**Possible trigger: I discuss my car accident and PTSD in detail. Please message if you’d like further info before reading* *
My bracelet is pretty accurate; I am one lucky bitch. And not just because I used to win a lot of things when I was a kid, my grandmother still gets me to pick numbers sometimes. I am lucky because I am not dead.
As a definition of being lucky, I realise that isn’t very strict criteria, but it absolutely applies to me. Exactly ten years ago today, at around half past 8 on Saturday 11th July 2009, I was involved in a car accident. As many car accidents are, it was pretty serious, and the accident and events that followed can be credited for defining a lot of the person I am today.
So, the story is a fairly uninteresting one, but indulge me. Picture this, its July, I’m 13, and I am volunteering at the Llangollen Eisteddfod, a traditional world music festival. This is something that my school does every year; you start as an usher, showing people to their seats for the big concerts, and you graduate to programme seller by the time you’re in year 9. I never made it that far, but I did do the ushering. It was a bit boring in all honesty, you didn’t have a whole lot to do and the shifts were long, made even longer if you were paired on a door with someone you didn’t really know. The Saturday of this story was my last shift, we’d just finished helping for the big concert and we were all sent home with a thank you. I was getting a lift home with my best friend that evening, and her mum came to pick us up.
This is when things start to get sticky.
It was raining that night, and just as we were driving out of town, past the Llangollen Golf Club, my friends mum lost control of the car on a sharp bend and we went off the road, rolling down a hill and coming to a stop in a car park. Now, I don’t remember a lot after this. My memory of the accident is fuzzy at best thanks to a sizable hit on the head and the concussion to end all concussions. At the time, I could literally remember nothing, and after a while a few little bits came back to me, but most of the accident and the hours after it are a mystery to me.
According to my parents then, after the accident the people at the Golf club came out and called an ambulance. My friends mum, who was relatively unscathed, dragged me out of the car (I was in the front) and my friend was unconscious in the back. Somehow, I managed to remember my phone number, and so my parents actually arrived before the ambulance did. I don’t want to think about how they must have felt and what they saw. I don’t remember what the car looked like, but I’ve been told it was very, very bad. And seeing your 13-year-old daughter sitting on a curb crying, covered in blood be much fun either. I was also talking gibberish, I was in shock and just asking the same questions over and over; were my sisters okay, was everyone else okay etc. At some point an ambulance arrived that I was loaded into with my Dad, my mum following us in the car behind. I’d had to have a neck brace put on me, which according to my parents I did NOT like at all. Once we got to the hospital I had a pretty standard experience; I was first assessed in triage before being moved to a more serious area of the hospital for a CT scan, though we had to wait for the doctor to be called in to do it. Then it was just into surgery to close up my wounds. I had been cut badly on the back of my left hand and my left foot, from the glass in the window smashing. I had to have two operations, the first was when I was first admitted to hospital to close up the wounds and stop my bleeding, and the second was the day after where they opened me up again to clean and close the cuts properly, removing as much glass as they could. It was the next day when my memory kicks back in again, and I remember lying in bed as a nurse took off the bright blue nail polish on my toes ready for the second operation. After that, I woke up in the children’s ward and that’s where our story gets a bit boring.
I was in the hospital for 4 days total, I think… I vaguely remember going home on the Wednesday, but I’m not too sure to be honest. My time in hospital was ridiculously boring; I had very little to do and couldn’t really move since I was covered in bandages and plaster. I couldn’t even go to the toilet properly on my own. My parents took turns staying with me, though it was mostly my mum to her credit even staying overnight sleeping in an empty bed next to me. I have a few vivid memories of the hospital stay; a nice young nurse in a white tabard with a long blonde fringe coming to the ward and getting a TV for me to use with Friends DVD’s; my Dad sitting with me as we played bowling on our Nintendo DS’s and my sisters bringing me a toy hippo back from their trip to the zoo (I named him Princeton as I’d just got into Avenue Q at the time). Oh, and also one of the worst moments of my life happened whilst I was on the ward. The Mayor and his wife came to visit the ward, there was only one other girl in my room and she was asleep, so I got a lot of the attention. At this point in my life, I was very different to how I am now I’ve matured a bit. Basically, I was incredibly shy and hated being the centre of attention. Combine that with a wicked black eye, lots of bandages, ratty hair and the lack of a proper wash for a few days I did not want anyone to look at me. So, you can imagine my horror when a camera appeared and suddenly I was having my picture taken for the paper. I was raised to be very polite, and at the time I couldn’t think of a way to say no that wouldn’t have sounded horrible. I remember staring at my mum willing her to be able to read my mind and tell them to go away. I would literally have rather gone through the accident again than have a picture of one of the lowest points in my life distributed for everyone to see. But in the paper it went, and the worst thing is people at school saw it which really didn’t help anything.
