Rage Endures Long After the Wounds Heal
This item on a recent newscast caught my ear: In 2008, North Carolina ranked fifth nationally in DWI-related incidents/accidents.
I was involved in one of those accidents. During this otherwise merry season, let me contribute how it feels to be the victim of a drunken driver.
Most driving-while-impaired accidents occur on weekend nights, right?
The April afternoon was sunny and warm. A high-school friend invited me to lunch. We picked a trendy little place in a village a few miles down the road from the western North Carolina town where I lived. We ate, walked through the shops and, at about 3 p.m., headed home.
Traffic was light on the two-lane highway; she drove slowly, pointing out new real estate developments.
I saw the car coming around a sharp curve about 40 yards ahead at a speed that sent it leaning into a skid. As I opened my mouth to scream, the car spun crosswise into our lane, where we collided.
Both vehicles were demolished.
The perpetrator was an unrestrained, -unlicensed, illegal immigrant man whose blood alcohol level, according to the police report, was twice the legal limit two hours after the accident. He sustained minor cuts - and fled the state, along with the owner of the car, before court proceedings.
People say your life flashes before your eyes at such a moment. No time. My only thought was, "This is it." But a second later, I was alive, conscious and not yet feeling the pain of my injuries. My friend was screaming that the car was on fire and we had to get out, which would have been impossible. The Honda SUV was in a ditch with both doors jammed.
"This is it," I thought again. Luckily, the "smoke" proved to be fog from the air bags. By the time the sirens arrived, I had made half a dozen cell-phone calls and realized that one or both of my legs were broken and something was very wrong with my wrist.
In order to get me out, the responder had to pass a blanket shield through the window to protect my body while he broke out enough glass to slide in a backboard. The roof had to be cut away to extract my friend.
My torso and legs were bruised black. My wrist was sprained, but the only serious injury was a shattered ankle, which required surgery and a series of non-walking casts for 12 weeks.
Bone pain, I learned, is unrelenting and does not respond to analgesics. My friend's injuries were more severe. Our combined medical expenses came to about $150,000.
Because I am in excellent health and, for my age, in good physical condition, my bones healed well. I'll tell you what didn't heal: The sound of metal smashing into metal. The crackle of shattering glass. The fear every time I drive a two-lane road as my mind's eye swerves the approaching car into my lane. The nightmares.
The pain is gone, although for the rest of my life I will feel, at every step, the -titanium pins that hold my ankle together.
But the rage endures. In my opinion, the legal blood alcohol limit should be .00. In Russia, where vodka runs like vodka, license revocation is for life. Other European countries mandate jail for a year or more. How about an armband with a big D? Or a long-lasting mark on the forehead?
Of course there are "soft" cases, like the responsible citizen who just this once drinks one glass of wine too many at a Christmas party. Maybe one glass is too many. Maybe drivers' ed should put students in a simulator that replicates the noises, the smells, the fear. Smear her with blood. Trap him in a metal cage, surround him with smoke and yell, "Fire!"
During the Christmas season, 38 percent of auto accident fatalities are alcohol--related. At New Year's, the number jumps to 54 percent. In North Carolina, in 2008, 30 percent of 1,433 auto accident deaths (200 more than New York, with double the -population) involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher. Surely many other fatalities and injuries were caused by less-impaired drivers.
The police officer who covered my crash said, after examining the vehicles, that we should have been among those fatalities. Since I wasn't, the adage about survivors bearing witness applies.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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