Gifts From a U-Turn

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - October 1995

Survivors often react to life-threatening situations with playful humor and a strong belief that everything will turn out all right. Later, after they have recovered, they feel thankful for the gifts the experience brought to them. Here is a story from a woman I just interviewed.

In the evening darkness it was hard for Susanne to see the address numbers on many of the buildings. She drove past the building she was looking for before realizing it was the place she wanted to go to. She pulled her car over to the right side of the highway, turned on her left turn signal and checked her rear view mirror. She saw no cars coming up the highway behind her and made a fast U-turn.

The accident report filed by the investigating officer reported that the oncoming car hit Susanne's car at about 55 miles per hour causing "significant intrusion" into the driver's compartment. Over 100 people gathered at the accident site while emergency workers carefully pulled and cut pieces of the car frame away from her body. They dared not pull her out of the car from the passenger side because she had fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, severe internal bruising, and possible internal bleeding.

Susanne says her first thought after the accident was, "Damn, I'll miss my meeting." She says she did not feel worried. She felt a protective barrier around her. When she saw how grim the rescue workers were she tried to reassure them and keep things light. She kept saying to them, "I'm going to be all right."

At the hospital she joked with the staff. She made humorous comments about the doctor, nurse, and police officer all having the same name. They wanted to cut her clothing off but she wouldn't let them. Although it was painful, she made them pull off her sweater, skirt and panties. When the doctor was about to cut off her bra she said to him, "Don't cut off my bra. Just reach back and unsnap it. Think about being back in high school!" She says he laughed and finally loosened up.

Susanne says, "I knew I would be all right. I surrendered to divine care." I sent for my ex-husband. I knew he would come and be my advocate to not take any drugs.

They were afraid she had internal bleeding. In most similar cases the emergency room doctors do exploratory surgery. But she says, "the surgeon on call that night was tired and was the one surgeon on the staff who preferred to not cut into an accident victim without a clear need. It was divine protection. I did not have internal bleeding. Surgery would have made my recovery more difficult."

As physician Bernie Siegel has observed, survivors are not good patients. When the doctor ordered a tetanus shot combined with another medication Susanne asked why and demanded a detailed explanation. She says this led to a long dialogue about the other medication because no one could explain why the two were combined and why the tetanus booster could not be obtained by itself.

Even though the slightest movement caused Susanne extreme pain she refused any pain medication even when the nurses made her get out of bed to go to the bathroom.

A few days later when she was released, a doctor said to her, "You will never fully recover and never be pain free." Susanne's react was to laugh. She said to him, "I will recover fully and I will be pain free."

Susanne needed 24 hour watching and help. She said it was very difficult for her to receive love and help from others. For her the hardest part of her recovery was to accept an offer from two friends to go live in their home and let them care for her because she didn't want to be a burden for anyone. She was determined to stay for only a week, but she still had to scoot on the floor to the bathroom so she let herself stay a second week. She laughs as she says she learned from watching her friends' children how much fun it can be to complain so she did that several times and enjoyed it.

As part of her recovery program she did not buy another car after she returned home. She walked every place she needed to go. She began swimming and hiking.

After nine months, she is now pain free and says she feels better than she has felt in years. She radiates smiling warmth as she lists the gifts she received from the accident. She says, "The biggest gift was learning to receive love. In the past I would never complain nor accept help from others. Now I do! People spent hours with me. A friend gave me massages. Now my fitness is much better from all my walking and swimming and I know I will be much healthier than I would have been. Because I was walking everywhere I had to learn to be less perfect and more organized. And my sense of humor has improved!

"I really am very thankful for the accident," she says. "I feel like I have a clean slate. I had mystical experiences before the accident and felt a spiritual cleansing. Now I feel physically cleansed. What I went through removed whatever was left. Fabulous things are going to happen now!"

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