elbow joint. He called it a “Floater”. He warned me that whenever this chip moves, whenever it may move, and impinges on a nerve, the pain will be intense. Let us just say he was right.
One of the Biblical passages that got me through the more troubling times was 1 Corinthians 10:13; No test has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able, but with the test He will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. I took these words to heart and realized that the accident was not the end of my life. There was still work for me to do. I just had to find the path to the goal God had for me- the way of escape. The way was Jesus. After the accident I appealed to the Christ of New Testament Theology, standing triumphant outside of the tomb. Christ pointed me to the shepherd on the Cross and His mother standing by him. I began to see that in my pain was valuable in the eyes of God that I could draw closer to God through my disabilities and the ensuing pains. I began reding about St, Margaret of Castello, born a blind, crippled, hunch-backed dwarf who saw Jesus and Mary through her constant pains. My ordeal was acting as a crucible in which my faith was tested and strengthened. Once I accepted this new walk with Jesus and Mary my athletic successes increased despite my handicaps, I acquired a few advanced degrees in theological studies, when I taught, I taught with a new passion, and I came to know the Lord in a personal way.
I have been given a lifetime of pain because of a drunken night. I have begun the forgiveness process. I did not level Criminal charges, as the state did, against him. I put myself in the drunk driver’s place and treated him s I would want to be treated. As Jesus said, And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. (Luke 6:31) I could not punish a man who made a tragic accident as I would not want someone to punish me. Have I totally forgiven the drunk driver? Not yet- I am a work in progress.