Saturday, July 9, 2005
The surviving instinct
Life is very unpredictable and you have to be prepared for the worst all the time.
Summer 2005! I was visiting San Jose, California for a month on business. It wasnt the first time in US for me and I know how things work there in gerenal. I am not the kind of person who will sit at home after my work and relax... and that too in a country where there was still lot of stuff to explore, naah! In fact, I was making some big plans of visiting Las Vegas.
Fortunately, A friend of mine who was currently visiting Las Vegas was ready to company me. I had only one weekend left before I could go back to my country and I made my decision to go see my friend in Vegas on that weekend. I tried to get another friend of mine who could join me from San Jose, but that didn't work out. On the friday, I got home pretty late but still continued with the plan as I thought it was worth taking the risk of driving in the night for las Vegas than sitting at home.
I packed my bags and got all the maps that would help me reach to my friend's place... then got into my car, Green Hyundai Sonata with a moonroof, at about 10 pm. It was going to be around 8-9 hours drive and was planning to take about 3-4 breaks. At around 3 am, I overturned the car at one turn and then in the correction lost the control of the car completely. The speed was around 75 miles/hr. Sitting in the car, I knew it could be all dark in just few seconds. I saw all the people in my life flashing in front of my eyes. I was completely in the shock. In just 4-5 seconds the car hit something on its right side and at that speed it toppled in the air. It made one complete round and landed back on its wheels. I was conscious and when the car stopped I tried to get out of it before anything else could happen. I removed my seat belt and tried to open the door and realized that my left is badly hurt at the wrist. Blood was drooling down heavily from there and saw that some of the flesh of my hand is lying there. I could still manage to get out of the car and saw another car stopping! I came out and sat there and by the time that guy came out, I think he had already dialed 911 and was talking to them about what has happened and where exactly we are.
More than the pain, I was still in the shock. But still, I knew that I am in for a big trouble now as I am alone and not a US citizen. I was worried about my stuff still in the car, as it had my passport and other documents which will be of utmost importance now. I went to the car and tried to get my stuff out but could not. After finishing the call that guy came to me and asked me not to touch the car. He looked horrified after seeing my open wound, but I was more worried about getting my stuff out. I told him if he could help me, but he said "you stay away, I will get it for you". He tried, but could not get it out as well. Then he got some cloth for me to put it on the wound and then asked how this all happened. It seems he saw the car toppling in the air and huge smoke around it and stopped. He was like God to me then.
Within next 5-7 minutes, the emergency help reached there. The first thing they did was to put the neck-strap around my neck. Now, this was really very irritating. I thought my neck was fine but then they say this is for your safety precaution and they do it for all car accidents. I was still worried about my bags and asked these folks to get them. Everyone was worried about me and hurrying to get me in the car and I was thinking about my passport. In next 2 minutes, the the highway patrol car came. The officers asked me what happened and completed my statement. They finally got my stuff out and put that into the ambulance car. I was lying on the stretcher with extreme irritation due to that neck-strap. Until, I left that place, I did not see any other car passing by. I just thought what would have happened if that guy was not behind me, I didn't even have a cellphone.
I was taken to an emergency hospital. From the reactions of people there, I could make out that my hand is in bad condition. The neck-strap irritation was killing me. Xrays were taken for my left leg, left hand and neck. Finally, the doctor came and said, your hand needs to be grafted so we will shift you to another hospital. I asked him about the neck-strap, he said "put it on! its essential. You neck test are not completed yet". I was taken to a big hospital which was about 30 mins drive from there where I spent next 24 hours.
It is very difficult when one is alone in the hospital as a patient. There are so many things that are not told to the patients. So, everytime I got into any conversation with the nurses or the doc, I had to ask all sorts of questions to figure out whats exactly happening to me. Lots of Xrays were taken for my left hand and Neck. For the neck they found that I have survived from a hair-line fracture in the neck and it could have been a lot worse. By then, my neck was completely swollen and it was very stiff. Thats when I realized why they forced me to wear that strap.
