I was a match to another fatal car accident yesterday while driving to a hiking spot. A mother and daughter hit head on by a woman in a truck. The mother was killed instantly and the daughter and other driver were life flighted away. The cars, transformed into heaps of twisted metal and glass. That eerie paralyzing feeling of seeing blood strewn across the road. This is a trend in my life. It’s a not so funny joke in the household that I always end up lining up with serious accidents. Every one of them is etched in my memory. Like an internal tattoo that can’t be removed. I cannot understand for the life of me why, with our technological advancements, we are still traveling down roads at 60+ miles an hour in thousands of pounds of metal, piloted by human logic and human error alone. Every year, the fatalities increase. Last year 35,200 people died in car accidents in the United States alone. That’s 2,933 people a month on average. This number does not include the people in accidents who were seriously injured but did not die. Can you imagine, given just yesterday’s accident where two were life flighted, what the numbers look like of people injured in accidents per year? Imagine what our reaction would be if that many people died at once? Just take the September 11th attack. 2,996 people died in that attack. Look at the similarity between those numbers.
I possess the capability to help people to “cross over” and have done this on multiple occasions when they are succumbing to their injuries on the side of the road. Sometimes I feel like the universe puts me there specifically as an emergency emotional/spiritual support to people who are dying or loosing loved ones or are traumatized. I also obtained my EMT license when I was 18, which seems to automatically make you more of a match to accidents. The universe does not squander skills and capabilities; it uses them. My joke now is “be careful what skills you learn and what talents you possess because they will be used”. I regret getting my EMT license. To get a license, you have to accrue hours doing actual emergency medical work in the field with an ambulance team or first responder unit. The level of irreverence I saw in many of the men who worked in the ambulance unit I trained with was horrifying. I watched them take pictures on the scene of two teen girls, both killed on impact in a collision with a wooden telephone poll and tell jokes and laugh about the scene. The head paramedic turned to me and said while chuckling “you see, if you’re that stupid, you don’t get to go to the prom”. Perhaps he thought it was ample punishment for driving drunk? I remember thinking the last thing I want to see if I’m in a crash is paramedics.
It is too hard to administer emotional support while trying to perform all the duties you need to perform to stabilize the human body in an accident. But in my opinion, this clinical and emotionless lack of connection between emergency personnel and the people who are injured, creates leagues more post traumatic stress in the long run. If I had my way, there would be an “emotional support” responder highly trained in trauma psychology that would mandatorily be with every emergency team so that the emergency responders could keep on doing their duties, but the people who are still conscious and involved could have emotional support in the midst of the event. Although I do not know what kind of person could be an empathetic person (which is a prerequisite for the job) and not eventually have a total mental breakdown as a result of those experiences.
Last night, I decided to trace my relationship to accidents back over the course of my life. When I say accident, I mean an unforeseen, unplanned, traumatizing event. And that has been a theme in my life since I was very young. It started when I was a tiny baby and I watched my mother get the news that a college friend of hers was killed in a car accident. Then continued with my father being accosted when I was a baby by a man who was riding a motorbike while my Dad was walking on the side of a road. I was in a baby carrier backpack on his back. My dad pulled me (in the backpack) off his back and sort of chucked me to the side so I did not get hurt. I remember the panic of thinking he was going to kill my dad. This was part of why my parents decided to leave New Mexico and raise me elsewhere.
Then, my parents took a job as wilderness forest rangers again (this is the actual guard station cabin I grew up in pictured left). My dad also had his EMT license. The thing about being a wilderness ranger is that if you are stationed in a place that is far removed from a town, it takes ambulances (and even helicopters) a long time to reach people and so you are the one that is called to be the first on the scene. This happened a number of times when I was young. I’d be riding in the big green forest service truck with my father or mother and they would be called to the scene of an accident or injury. When I was four, my father was called to a crash on the canyon highway. He didn’t have time to take me back home so he drove to the crash site and told me to stay in the truck. I could see him in the rear view mirror. I could feel the trauma in the air and the terror coming from the scene. I was confused. No one had the time in the midst of that crisis to explain to me what was going on or to work me through my own emotional reaction to it. Later, my mother was the first on the scene (with me in tow) for a hiker who had obtained a compound ankle fracture stepping off of a rock in a spillway. Half of the life of a forest ranger is spent responding to emergency calls either for people or for animals or for fires.
I remember the static crackle of the hand radio sitting on the wood burning stove. I remember the tension of the constant potential of an emergency call, the sinking feeling of fight or flight when a call would come in. They would address my parents by last name and just like that, in emergency mode, one of them would have to jump in the forest service truck and go off on the call.
I dove into the emotion of accident trauma last night. The constricted, crushed feeling in your chest, like you have just been hit by a canon ball. The crippling, paralyzing fear. The dazed confusion, the waves of horror and the hot, throbbing pulse of your own heart beat traveling up the side of your neck and into your face and forehead. It pulses so thick and so heavy and hot that your own heartbeat makes your hearing go in and out with every pulse. The powerlessness overwhelms your entire being, part of the shock of being blindsided. And then, the feeling that no matter what, life will never be the same. There is no fixing what just happened. You can’t go back in time, you can’t change it. You are powerless to what has just happened. One minute, life is going along as normal, the next it has taken a turn so drastic and blindsided you so fast and so hard that you have lost your bearings. The life you knew is over. Nothing you can do about it… nothing you can do about it. That particular signature of utter and complete powerlessness is perhaps the lowest vibration that a human being can experience. It is a suffering with no doors and no windows.
I have watched a woman whose husband was killed in a collision sit in the middle of the burning hot road, screaming while she tried to scoop up handfuls of his blood in her hands and put it back inside the open wound in the side of his neck. That is the definition of utter and complete powerlessness in the face of an unforeseen event. That is how I often felt as a child. And it has stayed with me as an imprint. I let myself fully sit inside that hellfire of a feeling last night.
The desire to “move on” is the desire that everyone else imposes on those who experience accident trauma. The truth is, you can’t move on. The experience must be integrated and experienced and even understood for a person to keep moving at all. One life does end for those who experience accident trauma. There is no “getting back to normal”. The idea that normalcy is possible post trauma is a fallacy. We need to let that idea go. Life will never be the same. We need to let ourselves stop trying to make it all better and stop trying to undo what was done.
I think about that woman screaming over her dead husband all the time. We need to be willing to grieve and let others grieve. We need to let ourselves and others fall apart completely with the knowledge that falling apart is what is in order for us to be transformed. We need to stop imposing a timeline or expecting that “getting on with life” is healthiest. People who let themselves surrender to the current of what is occurring completely are the ones who create their life anew.