Lucky to be alive….

Imagine getting ready for work on a ‘normal day’ unlocking your car, getting in and driving off the same way as you always do, the same way that you have travelled for years to the same job. Four miles down the road you check your mirror, indicate your intention just as you have done a hundred times before, you turn your car to the right and just as you do a speeding motorist as if from nowhere appears in your rear view mirror and slams head on into your right side, in a split second your car flips over sliding down the road on its roof, you are upside down at this point hanging in by your seat belt, absolutely terrified. It’s as if all of this is happening in slow motion, the car stops abruptly and all you can smell and taste is petrol, you cannot move or see, there is glass everywhere. Right now the changes that are occurring in your body are as follows:

Adrenaline has been released from your adrenal glands (situated above your kidneys). Red blood cells flood to carry oxygen – blood is diverted to wherever it is needed. Your breathing becomes rapid to provide more energy. Your lungs have dilated to give you more oxygen. Your sweating has increased and you might be vomiting, urinating or loosening your bowels (all in a bid to make your body lighter for purposes of flight) your muscles have tightened and you are like a coiled spring, your blood pressure is up and your mouth is very dry.

All of this is happening to you in a split second even though it feels and seems much longer. The silence is harrowing as you lay upside down in a world where you are not really sure if your head is still attached to your body, the petrol smell is really bad now and you can hear hissing, this takes over and you panic again allowing all the changes that are already occurring start to occur even more almost all over again as you think the car is going to blow up. Suddenly in a distance you hear the faint and then very loud, faint, loud sound of peoples voices, panicking, shouting, screaming, you start to close your eyes as an arm comes through the smashed glass of the drivers window –they are upside down too!

“Keep your eyes open love, ambulance is on its way” you talk but you don’t know what you are saying, it’s as if someone else is speaking for you.

“Don’t try to move, my names Ron, I saw what happened you are going to be okay” Your eyes start to close as you hear a siren, it gets louder and then more sirens. Ron starts to tell you that there have been five other cars involved and then tells you about his dog Ollie. You start to drift off; you cannot feel anything of the rest of your body at this point. By now Police, Ambulances and Fire Engines have arrived and as you drift in and out of consciousness you feel the hand of another holding your hand saying

“Its okay, we’ll soon have you out of here”

A paramedic is talking and you vaguely see her face as she says

“Ok my Love, my name is Jayne, we are going to have to cut the car to get you out safely”, then you hear another voice

“Please don’t leave me here, I am so scared” you realise this must be your own voice but it is somehow detached from you. The sound of a drill, no a saw or some sort of power tool – as you continue to drift in and out of consciousness you think you see a blade coming in at you from the side but you can’t move.

“Stay awake now, listen we’ll soon have you out of here and in a warm and safe bed” this information keeps you sane momentarily and gives you hope.

Fire & Rescue services carry stabilising equipment that is necessary to stabilise vehicles to ensure the safety of all personnel and to support the condition of the casualty. The Emergency vehicle carries specialised equipment that supplements tools available on a standard appliance.

On the way to the incident, the crew will have been briefed on all available information received at the Fire Service control room, such as the exact location of the collision, the number of vehicles involved, the number of casualties, the nature of the injuries, the weather conditions and any additional details concerning risks that may be present. On arrival, the officer in charge will carry out a risk assessment of the scene and will brief the crews on all the risks present. These may include those posed by the weather, broken glass, glass dust, spilled fuel and chemicals or modern vehicles that may contain technologically advanced safety features such as air bags.

You feel a sense of fresh air and the coolness of freedom as they lift your body out of the car, its like you can see it happening from above but you cannot feel it, and then, in an instant you are slammed back into your body and you cry out as the pain is like a million shards of glass, you feel your head re balance itself as they lay you down, now the ‘right way up’ even though you are laying down. In to the ambulance, people constantly talk to you, asking questions, keeping you awake, next of kin? Who else was with you? What’s your name? The questions become monotone, just a drone of noise like a humming in the background you cannot make sense of anything, then, its so peaceful, the lights go out, from a distance somewhere in your head you hear a siren, a mask on your face you can’t stay awake – it goes dark.

You awake momentarily to the bright blinding lights, you try to bring your hand up to shield your eyes but they don’t move, the sound of chaos everywhere, louder and louder, fainter then louder, confusion, people in green and white hustling around you and what seems to be many others in the same position but it goes dark again and you fall and fall as if into a never ending chasm.

Unbeknownst to you it is now eight days later…you are so thirsty, you awake, eyes not quite working for some reason and you are desperate for a drink of water, from somewhere in the room a nurse hands you a small plastic cup, the cool clear taste of water kicks in your hunger and just as you are about to ask the nurse says

“Would you like something to eat?” Yes please and darkness beckons once more. Later, you are to have no recollection of that drink of water.

Screaming into the room, eyes and mouth wide open, you awaken, sweat pouring from every pore in your body, terrified, as if back at the scene of the accident, you start to remember small pictures, images, smells, tastes. You cry in pain and sorrow as you remember the impact, sketchy memories of the people at the scene.

Just to the side you feel a familiar hand holding yours, its your wife Jenny, she has been sat with you throughout your stay in hospital. You know her but you don’t know her, you are confused but you don’t know you are confused. She talks to you gently, telling you that you are going to be okay and that you will get through it together, the doctors say you will make a full recovery but it will take time.

