Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Think I Almost Died


Why is it that I always seem to blog about something tragic?
For some reason those intense moments in life that usually involve danger give me inspiration to write.  I've drafted countless blog entries on positive subjects but they usually end up sucking. So here's another blog entry that involves potential personal/bodily injury and/or near death. I almost died in a car accident.


5:45am: My phone alarm rang and off I was to the gym.  Well, I don't technically go to a gym.  It's really a "box." (I recently started getting into Crossfit- Plug Heroes Journey Crossfit Lake Parsippany to be exact) and I am really digging it, but that's another blog entry, I suppose.- Which is fitting because I do find Crossfit also often involves physical/bodily pain, for me at least)

It was a rare morning because normally I am super excited to get up and Crossfit (I'm so into it I use "Crossfit" as a verb now too).  I know, it's sounds freaky right?  Who would want to get up at 5:43 am? (Yes I always wake up 2 mins before my alarm)  I was pretty excited because the Workout of the Day (WOD) involved some kipping pull-ups and some other cool exercises like knees to ankles on the bar (this is just like it sounds; with good form, lift your knees to your ankles while you are hanging from your hands on a pull-up bar. The kipping pull ups I'm still working on)  So that morning was odd because honestly, I debated if I should go.  We were hit with some inclement weather that was not really predicted.  I figured the short drive would be slow, sloppy, messy and just plain annoying.  But I powered through it because that's kind of my modus operandi,  I'm a planner and I need to stay on schedule.  If I planned on doing something, I just have to do it or else the universe gets out of order.  I had committed to the 6:15 WOD so I had to go.

Off I went out the door into about 1.5 inches of icy wet snow.  I had to warm up my car for about 7 minutes but I wasn't in a super rush, I had plenty of time.  I got on Interstate 80 then 287 South.  The "box" is the first exit off of Rt. 287 once I get on that highway.  While it is two interstates, it's a quick ride.

While on 287 I needed to be in the far right lane because the exit is the first one.  Now everyone knows the far right lane is the worst lane in crappy weather.  No one drives in that lane on bad weather days so the slush is always extra thick.  However, things were generally fine.  I was moving along but nothing crazy and not too fast.  (Trust me there have been plenty of other times when I was going speeds that deserve a crash.  This was not one of those times) To the left of me came an 18-wheeler.  He was probably going a little faster than he should have been but I won't blame him.  As he came alongside of me, I was doused with a smattering of spraying ice, water, slush and who knows what else.  It was shaking my car and covering it, I could barely see.  Then I made the first mistake, which I should know to never do in snowy weather, I applied a little bit of brake.  My 2007 Ford Escape Hybrid (I'm so eco-friendly) got a little loose but I recovered by letting up on the brake.   I then thought the better option was to apply a little acceleration to get ahead of the spray.  And it worked, well getting ahead of the spray worked, that is.


I got just a little ahead of the truck and her splattering slush.  Then I felt it.  Now I was getting loose again, pretty much hydroplaning.  I knew it was over.  There was nothing more I could do.  The car drifted left a little ahead of the truck, I tried to straighten out, lost control, started spinning back towards the shoulder and I knew I was headed straight for the side guardrail and sound wall head-on.  I didn't brace for impact.  I did the opposite, I just went dead, limp and relaxed like when your are on a roller coaster.  I think that helped tremendously.

We (just me and the car, I couldn't imagine having this accident with my wife or son in the car) hit hard then tumbled over and slid around a lot.  I was a bit disoriented but I was sure my upside down vehicle was facing oncoming traffic. It was dark, the car was sitting on her roof leaning forward and the side airbags were blocking both side windows.  I seemed relatively unaffected from the actual crash but at that moment I truly felt, "OK this is where I die" I was just waiting for a tractor trailer or another vehicle to nail me.  Of course, I couldn't' see anything but I felt like they were coming.

Generally, I am a cool collected individual who stays somewhat calm in stressful situations but I won't lie, being upside down facing oncoming traffic, seat-buckled inside my vehicle in the middle of an interstate was a little concerning.  I was able to unbuckle myself, fall to the ceiling and get my bearings.  I was able to crack the passenger side door open and see towards the highway's shoulder to where I perceived I could exit safely.  First I crawled around a little because I wanted to find my phone to call for help, my wife and Crossfit to tell them I naturally was not going to make the 6:15am WOD.  During that crawl is when I think I received my only injury, I got a paper-like cut on my knee from rummaging in the glass.  Another disadvantage of wearing exercise shorts on a 30 degree day.

Soon after, someone was calling me from outside, "Are you OK" to which I surprisingly said "Yeah I actually think I'm fine."  "Can you get out?" he called "Yeah just help me pry this door open" I responded.  And out I walked into the 2 inch frozen slush.  I was fairly cold so I still wasn't sure if the cold numbness was just masking an injury.  As time went on, I confirmed, I was OK.  The look on the passerby who pulled over was just as surprised.
Got out !


