Getting Hit by a Drunk Driver is Not Fun
Because of a young woman's irresponsible behavior and reckless choices, I spent the early morning hours today strapped in an uncomfortable neck brace in the emergency room as my back and shoulders were poked and prodded for broken bones.
I had to stand uncomfortably in an x-ray booth wearing a lead apron over my 23-week pregnant belly, trusting that the exposure wouldn't be too much for Bug.
I was given powerful narcotics I'd rather not have to take as a pregnant woman. I then spent two full hours with monitors strapped across my abdomen as Bug's heartbeat was monitored for any signs of stress.
Throughout all this, my husband in Northern Virginia and my family in Cincinnati could only sit helplessly by the phone and wait for my sporadic updates, worried out of their minds.
And for the next few days, I will be staying in my military hotel room on medical orders (called "quarters") to recover from severe whiplash that's gripped my body into a stiff, aching freeze.
All because a stranger decided to get behind the wheel of her car after a night spent drinking alcohol.
It happened at an intersection near the Air Force base where I work for my Air Force Reserve duty.
It was shortly after 11 p.m. and the roads were clear. I was just minutes away from my hotel, heading down to the nearby 24-hour convenience store to pick up some orange juice and food.
Normally, I wouldn't have been out so late. Yet, after my eight-hour duty day Saturday, I had returned to my hotel room for a nap. All the traveling and early mornings I've pulled the last few days caught up with me, and I ended up sleeping until about 10 p.m., which meant I missed the dinner hour at the military dining facility, and the hotel restaurant was closing.
I needed to eat, and the convenience store was just a five-minute drive away. I was stopped at a red light. It was a long light, and nearly a minute passed before I saw headlights approaching me from behind.
As they got closer, I could sense there was no slowing down. I had just enough time to wrap my arms around my stomach, lifting my belly above the seatbelt across my lap just as the car slammed into my car at full speed. I felt my body and head lunge forward before snapping back.
I knew the driver had to be drunk. I hadn't heard any screeching tires, no sound of the driver applying their breaks. I unbuckled my belt, grabbed my cell phone and got out of the car.
She was already stumbling toward me, yelling, "I have insurance!"
"You are drunk," I answered.
"I'm not drunk," she insisted, rambling on about this not being a big deal, how it's her boyfriend's car, her insurance will pay for everything.
The front of her car was smashed, the hood bent up at a weird angle. My back bumper was pushed in and scraped; the entire back section of the car was elevated as if it were a jack-in-the-box. Other cars were approaching, so I went to the sidewalk, dialing 9-1-1. The drunk driver followed me, begging me not to call anyone. When she saw I wasn't talking to her, or getting off the phone, she raced back to her car and opened the driver's side door. That's when I moved to get her license plate, fearing she was going to leave the scene, and as soon as the 9-1-1 dispatcher answered, I blurted out the address of the intersection and the numbers. I said I've been hit by a drunk driver and I think she's going to leave, and that I'm also pregnant and will need a medic. That's when the drunk woman came my way again. She saw I was still on the phone and started screaming at me again, accusing me of causing trouble, saying I looked fine, I didn't need to call anyone.
I sensed she wanted to lunge and snatch my phone out of my hand, so I kept moving beyond her reach. Her eyes were glassy and she wasn't steady, but she was taller and bigger than me and getting angry.
I told the dispatcher that I didn't know how long she was going to remain civil, to please send the police. The dispatcher assured me they were on the way as he could hear everything she was screaming. He stayed on the line with me until the first police officer arrived. Soon after, so did the drunk driver's boyfriend, who lived a few blocks away.
The police officer immediately asked for the driver and took her aside. After a few words with her, he came over to me. I'd already gotten my bag and had my driver's license and military card for him, telling him exactly what happened.
"I believe she's drunk," I said.
"Yup, I got that right away," he responded. He took my cards and joined the rest of the police officers who showed up.
The medics made their way over to me and took me to their wagon, where they checked my vitals. Everything was elevated: my heartbeat, my blood pressure. Fortunately, my belly was soft - no contractions or cramping. They offered to take me down to the civilian hospital in downtown Dayton, but I declined it.
Had I gone downtown, I would have been put in a waiting room along with all the other Saturday night emergencies - the crack addicts, the fight victims, etc. I also would have been far away from the base without transportation, family or fellow Airmen. However, the military clinic was just three minutes away on the base. I told them I'd take myself there.
So, they gave me paperwork and left. By that point, the police officers were administering a field sobriety test on the driver and searching her car. I saw her wobble as she tried to stand on one foot.
One of the officers came over to me and together we looked at my car. He determined it was at least drivable back to the base, and asked me to pull it over into a nearby parking lot, as I had to provide a written statement for their report.
So, he gave me the paperwork and asked me to be as detailed as possible. I took up two sheets of paper. Since it was by hand, it took about 20 minutes to write.
As I wrote, they arrested the drunk driver, who was becoming more belligerent, even to the police officers. I overheard the boyfriend and the police talking. They impounded the vehicle for a variety of reasons.
Apparently, it wasn't her car.
Apparently, the car wasn't in his name either.
Apparently, the various car documents were expired.
