My Life as a Crash Test Dummy
Everything happened simultaneously in slow motion and at extreme speed, which wrapped the whole episode in a disorienting surreal package. Time shifted into and out of reality in much the same way I felt watching and listening to 500 pound bombs being dropped around me while on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
A horrible, utterly helpless sense of dread coursed through my veins as my brain screamed: “Brace for impact!!” A nanosecond after my car’s metal and glass chewed through her car’s metal and glass, my body went limp. It was as if all the bones in my body disintegrated in an instant. The only other time I’ve felt like that — an eerie zero-gravity weightless feeling — was as I plummeted 100 feet toward the ground while bungie jumping. It’s a blissful and nirvana-like state, only this time it was laced with terror and chased with a high-octane adrenaline cocktail.
My brain told me I could squeeze by her spinning car without doing a cartwheel of my own, but by the time the signal to my hands on the steering wheel screamed “go left!!” reached its destination the first collision had already occurred. (In hours and hours of self-reflective hindsight, I should have swerved right, only I remember now having a vague sense that there was a car on my right, which I would have undoubtedly smashed into as well…)
Then the airbags exploded …
Airbags discharge at a rate of 200 miles per hour; the one from the steering wheel that hit me square in the face felt as if it were wielded by the Mighty Right Hand of God himself during some kind of cosmic pillow fight. The explosion — and that is what happens when airbags deploy, they are exploded out of their “pods” by some kind of charge — left an acrid, almost gunpowder-like smell, lingering in the air.
I remember having a powdery, metallic taste in my mouth in the direct aftermath of being unceremoniously whacked by a 200-mph nylon “pillow.”
Then a moment later I was struck in the rear passenger quarter panel by the car behind me. The impact spun me 180-degrees and now I was facing on-coming traffic, all speeding toward me at 60-mph or faster. Visions of being smacked head-on by a Mack truck sparked across my brain, yet my legs refused all commands to “get the fuckk out of the car to safety!” Instead I called 911, so at least there would be an audio recording of my last moments on Earth.
As I fumbled to dial 911 the phone didn’t respond. Had it been damaged somehow during impact? I wondered. My mind struggled to connect all the dots…Then I realized I had failed to actually tap the “call” button to dial the phone. When the operator answered I tried to remain calm and just relate the facts. Bad accident on I-495, three cars involved, still sitting in traffic. No one appears to be critically injured … and then a myriad of questions started being hurled at me. What’s your name, how fast were you traveling, and on and on… “Lady, can you just roll a couple of fire trucks and the cops and get them here ASAP?!” I blurted out, cutting her off. “Yes, sir, we have emergency vehicles en route right now.” She started to ask more questions and I hung up.
A good Samaritan eventually stopped and asked what he could do to help. I said if he had some flares it would be tremendous. And he did. As I was popping a flare, some snapperhead in traffic yelled out his car window, “Turn your headlights on so people can see you!” Yeah, right douchebag… one headlight was in a million pieces scattered across two lanes of traffic and the other had just stopped working altogether. I did, however have my emergency flashers on. Some people…
The first cop on the scene was actually a member of the police force for the National Institute of Health (so it said on his car). Within a few minutes the first firetruck arrived on the scene…I still hadn’t “found my legs” to get out of the car.
A fireman first responder reached me and helped me out of the car and asked, “Are you alright?” I replied snarkily: “Shit, man, I don’t know, I’m high on adrenaline right now.” I think he just smiled and said, “OK, well the EMTs will be here soon if you start feeling bad.”
But all I could think about was pulling the woman who caused this whole incident from her car and strangling her. But she was three lanes away, crashed into a concrete barrier and I just didn’t feel like adding homicide to the drama of the morning.
The Virginia State Troopers arrived soon after the fire trucks. They gathered up all the information; I remember drawing a diagram for one trooper showing a play-by-play of the accident from my vantage point. Fortunately, the car that hit me saw things just as I had and corroborated my story. The trooper’s report put the woman in the spinning car at fault.
I had my doctor check me out from head-to-toe; seems I’m “fine” other than my entire right side feels like I’ve been kicked by a pissed-off mule. And both my hips feel bruised. Surprisingly, my neck appears to be in fine shape as well.
Now the incident is in the hands of three different insurance companies, which is to say, it’s now entered it own special kind of hell.