Moving on, the final tally of my injuries was: Wicked concussion, broken finger, ripped tendon in my left hand, severely cut left hand and left ankle, and a giant black eye accompanied by a concussion. Honestly the black eye was insane, and I even had a dent in my head. I believe the scientific term is haematoma, but it felt like an honest to god dent that my doctor prodded hard enough to make me cry. Once they released me from hospital I basically lived on my sofa, hobbling to the toilet every now again with someone’s help, and then hobbling back down to the living room. I needed a lot of help, and at the time I also slept in the top of a bunkbed, so had to swap with my sister for a while.
After a couple of weeks I went back to the hospital to get my stiches taken out, which was really no picnic. To some people, 42 is the meaning of life. To me, it’s the grand total of stiches they yanked out of me: 25 in my hand and 17 in my foot. And boy did they hurt like hell. Having those taken out was a very intense pain, though funnily enough I remember my Mum watching and going white as a sheet, she’s squeamish at the best of times so it was touch and go as to whether she was going to keel over. She managed to stay vertical though, and after the stiches came out I had to have a splint fitted. This was basically a bit of plastic moulded to my arm in order to support my fingers – remember the ripped tendon? Well it turns out that’s a very bad thing to tear, especially the middle finger as I did as it controls a lot of movement in your hand and arm. I was told when they operated on me it was hanging on my only a thread and that they had to stich it back together again. The splint, which got very sweaty and gross after a while, was so I didn’t move it whilst it was healing, and I even had to go to physiotherapy for a few weeks to learn how to move again. It seems really strange to think about that while my fingers fly across my keyboard as I write this, but I literally couldn’t move my hand. And a tiny little part of me at the time was worried I’d never be able to again… But I did! So all good.
One of the only positive things to come out of my car accident was that my parents redecorated my bedroom. I shared with my sister growing up and we had a bunk bed in a pink room. If you forget about the accident and the injuries, at that point of my life everything was coming up Polly. Not only did we get a new bunk bed with a double bed for me on the bottom, but I got to pick the colour of the walls. And you can bet your ass I picked the ugliest, brightest most obnoxious orange we could find in the shop. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Combined with a green carpet, that my parents were understandably reluctant to buy, and green curtains the place was an eyesore. And it was epic!
Returning momentarily to the present, there’s no particular reason why I’ve suddenly decided to write this down. A small part of me is hoping for a sort of Dorian Grey situation: instead of a painting aging for me maybe this blog will be sad for me. I like to pretend I’m over the accident and everything that happened to me. And for the most part I truly am. If someone asks me about my scars, I tell them, and usually crack a few jokes because who doesn’t love a bit of self-deprecating humour. But every now and again I do have a wobble, especially this time of year when another year ticks around. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine. I’m honestly happier now than I’ve been for a while. Just sometimes the thought of it just gets to me. I have this weird theory that there comes a point in your life when you realise that you’re not invincible. Like when you’re a child, you don’t understand the concept of dying, and if you know what it is it seems so far away that you don’t bother worrying about it. But then there’s a turning point where that changes, and you realise that you are definitely going to die someday. You hope its going to be years away, and that’s all you can ever hope for. But one of the crappy things about this fickle existence is that no one ever makes it out alive, and my car accident was the first time I ever realised that. I’d like to say it changed me for the better, that it made me grab life with both hands and run as fast as I could in the other direction before anyone noticed. But in reality it kind of did the opposite. You can almost entirely credit my mental health problems with the car accident. Sure, there were probably other factors, but I can’t imagine extensive physical and mental teenage trauma helped any of them…