Apparently, she also didn't have insurance, and all her paperwork was expired. Despite their repeated and patient explanations of the law, the boyfriend still insisted they not take the car, begging them to overlook the facts that this was an entirely illegal situation.
Meanwhile, the young woman was growing impatient in the backseat of the cruiser. The first responding officer had come over to return my license and paperwork, and at some point, she yelled, "Can we just leave already? I'm sick of waiting!"
He walked over and opened the door. "This isn't all about you, ma'am. You slammed your car into a pregnant woman," and then he slammed the door shut.
As I handed him my written statement, I said, "It's such a shame it couldn't have been a sweet old lady who just didn't see me, isn't it?"
He empathetically shook his head and made sure I had his phone number and the case number. He warned that I would probably be called to testify later on, and that if I had any questions, that I should call him. He also confirmed I was headed to the military clinic for care. And then he drove off and I drove off.
When I arrived at the Air Force hospital, the emergency room was empty. I explained to the desk clerk I'd been in a rear-end collision and needed to be seen. As a precaution, he immediately put me in a neck brace and took me to the back. The attending nurse joined us, and had me get in the bed and began asking me the usual questions.
She asked them in that typical brisk hospital manner: always professional and slightly bored. She initially assumed I was a military spouse, but I explained I was an Airman and on orders, working at the base.
But when she realized I'd been hit by a drunk driver, her demeanor changed. She got mad.
She asked if I had family or a supervisor she could call for me, and her eyes fell onto my pregnant belly.
"Was the driver arrested?"
And as she stepped out into the room, I could hear her tell the others I was in there because of a drunk driver.
From that point on, every nurse and doctor I encountered treated me with a reassuring mix of compassion and anger. It was classic Air Force family behavior. One of their own had been hurt by a drunk driver, and not only were they pissed about it, but they were going to take the best care of me.
It's hard to fully put into words this sense of belonging and protection to those who've never been a part of the military, but just know that I wouldn't have gotten that attention at a civilian hospital.
I no longer felt scared and alone. As I waited for the results of the x-ray, I was able to talk to my Dad and my husband Martin. I had my work bag with me - which acts as my purse when I'm out here in Ohio - and had my camera with me, so I took some photos to document the experience and get my mind off the growing nugget of anger burning in my belly.
After the x-rays and examination, the emergency room doctor determined I'd suffered a cervical and neck sprain and strain, more commonly known as whiplash.
As the adrenaline and nerves calmed down, I could feel the pain begin to set in at the base of my neck and the base of my spine.
By the time I was taken up to the obstetrics clinic for Bug's examination, I was already growing stiff in my neck, shoulders and hips despite the narcotic they gave me for the pain.
For two hours, the OB staff monitored Bug's heartbeat and did an ultrasound. He is absolutely fine. In fact, he's absolutely perfect. And definitely a boy. (They double-checked.) He was constantly moving and kicking, reassuring us he was totally fine. This kid has already proven to be exceptionally durable, but that's not too unexpected. He's American-made with German parts. Does it get any tougher than that?
And the OB doctor credited me for wearing my seatbelt correctly, across my lap on my hips and not across the belly. "You did the mama thing, and protected your son," she said and it made me cry.
I was released and back in my hotel room around 5:30 in the morning. I've been placed on those "quarters," meaning for the next few days, I am to do absolutely nothing except rest and recover.
It took about an hour before I drifted off to sleep. My dad, who is also an Air Force Reservist and works in the same unit as I do, called to check on me and is taking care of all the paperwork.
My two Air Force Reserve coworkers already stopped by the room to check in, and I've been fielding phone calls all morning from other concerned friends and family. My mother, who just happens to be visiting my sister Jill in Cincinnati, is planning on driving up to stay with me for a few days, too.
I'm hurting. A lot.
I've had whiplash before. When I was a senior in high school, I rear-ended the car in front of me, a result of inattention and inexperience. (I'd only had my license for two months at the time.) I was going about 20 miles per hour then, and was sore in the neck and shoulders for a few days. This whiplash, though, is much more intense. I feel like I've been slugged by a baseball bat. Or that someone dropped a ton of bricks on my shoulders.
I feel exactly how you'd think it feels to be slammed from behind by a drunk driver.
I feel it all the way down my back. It hurts to lay down on my side, so I'm propped up against the wall with pillows and blankets, my laptop balanced on my knees straight ahead. Lifting items hurts. Walking to the bathroom hurts. Holding my cell phone to my ear hurts. But thank God that's it.
Thank God, and all my guardian angels, and all the thoughts and prayers of my friends and family, that this was not any more serious, that Bug probably didn't feel a thing protected by his aquatic cocoon nestled in my body with its extra weight and padding.
I'm grateful she didn't hit another car head-on and kill somebody.
I'm swinging between feelings of intense anger at her recklessness and compassion for her, too. I don't think any person in their right and sober mind wakes up in the morning and sets out determined to ruin the lives of others. I know the things she screamed at me and the police officers were fueled by alcohol.
But in a split second, she could have paralyzed me. She could have killed Bug. She could have left my daughters Lola and Miss C without a mother.
As a person who always tries to make the right decisions, the knowledge that someone so careless could have shattered the life I love so much .... it's a helpless, frustrating feeling.
How dare she.
To quote my husband, drunk drivers suck.
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By Lisa Owen