The Accident That Changed My Life Forever
by Rachel Strella
18 Mar 2012
I recently published a post on Facebook that referenced a horrible car accident I was involved in. One of my friends said she didn’t know this about me and encouraged me to share the story. So, here it is.
On March 16, 2000, I was on a first date and celebrating my first college Spring break. We were on our way to see a movie in Mechanicsburg. I can’t remember the movie. In fact, I don’t remember even getting into the car.
I realized that a good amount of time had passed. In a panic, I started screaming. When I finally woke up, a woman came over to me and asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember what I told her. The woman was a nurse who explained that I was in the hospital and that I had been there for a few days. A million questions came to mind and I started asking as many as I could think of. The nurse was confused and I couldn’t understand why. My Dad arrived a moment later and casually asked me how I was feeling. I thought, “Dad I was in an accident! AHH!” He seemed confused, too. The nurse and my Dad talked for a moment, then Dad said, “honey, you’ve been talking to us for days… don’t you remember?”
Then Dad started to explain that I was in an accident on my way to the movies. We were hit by a truck that was making a left-hand turn at the intersection of a hill. The person I was with was OK and had been released from the hospital, but I was going to be here for awhile. “What’s wrong with me,” I thought. I felt fine and was ready to get out of there.
Dad said I had just been moved from the ICU and that I had suffered some injuries that required me to be there for a while. One of the major injuries was head trauma including a skull fracture and an eye fracture caused from hitting the dashboard and the windshield. He said they needed to monitor it to make sure I was going to be OK. It was clear to him, at that point, that I could have memory issues, for starters.
I also broke my lower back – my L5 – and I needed to be fit for a brace that would cover my back and leg to keep it immobilized. I had surgery on my left humorous because the bone actually came out of my arm when I braced for the dash. My lungs were punctured and had to be inflated. And finally, because there was no air bag, I had some facial damage. My jaw was broken in three places and had to be wired shut.
Dad handed me a mirror.
I didn’t recognize my own face. It was twice its normal size from swelling and there were big stitch marks across my jaw. That’s when I also noticed I couldn’t talk very well. In fact, I could barely open my mouth!
It’s funny the things that ran through my head as I was confronted with this kind of shock. All I could think about – and ask about – were rather insignificant details. “What happened to the clothes I was wearing? That was a new outfit!” I proclaimed. “I’m not missing any school, am I?”
Dad explained that all of this stuff was no concern. He was just glad that I was alive.
Over the next few days, the hospital made preparations for me to go home. I was fitted for the brace that would be my shell for the next few months and taught how to walk with it. My parents were given instructions to help me in and out of the brace when I needed to use the restroom, take a shower, or change clothes. My diet was soup through a straw and liquid ensure for vitamins. My arm was to remain in a brace for a few weeks before I could begin physical therapy. And, finally, I was told that I could not go back to school – at least not for a few months – until they could figure out the magnitude of my head trauma.
The day of my release was an adventure. My Dad wanted to lift me into the car, but the hospital staff told them that I had to learn to do this stuff on my own – and the sooner, the better. I was so frustrated and embarrassed trying to get into the car for the first time.
My Mom worked half days at her job so she could take care of me. She had to help me with the brace, prepare food that I could eat with the mouth wires, make sure I had all the medicine I was required to take, and clean up after me since I was unable to do simple tasks like make the bed or do my dishes.
I spent most of my days watching TV, writing, or going to physical therapy. Most of my ‘friends’ were around the first few days then slowly disappeared. I can’t blame them – I was a gimp.
It took about two months until my jaw could heal enough to remove the wires and three months for my back to heal to the point where I could walk without the brace. I was told I could return to school again in the fall, so I started back in September of that year (six months after the accident).
Because of my age, I healed pretty quickly. To this day, I have only a few injuries that still affect me. I have lower back problems, which come and go. At times, I need physical therapy and medication to help to manage the pain. My jaw did not heal correctly, which leaves me with an uneven bite and a metal plate that loves to cause a scene at airport security. And, finally, I have significant hearing loss due to the head trauma. The hearing loss has affected me the most. It’s something I struggle with daily, but have become used to.
All in all, I’m pretty lucky. The doctors said I would have died upon impact, if I had not been wearing a seat belt. Also, my back was broken due to stereo equipment launching forward from the back seat. Had the equipment hit me just a quarter inch lower, I would have been paralyzed from the waist down.
Twelve years later, a few things remain at the forefront of my mind when I think about the accident. Whenever challenges happen in life, it’s surprising who lends support and ‘runs for the hills.’ I am forever grateful for the support of my family during that time in my life. They took the time to be there for me when I needed it most.
When my parents arrived at the hospital the day of my accident, they were told to ask for a gentleman named “Jeff.” As it turns out, the crew that was called to the scene thought it was a fatality. It’s policy at the Hershey Medical Center to contact the chaplain and have him greet the parents when this happens. My Dad said he will never forget the feeling he had when he was greeted by “Jeff” and thought I was dead.
I also think about all of the events that have happened in my life. I have had several significant and unfortunate events happen to me over the years. This was the first of them – and a strong preparation for many more. Whatever doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger. They aren’t kidding.
Lastly, and something I did not realize until recently, is that we ARE here for a reason. As I said on Facebook, we all have a purpose. Each day is truly a gift to fulfill. We go through many challenges in life and often ask “why,” but it all becomes clear at some point – even if that point is many years later. I’m grateful to have found a purpose in life through my business.
I could have been permanently injured or paralyzed; I could have even died on that day 12 years ago. Thankfully, I did not. But, for better or worse, my life will never be the same because of it.
What moments or events forever changed your life?