About a year after the accident, I was diagnosed with PSTD. Honestly it was surprising that it took so long to be honest. I remember the days and weeks afterward everyone, including myself, was very wary about me and if I would react negatively. Specifically, the ride home from the hospital sticks out to me, as my parents were worried that I wouldn’t be able to get in the car and be too scared to drive in it. I sat there the entire way home waiting to lose it, waiting to feel scared and have to get out. But that feeling never came and it was such a relief. There were a couple of other wobbly points that summer, where I kept waiting for myself to break down. I was a bit weird about my scars for a while. I wish I had some pictures because when they were fresh they looked absolutely awful. They really stuck out and I didn’t like looking at them, so in some stroke of teenage genius/silliness, I bought a glove to wear so I wouldn’t have to. Even thinking about it now it sounds so dumb, genuinely I thought a bright red leather glove would be conspicuous. It didn’t last very long, and I found I wasn’t as bothered by my hand as I thought I’d be. Another time was the wheelchair. We borrowed one off someone for a bit, since I couldn’t walk and wasn’t able to use crutches, and I absolutely hated being in the thing. I hated feeling like something for people to look at. We’d be out of the house and I would feel like all eyes were on me; first they’d notice the wheelchair, and then they’d see the bandages and the black eye and wander what happened to me. As I said before, I hated being noticed at that time in my life, and to me the chair may as well have been a giant flashing arrow above my head for the world to see. I hated it, but I never broke down over it.
So, I was relatively okay for the first 12 months, but when that year mark hit, that was when things got a bit iffy in the old braincase. I started having moments of massive emotion, crying out of nowhere and feel so scared for no reason. I learnt later that these were obviously panic attacks, but at the time it was just scary. I didn’t tell anyone for a while, I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. Eventually the cat got out of the bag though when I had to leave an RE lesson. We were talking about the ethics of assisted suicide and that just completely tipped me over the edge (I’m still not 100% sure why) and I had to sit outside crying for a while trying desperately to stop but not quite managing it. One particularly bad time that sticks out was during a PSE assembly in our school hall about drunk driving. We were watching a video where the girl died in a car accident. You can probably imagine where this is going but I was okay and holding in the emotions. Until in the video police officers went to tell the girl’s parents that she died I completely broke down. I had to leave the hall, walking out as quick as I could hoping no one would notice so I could cry outside. Someone did notice, a teacher sat with me and was very nice to me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my parents, and how they must have felt when they got that phone call, and how they would have felt if I’d have died. And honestly that broke me a little bit.
Eventually I told my form tutor Mrs Griffiths, who I still maintain is one of the nicest ladies in the world. She was so lovely to me when I was in school, and incredibly supportive when I was going through all my “stuff” which I will always be thankful for. I went to her and she sorted everything, I told her I’d started to remember the accident. Not everything, and not a lot, but little flashes here and there. And that was very, very scary. She called my mum; she called the student welfare lady and I got to go home. It was a lot, but I started to get some help. I went to see the school councillor, which honestly was no help at all we didn’t talk about my accident at all. At one point I remember being given a box of buttons that I needed to use to pick out my family in button form. Not great. I did get counselling from the hospital too, but that didn’t go great either. I realise now that counselling just isn’t something that was for me, but at the time I hoped it would help me. It probably did a little, but in the end I kind of muscled through it on my own. I never got completely better, and during school and university I found myself with a lot more issues in that area. But as I said before I got through them and whilst I’m not 100% better now at 23, I feel like I’m a lot more me now, which is all I can ask for really.
So that’s the story of how I nearly died. And yes I am being indulgently dramatic. I’ve missed out a few things, and more stuff happened after that with psychiatric assessments and plastic surgery assessments, that sort of thing that maybe I’ll add in one day. But like I said, it is a boring story. There are no explosions or anything interesting like that, and if I’m honest I have reduced my car accident to a “fun fact” during ice breakers so a lot of people already know the most of this stuff. But I’m glad I’ve written it down, if not just for me so that I can remember the things that will slowly be chipped away from my memory and replaced with something dumb like song lyrics or silly facts about monkeys. If you’ve made it to the end, dear reader, I hope you feel you know me a bit better now. My accident, while I refuse to let it define me, is a big part of how I became who I am. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen, but I’ll just keep muddling through like the rest of us, scars and all.