It seemed like it took forever for a State Trooper to come. Another guy had pulled over and let me hang in his car and stay warm.  "You're OK?" he surprisingly said? My phone was all jacked up too but it was still working at first. When the first State Trooper arrived, he also was very surprised that the guy from the accident was walking around outside the vehicle unaffected.  He obviously wanted to see my driver's license but it was in the car.  I told him I could go back in and get it but I was a little shocked when he let me.  He also seemed a little flustered that I didn't' have the insurance card which I offered to go back in the car to look for.  Although he told me not to bother, he paused longer than I thought he should have to give that obvious response.

Upside down on Route 287, facing oncoming traffic


Another trooper arrived, then an hour or so later the tow truck scooped the poor Escape onto the truck bed, still upside down.   I was mislead to believe the tow truck could drop me off at the Box and I could still make the 7:15 WOD and call my wife to pick me up.  I still hadn't called her because I knew she was still asleep and there was no need to worry anyone.  Much to my surprise the tow truck would only take me to the tow yard.  He asked me tons of questions.  "You didn't hit anyone else?" "You don't have any injuries?"  "No one else hit you?".  Again I surprisingly confirmed all of them.  By now my phone was totally unresponsive so I couldn't call anyone.  I eventually persuaded the driver to drop me off at the Broadway Diner in Summit, NJ.  I also wanted to try that diner.  They have a huge sign "World's Best Pancakes."  I went in and got a funny look from the owner.  Was it the exercise shorts?,  The small blood on my knee from the glass?, Or just my disheveled look?  I explained my situation and he allowed me to use the phone.  I called my wife, did the whole "I'm safe and fine but…" routine.  At first, when she realized I wasn't home and a strange phone number was calling, she thought I was dead.  I just thought it was better to wait until I show her the pictures.  (Naturally I took pictures of my SUV upside down on the highway) I sat at the counter of the diner, I love doing that.  The waitress was pleasant and I debated going with the protein heavy eggs and bacon or the unholy anti-paleo pancakes (Yep, another Crossfit reference).  The sign on the diner says: "WORLD'S BEST PANCAKES."  I asked the waitress, "Are they really the World's Best Pancakes?" to which she paused and said, "They're pretty good" But wait, she didn't' really say they were the "World's Best".  I ordered them and yes, they were good but the world's best?  Not quite.  That's quite a tall order to live up to.   My wife arrived generally in a good mental state and we slowly drove home. Then I began to coordinate all the insurance calls, work calls and inconveniences of having a major car accident.

Broadway Diner, Summit NJ (image courtesy of the Summit Patch)


The next day I was able to get to the junk yard and collect my belongings from the car.  My God, she was banged up.  OK, she was dead.  What a weird feeling.  I've never anthropomorphized something so much.  She became human.  A friend who took the bullet, or guardrail, for me.  It was like she gave her life for mine.  The auto body guy asked cautiously if I was in the car as if he was being sensitive perhaps thinking it was a sore subject or almost like he was concerned someone died.  I confirmed and assured him I was fine.  He gave the same look the guys on the side of the road, state troopers, and tow truck driver gave.  I rummaged through the car and got more injuries from cleaning things out amongst all the broken glass than I did in the accident.  The ceiling was crushed, there was glass everywhere, everything was smooshed.  There was a ton of crap in there that I never even realized had been collecting.  I left most of it to rest in peace with my beloved green baby Ford.

Driver's Side


Everyone says, "You're going to feel it in a few days."  They are referring to back, neck and other physical soreness.  However, I haven't had any of that.  It is like no one believes I am fine.  I really didn't get hurt.  Although now days later I'll admit I suffer from the mental complexity.  I can't help but think about it all.  The crash, the survival of it, the improbability of being unscathed, and why?  Trust me, I realized millions get in accidents, much worse than this.  Many people suffer traumatic events much greater.  But even this incident has me, days later, wondering.  Why I am still here?  Why did I survive?  Why do others not?  What would have happened if I didn't?  How did I miss the truck? How did no other car hit me?  Who knows?  It has made me reevaluate so much in life. It has made me appreciate some friends that I didn't realize were so awesome.  It's made me notice how fragile life is. (I know that's a major cliche but it is true)

I made it to the WOD that evening and it was the most rewarding WOD I've ever done.  It wasn't some great personal record for time or some huge physical accomplishment but it meant more to me than another other. I had to do it, I was supposed to do it that morning and I needed to right the universe by doing it that day.  (BTW You have to love Crossfit coaches that were wiling to come pick you up to take me to the WOD when you insist you want to come-Thanks for the offer Steve.)  Hell, the lesson here is simple.  No excuses. You can't let anything stand in your way, not even near-death.  You have to move on.  So you crash? Get up, walk away and try again, Right?  And one other thing - 

Thanks God or the guardian angel or the mathematic probability of the cosmos or whatever enabled me to hit a guardrail on a major interstate, flip my car, spin around, land facing on-coming traffic on a icy slushy dark morning and walk away with nothing more than a Sesame Street band-aid required, applied by my 2-year-old son when I got home.  It's good to be alive.  And it's better to appreciate it more than ever.  Life matters.  Drive safe.

The Ray Bans survived.