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Surviving a head-on

by scott
(sydney, australia)

My car accident happened on clear day, with very good visibility - May 20, 1988. I was doing some cab driving while at uni to earn some extra cash, and I had just dropped off an elderly lady back home. She had quite a lot of luggage, so I took these to her front door as she'd told me she wasn't well. After returning to the cab, I lit a cigarette then preceded to exit her semi-circular driveway and rejoin the traffic. I should point out that the cab I was driving was, like most cabs in Sydney, running on LP Gas - not petrol. I checked both directions for traffic, and as my lane was clear I made a left turn to head south. I was on the road for only a few minutes ( maybe barely a minute) and had seen the north-bound traffic was quite heavy. Then to my total amazement, a car in the north-bound lane, still about 200 meters away, pulled out into (my) southbound lane - and was trying to overtake some 8 or 10 cars in one go! I could barely believe what I was seeing, so I flashed my high-beam several times to alert him to my presence. I kept expecting him to get back onto his side of the road but he just kept on coming. At that point I quickly realised I had to be the one to take evasive action. Easier said than done! The verge on both sides of the road was less than a metre, with rough shoulders and heavily wooded. I was looking frantically for some way of avoiding him without hurting anyone else - or myself. All the time he kept coming at me head on, making no attempt to get back on to his side of the road. My speed was about 50mph (85kms)and I began to brake hard, only to see the front of his vehicle was not going down 'under brakes'. This, I quickly deduced meant he had much more momentum than I did, so I let my foot off the brake in a vain effort to try and equalize our combined impact. That decision almost certainly saved my life. I couldn't risk swerving, as I'd have hit the trees and sustaining 2 impacts. I knew my only chance was to try to let him hit me as squarely (nose to nose) as possible to spread the impact evenly across both cars. It's so hard to explain this to someone who has never been in that sort of situation, but the brain does some very strange things at times like this. I felt that my brain was 'split' in two. On one side, I could make urgent and rational decisions - and on the other side I clearly 'saw' my grave headstone in great detail...right down to the reddish-pink granite bearing my name, birthdate and death-date: 20/May/88 in gold lettering, it was that graphic. Then almost instantly, we hit. The very last thing I remember seeing was his rego plate - and the instruments on the dash slowly oozing towards me. After that nothing - until I came around. My legs were both pinned by the engine block (which had come through the fire-wall) and steering wheel, but my torso was on the passenger's side floor, glass all around. Initially I had no idea of what had just happened and thought "this is the best 'sleep' I've had in ages"...but I had a headache that was right off the scale. My bottom lip was hanging off, and as I tried to get myself upright I saw a huge hole in the windscreen - filled with blood and hair. I was aware of the white LP gas clouds and of people trying to help me without sucess. (What had happened to the cigarette, with all this gas? - I have no idea!) Some time passed and the emergency services turned up - with the fire brigade and the police - not to mention 4 TV networks. The noise from the 'jaws of life' was so loud, it was hard to hear/answer any questions from the ambulance guys.
The accident happened at 4:30pm and I got to the ER at 7:10pm - barely 5 miles from the accident site. Once in hospital, they found my skull was fractured, as were most of my ribs and breastbone. My legs were broken in several places - one required a titanium rod. My kneecap smashed into 18 bits and is also held together with titanium screws and plates. All this hardware remains in place today - 22 years later. They couldn't operate for 24 hrs as my potassium levels were so low (due to shock) - and later, in the O.R my heart stopped three times. I eventually recovered after almost 8 months in hospital and several operations on my legs with a further 2 years (5 days a week)in rehab. I was so lucky to have such a gifted orthopedic surgeon, who told me I'd never walk properly again, nor have more than 5 degrees bend in my right leg. I was also extemely lucky to have fantastic physiotherapists who worked so hard in getting me back to normal. Today, it is impossible to tell my body has been through all of that trauma - aside from the scars. I got back into a car at first chance, and even drove using my walking sticks to operate the brakes and gas! (I'm NOT kidding!) When I finally attained 90 degrees of bend in my knees, I got back on my motorbike for the first time in over 3 years.
Later, when I was able to talk to the police and give them my version of what happened that day, they said they'd never seen ANYONE survive what was an impact of @ 150 - 160 mph - head-on.
I don't put my survival down to God - or any 'higher power' - just fast thinking and the belief I could/would get myself in as good a position as possible prior to the impact.
I sincerely hope anyone reading this never has this experience, and for those that do - get back into the driver's seat as soon as you're fit enough. That first trip is always nerve-wrecking, but you need to do it otherwise the longer you leave it, the harder it will be. Best wishes to you all & stay safe! Scott F.

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