My author bio states that I died twice before the age of eighteen and was brought back to life by paramedics both times. I get asked about this a lot, through email communications with readers as well as at bookstore and library appearances. In response to popular demand, here is an account of my second, and hopefully last, near-death experience.
On December 23, 1988, I was driving home from a day of Christmas shopping in order to pick up my McDonald’s uniform and head off for an evening shift at work. I was seventeen at the time and driving my mother’s 1976 Datsun B-210. I almost always wore my seat belt back then, but in a rush that day, I had forgotten to put it on.
It had begun snowing that afternoon and by the time I was on the road, a thin layer of snow and ice was covering the pavement. As I came around a corner and down a steep hill, I lost control of my car and began sliding into the left-hand lane. The police estimated my speed around 30 miles per hour, but unfortunately the Mercedes coming up the hill was also traveling around 30 miles per hour, making our head-on collision the equivalent of driving a car into a wall at 60-miles per hour.
On impact, my body was thrown forward. My chin caught the steering wheel; knocking out my bottom row of teeth in one large chunk and ripping open my lips and chin. Once past the steering wheel, my head crashed through the windshield, embedding my forehead in the glass.
At the same time, my legs were thrown forward. My left leg struck the emergency brake release, knocking off the handle and impaling my knee on the post to which it was attached. My right leg became embedded in the air conditioning unit, pulling the flesh back far enough to expose the bone.
Thanks to shock, I felt no pain. I knew that my teeth were rolling around in my mouth, but otherwise I felt fine. Even the exposed bone of my knee and leg didn’t bother me much.
Shock is a powerful and joyous response indeed. Until it kills you.
Moments after the accident, I extracted myself from the vehicle. I leaned back, freeing my head from the windshield. I then pulled my legs from the air conditioning unit, noting the gore that was left behind on the vents and controls. I can still feel the smooth pull of the emergency brake post as I slid it back and out of my knee. Just writing about it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. But on that day I thought nothing of it.
Once free, I opened the door of the car and climbed out. I couldn’t walk but managed to stand beside my car in a stoop as the driver of the Mercedes, a middle aged woman, approached my car. She took one look at me, vomited, and fainted, collapsing to the ground by the edge of the road.
I didn’t know it, but I was bleeding badly and didn’t have long to live.
A truck full of teenagers was the first to arrive on the scene. I remember a kid running over to me, taking a look at my condition, and saying, “Dude, you’re fucked.” His friends followed and together they convinced me to lie down in the mud on the side of the road.
A few minutes later, as my body began to grow cold, a police officer arrived. I saw him and asked about the condition of the woman. I later found out that my inquiry about the other driver convinced the cop to write up the incident as a no-fault accident.
“The kid was bleeding to death and he asked about the other driver,” the cop told my mother. Little did he know that the blessings of shock had made me oblivious to my condition. Other than the row of teeth still floating around my mouth, I wasn’t worried about my condition at all.
Shortly thereafter, just before the paramedics arrived, I lost consciousness. When the paramedics arrived, I had neither heart rate nor respiration.
But somewhere on the way to the hospital, I began to breathe again.
Remember, my superhero identity is Mr. Indestructible.
The accident caused me to miss out on my opportunity to become an Eagle Scout. It cancelled my track and field season, preventing me from defending my pole vault title. I spent a week in the hospital (including Christmas) and more than two months in recovery. I was literally pulling glass from my forehead for more than a year later, and there are still shards in my forehead today. I have scars on my chin, forehead, and knees. My teeth are dying a slow death, and one has been missing since the accident. The event turned out to be one of the trigger events of my bout with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition which I suffered with just until a few years ago.
The accident created a lot of problems for me, yet if I could do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because of the accident, I am driven, focused, and constantly moving. I wake up each morning with the sincere knowledge that this could be the last day of my life.
The accident has changed the way I live, and changed it for the better. I shudder to think of the person I might have become without the perspective that I acquired on that snowy day in 1989.