Seat belts save lives…
Last week, I was visiting Charleston, South Carolina, for my annual “girls trip” gathering for a 10K race over the Cooper River Bridge, a 6-mile race over the beautiful Charleston Harbor to roll alongside other runners and walkers cruising across the bridge. I arrived a couple days early to enjoy quality family time and reacquaint myself with the southern climate, humidity and all, and soak in the unbeatable Southern hospitality. I couldn’t wait to see the ocean and breathe in the southern salty air.
It was super late at arrival time, almost 11 PM, and the tiny Charleston airport was a ghost town. My caregiver Linda and I had been traveling from Denver Colorado all day on and off flights, in and out of airports since 5 AM. We were ready to be at our final destination, where my mom, sister, and aunt anxiously awaited our arrival. We had rented a van from a local company that was so obliged to leave our vehicle at the valet section at the airport, easily accessible upon our arrival. After loading up in the van, Linda and I were finally on the final stretch of our journey. Yet, in utter exhaustion, we both simply forgot one important item – my seatbelt.
The first opportunity stopping at a red light, I became a moving projectile, dense weight and fully paralyzed, being flung forward headfirst in between the driver and passenger seats, all the while alerting Linda who was driving that I was “falling forward”. It was slow-motion when all of a sudden I opened my eyes and I was looking at the roof of the van laid out sideways and on my back on the floor of our vehicle. The fall had taken my breath away, and I lay extended with my back on my front left wheelchair wheel gasping for air, my head jammed against the van door, left lower leg underneath my body as my right lower leg was jammed underneath the right passenger seat. My shoes had come off. This was… not good.
Hastily pulling off the highway into the parking lot of a deserted gas station, Linda and I quickly assessed the damage. Because I have no sensation or mobility below the level of my shoulders and I could not view my lower body, I had no idea to the extent of my potential injuries. My immediate intuitive vision was that I resembled the movie character “Bernie” from the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s”, as I lay crumpled on the floor with my legs underneath the front seats. It was surely a scary sight that probably nobody wanted to see. Within minutes, I was pulled straight on my back, head resting on travel bags and luckily at first glance nothing seemed to be out of position, broken or sprained. I was in shock… this was my first time in 3 1/2 years to fall out of my chair.
With some stroke of good luck, my awaiting girl squad was able to jump in their car, come to our aid and as a group of four strong women able to use my specialized travel sling to safely hoist me off the van floor into the back car seat. Holding me side-by-side, my mom and aunt braced me in the back seat until we were able to reach our final destination, my mom’s house, where my squad used all their strength to transfer me back into my power wheelchair so that I could physically drive myself out of the vehicle. It was a very quiet and awkward drive, I was still very much in shock by what had just unfolded, and of course extremely worried that something inside, that I could not feel, was broken.
The gods must have been in my favor that evening for, after full-body range of motion and inspection, it appeared I escaped unscathed. Aside from a very sore neck – probably from whiplash – and a couple bruises, I was going to be okay. No emergency room. No x-rays. No hospitals.
A couple days later, with the help of my caregiver and family flanked by my side, I successfully rolled close to 8 1/2 miles over the Cooper River Bridge over Charleston Harbor. I was determined not to let the accident deter me from my goal, which was to take the bridge by storm literally and figuratively using only my arm driver. Not only did I breathe in the sweet, Southern salty air, I avoided a major disaster, learned that with the right support team in place anything is possible and most importantly… To never, ever forget my seatbelt again.