On June 6, 2008, I said goodbye to my life as I formerly knew it. The day started off ordinary. I brought my girls, six and just-turned-nine, to my mother's to babysit while I got the house in order and tied up some loose ends with my work. We were leaving the next day from our house in New Orleans to our vacation house in North Alabama, and that weekend would get a new puppy from the SPCA in Bessemer, Alabama.
It had been weeks in coming. The Bessemer office had found a local volunteer to interview us, check our yard, make sure we were acceptable people to adopt a puppy. We already had one puppy, an Australian Shepherd mix, that we had gotten in April, and she desperately needed a puppy friend. This new little girl was a Shar Pei mix, and we couldn't wait. Except we never made it to Alabama.
I picked my girls up from my mother's that night. At ten, I left her house, anxious to get home, pack, and get on the road the next day. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for me. I was two minutes from my mother's, had just gotten off the phone with my husband to let him know I had picked up the girls, had the dog with me, and was on the way home, when all of a sudden, around the bend of the narrow two-way road, headlights appeared, swerving slightly out of the lane.
I thought to honk, but the over driver got control, pulled back in his lane, and I felt safe again. I almost honked as he passed me, but he never did. Instead, at the moment he should have moved beyond me, he drifted into my lane, and we hit, head on.
For a second, I spun, the lights in my car went out, and then silence.
My six-year-old called, "What happened mommy?"
We were on the side of the road, upright, thankfully, but perpendicular to the street. The other car, a Yukon quadruple my Jeep's weight, was smashed into the front of my car.
The dashboard was in my lap, my left arm was crushed in the door, and my right foot was entangled in the pedals.
The first thing I did was ask my kids if they were okay. They said they were.
My six-year-old said her wrist hurt and she couldn't get out of her seatbelt. My nine-year-old said her stomach hurt. I hoped it was only from nerves.
I tried to make them get out of the car. It was dark out, and no one else was on the road, but smoke was pouring out from my car and the Yukon, and all I could think was that we were all going to get blown up in a fiery explosion if we didn't get out.
I tried to open the door to get out myself, but the door was too crushed. The girls said they couldn't get out on their own, but I was pretty sure they were just too scared. I didn't force the issue, and within a few minutes a man stopped with a cell phone. Mine was in the car somewhere-- it had been on the charger before we were hit, but I never ended up finding it again. The man who stopped was Vietnamese, and didn't know English well enough to tell the 911 operator where we were, so I asked for the phone and explained it to her.
Another man and lady stopped and helped my girls out of the car. The scariest moment, I think, was watching my children being taken away by strangers to sit on the side of the road where we were just hit.
The fire department showed up, then the police, then my mother, then my husband, then my husband's family and friends. My children were taken to the nearest hospital with my mother and mother-in-law, while the fire department spent 45 minutes cutting me out of the car with the jaws of life. My six-year-old ended up with a broken wrist, stitches by her eye which left a permanent scar, and nerve damage to her legs which, despite therapy, still limits her in small ways when she runs. My 9-year-old had a seatbelt laceration to her abdomen that required 11 staples. It looks like a C-section scar. But all things considered, their injuries could have been a whole lot worse.
I was also somewhat fortunate; when the airbag deployed, the steering wheel flew off and landed in the seat next to me. I suffered no torso injuries other than a severe seatbelt bruise, and no facial or head injuries at all. I did have a shattered elbow, a broken femur, which is still missing two inches, and a broken tibia and fibula. I have a rod in my thigh, plates in my ankle, and screws throughout my body. A year and three months later, I am walking with a limp, can't walk or stand for too long, and probably will never run, leap, cartwheel, play chase, etc. again.
The other driveer was drunk, with a BAC of .28, (the legal limit in Louisiana for a DWI is .08 if you want to compare.) He, of course, had no injuries. That's what happens when you fall asleep while driving, I guess. His improperly restrained one-year-old, however, nearly died, and ended up losing her eye. His three-year-old fared better and seemed to be fine.
A few months after the wreck, at a checkup, when I was still in the wheelchair, I asked one of the young residents how long it would be before I could get out of bed unassisted, run a bath, get in, bathe myself, get out, and dress, all on my own. He had said a year, if ever. It was then I knew I had to say goodbye to my old way of life, a life I would never live again.
I was a dancer and a gymnast in high school, and danced in a Can Can show to pay my way through undergrad. As an adult, I still loved to dance, could still do cartwheels and splits, have never walked when I could leap, and played soccer and "swing dodgeball" with my girls, a game they made up. I also played catch with the dog, danced at weddings, and enjoyed a variety of other physical activities.
Now, I have a chair in the kitchen so I can rest in the middle of cooking a meal. I can't sit on the floor to brush the dog. I can't stand on my toes to reach the high cabinets to put away dishes. I take stairs one at a time. I can drive for about five minutes before my ankle locks up.
I treasure those days when I would go out in the yard and try to teach my girls to flip. And when we could just jump in the car for a surprise shopping trip to the mall, one of the greatest treats for them. And when I could pick them up and swing them around.
But saying goodbye to my more mobile old way of life has opened some new doors for me. I have learned to navigate the murky depths of the internet better, because online promotion is just about the only way I can promote now. I wrote a screenplay while I was stuck in the hospital bed in my house for six months. I can play the easier games on the Wii with my girls so we can still participate together in some type of physical activity. And in all honesty, I think my girls have gotten a little bit more independent now that I physically am not able to do everything for them. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but that's the way it is.
My doctor says I'm the luckiest patient she's ever had, and that I should be eating from a straw right now. I consider myself the luckiest unlucky person in the world. And every day I'm alive to spend with my beautiful family, to write, to pet the dog, to read a new book, I consider as lagniappe.
Causes Holli Castillo Supports
American Diabetes Association, American Breast Cancer Association, Lazarus House New Orleans