A Life in an Instant

Our 12-year-old daughter was hit by a car while crossing a busy city intersection a few blocks from our home.  She was with a friend who panicked and ran away. It was five o’clock on a Friday evening.

At that moment I was at home looking at the clock and wondering why our daughter was not home yet.  She had set out with her friend a couple of hours earlier to visit another friend. Summer vacation had just begun a few days before and she looking forward to visiting her friend’s house.  It was a bright day in June that slowly clouded over with rain showers. 

It is phone call that has stayed with me.  A woman’s voice said, “She is okay, I have your daughter here, but you need to get to the X intersection right away.  The firemen and ambulance are on its way.”

I called out to my husband in the other room who immediately appeared in the doorway. He said it was the tone in my voice that scared him.  I yelled for him to grab the car keys while I reached for my shoes. We ran barefoot out the front door leaving the house wide open as we jumped in the car.

At the corner of our street the traffic was backed up to the usually busy intersection ahead. I yelled “GO AROUND GO AROUND!” as I put my shoes on and my husband pulled into the oncoming traffic lane.  Ahead we could see the fire engine and the ambulance.

We flew into the store lot on the corner of the intersection and I jumped out.  I turned to my husband and pointed across the street where we spotted our daughter’s friend running away.  I said, “Get him and take him home!   I will meet you at the hospital.”

I ran toward our daughter who was so small and frail in the middle of all that asphalt.  The ground was still wet from the rain.  As I quickly approached a policeman looked into my eyes, instantly knew she was mine, and let me pass.  She was lying on her side, and her eyes shifted upward toward mine.

I knelt down beside her and told her we loved her. I held her hand gently and softly scratched her arm in the way she has always found comforting.  I talked to her calmly and clearly so that she would know what was going to happen – “the firemen will put a brace on your neck”; “they will strap you to a stretcher”; “You will go in the ambulance to the hospital”; “I will be right here with you.”  I didn’t want her to be afraid.

As the firemen and ambulance crew did their work she repeated the same questions over and over… “What happened?” “I’m I going to be okay?” “Did I get hit by a car?” “What happened?” “I’m I going to be okay?” “Did I get hit by a car?” They loaded her into the ambulance…  “What happened?” “I’m I going to be okay?” “Did I get hit by a car?” “What happened?”

As a mom you don’t want to think about brain damage or broken bones while you hear your young child slowly repeat her words. My attention was briefly directed toward the front seat of the ambulance and I was numb. As I looked out the front window I noticed a car parked in the store lot ahead.  An older woman was standing outside of her car pacing. I knew it was her. The women who had hit my child. In that moment I wondered how awful it must be to hit a child with your car.  The policeman knocked on the window and asked questions about my daughter. Her name. Her age. Our Address.

At Women and Children’s Hospital our daughter laid in the ICU overnight next to other very ill children and their families. Our oldest daughter came from work to stay with us overnight.  My husband went home to lock up, bring us what was needed and make phone calls.

At the hospital the next morning various doctors stopped to visit and nicknamed our daughter super girl – able to leap cars in a single bound!  Their humor was comforting.  They talked with her about Star Trek and Dr. Who and other nerdy things she enjoys.  They needed to see a success story.

Getting that phone call is forever burned into my psyche.  It’s been over a year now and I feel as though I am just starting to let myself feel it; as if I have been holding my breath for over a year and it has taken its toll on my body, my central nervous system. I left my Ph.D. program that fall and our life’s trajectory has forever been altered.

By all accounts our daughter shouldn’t have survived.  She was hit in an area routinely traversed by tractor trailers and heavily laden work trucks. It was a Friday evening during high traffic. Our daughter was thrown 20 feet into the middle of the intersection.

It has been over a year of doctors’ visits, several times a week; speech therapy, sleep studies and 504 plans for school. Our daughter survived with minimal bodily injuries but has sustained head trauma and concussion.  She has cognitive difficulties and she is recovering.

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