Lying there, you have absolutely no idea what she is talking about and barely know who you are, let alone anything else, but her voice sounds nice, sounds warm and comforting, you need that right now, so you listen and fall back into darkness. Back into the light again as you eat a sandwich with some water, staring into space. Refreshing and satisfied once more, you slip back in to the darkness.

Two full days later and you are wide awake, most of your body hurts, feels like its on fire, especially your legs and ankles, you are given regular pain relief and have many visitors, you don’t recognise all of them but they are vaguely familiar – this is due to the head injury you sustained when it hit the windscreen, all these visitors telling you how glad they are to see you still alive and kicking “because it was touch and go you know”, over the next few days you get the full story of what actually happened.

It all gradually starts to filter through and you know that your last actual memory was setting off in your car that morning with bits of the impact, which are intermittent. You were going to work as normal and a car with two teenage girls came speeding towards you, through a red light, they didn’t see you because the driver was texting. Both girls died on impact at the scene and you think to yourself, ‘what a waste of two young lives, why didn’t God take me instead, I’ve had my life’ you are soon also told that there were five others injured in the multi vehicle collision two others were killed, one was only five years old: Death toll was four, injured parties, six.

Finally the hospital let you go home and when you get home, your wife and son has arranged for a bed to be brought downstairs because of your leg injuries. You have three breaks in your right ankle from the force of the break pedal and a deep wound in your left ankle from where the clutch pedal was embedded into it, smashing the bones as it did. There is a slim chance that you won’t walk again but you have been told you will get all the help and support you need. You remember thinking ‘one day at a time’ Jenny we will get through it. Your wife shows you a photo of your car because you keep asking about it,

“Yours is the blue one on the right” it’s at this point that reality really sinks in, you break down emotionally and sob and sob until you are exhausted.
“How am I even still here at all?” you cry out.

Days turn into weeks; police come to see you to take what seems like endless statements further to the ones they have already attempted to take at the hospital. People come in and out to visit; you have never ending hospital, physiotherapy, and consultant’s appointments not to mention all the legal side of things to deal with. Because you are unable to work you need some financial support, work pays you but they cannot pay you forever and this will soon turn to half pay, so armed with this information, your solicitor commissions a case management company who come to assess you and the damage. You have to make impact statements about how the accident has affected your life and all the time all you can think about is that the alternative would have been much worse, and there are people dead. How can you even think about claiming on their insurance, you know though that you cannot pay your mortgage if you don’t?

After nine months, the consultant says that you are healing nicely and will be walking to ninety nine per cent capability with a very slight limp within a year if you can keep up with the Physiotherapy. He mentions that you might want to have a try at driving your spanking new car around the block to see how it feels, and how the pressure affects your feet. This sounds like a good idea and so you do just that – you get Jenny to go with you and you struggle into the drivers seat.

As soon as you do this, your whole body starts to shake, your heart is pounding and your head feels dizzy, you notice your mouth is dry and you are absolutely undeniably bloody terrified. Jenny, not noticing this physical reaction at first, says
“Come on then Paul, it seems ages since you’ve”…she stops in mid sentence as she now notices your physical response, jumps out of the car her side, and comes round to help get you out. In the house you talk with Jenny and Lloyd your son, about what has just happened.

“Well apparently my body is healing nicely the consultant says, so I should be able to drive again even if its just small journeys to start with – what am I going to do?” Lloyd suggests there must be someone or an organisation that can help with this psychological effect so he offers to search the Internet.

Lloyd finds a trauma specialist who has a vast experience of working with road traffic collision and the after effects for the survivors.
“Right then, we’ll call them first thing on Monday morning I don’t care how far they are”. So you book your first appointment and feel instantly acknowledged because the person on the other end asks if you can manage the stairs, you know you can because you’ve had your bed back upstairs for some time. This tiny question leads you to believe that the person you were talking to is experienced and may have come across road traffic collision survivors before.

At the initial meeting, you are asked many questions about the incident and the therapist asks you to tell her the very ‘worst’ moment for you. This is not difficult because you know it’s the moment that they put you on the stretcher after lifting you out of the car roof, or is it later when you looked at the photo of the car, or after hearing the news about the two teenage girls being killed after a moment of stupidity.

The next question seems a little odd

“Did you Paul, at any moment during or after the collision think you were going to die?” Yes you want to scream and at first I wished I bloody had!

“Yes I did quite a few times actually”

The therapist shows you a breathing technique called 7/11 breathing and you practice it with her – you don’t like to admit it but it already feels better. She explains how she would like to work with you by using a technique called critical incident debriefing also known as psychological debriefing. You book your next session, which is possibly going to take about 90 minutes or more, and you go home. You actually feel a bit better for having told a complete stranger the details of what you have been through and you look forward to your next appointment.

At home you feel slightly better for having spoken but now it’s at the surface and you feel a bit odd, so you try this new breathing technique which feels a bit alien compared to the way you normally breathe but she said to just to do it when you need to – and you actually find it really calming.

7/11 Breathing

Breath in through the nose for the count of 7 (blow up you stomach)
Breath out through the mouth for the count of 11 (empty stomach)
It is the out breath that induces the calm.

Sue J Daniels
MBACP & UKRC (Snr. Accred).
EMDR Practitioner
Professional Counsellor &
Trauma Specialist