Another nurse/trainee doc came to me and said that they have found a gravel in my wound which has to be taken out. I asked if I could see the Xray but they refused to show me saying that it is on a computer and you cant be taken there now. I had no option but to allow her to play with my open wound. She came with the apparatus. First, shr gave local anesthesia around my wound and started looking for that foreign particle in my hand. She showed... rather educated me about all the internal things in my hand. Now, I know how does a nerve, tendent look like from inside... what happens to the nerve when you tightly hold your finger? I was seeing all that. She finally found a metal peace beneath another layer of flesh... I still have it with me. With every such incidence I was getting stronger I felt than breaking down. After that they cleaned up my hand and did the dressing. After lots of Xrays, a CTScan was done of my neck to make sure that it is completely safe. In the meantime, I called up my friend and told him that I could not reach Vegas.
At 4 am, the next morning, I was told that all my tests are now done and I could go home. "Thank you very much. How can I get home now ?". "Give us your phone number? We will call your family". "They are in India". "Ohh! So, from where were you going to Vegas??". "San Jose". "You mean San Jose up north?? how are you going to get back there??". "I dont know". After a lot of discussion, I ended up catching a GreyHound bus to San Jose. The bus started from San Beranandino at 9 am and reached L.A. at 12 noon. Another bus from there started at 2.30 pm and reached SanJose by 8pm. I travelled in that bus for about 9 hours with a neck-strap, limping swollen left leg and the wounded hand. Not to forget the other stuff like my own suitcase, a food bag given to me by one of the nurses and a laptop. I dont know how I did this, but when I saw my friends waiting for me at the bus stop I was about to break down, but didnt. My friends had called the hospital and found out that I will be in that bus.
The next day was lot of work. I had to go change my dressing and fill up all the insurance claim forms. At the hospital, I found out that the dressing was done with sticky gauze and everytime it was removed it would hurt me a lot as it will take out all the skin around my wound again. huh! It was not over yet. I had to fax some clain forms to the insurance person in India and hence went to office after my visit to hospital. Somehow managed to comeplete that with only one hand in working condition and was limping aroung in the office. The doc had told me that grafting cant be done immediately and it would take 2-3 weeks for the wound to be ready for it. I had decided that I would go back to india and then do my surgery. That day, I got my flight tickets confirmed for the next day evening.
The next day I packed my bags and called home. "Dad, my work is over and I am leaving tonight. I will be coming directly to Mumbai and will stay at home for few days. Can you come to the airport to pick me up ?". Flying half of the planet could be a lot of fun, but its worse when you are in such a state. I checked in all my luggage and only kept few fruits/medicine with me on the flight. With only one hand, It was not easy to eat anything in the fight. The worse part of the journey was the stopover at HongKong for about 7 hours. I could not move around with my limping leg, had no choice but to sit in one place and avoid people looking at me. Horrible.
The flight landed on mumbai airport on time. After the custom's clearance, before I could go out I removed my neck-strap and covered the dressing of my hand. I was going to see my family now. I came out and saw my family waiting for me with smiles. I went to them and spoke for few seconds. Dad asked me "whats wrong with your neck". I told him I fell in US. I showed them my dressing. Everyone was scared. I said "nothing much! lets get in the car and get home fast". In the car, everyone was quiet. I had to tell them what happened. I told them "accident". "car accident". "car toppled in air" slowly! I knew I have done the right thing by not telling them all this from US. Now, they can see me and will take it right.
After spending that night at my Uncle's place, we came down to pune, my hometown. The next 25 days or so, I was in the hospital in Pune. A Plastic surgeon and Hand specialist was treating me. My skin grafting was done successfully. Since I lost a lot of flesh of my hand, that part of my hand still looks very ugly. But, I have accepted it. I might do another surgery later to fix that. Its really amazing how body heals itself.
After every fall, you gather more strength to reach higher. Few minutes of that incident and 2 months of recovery has changed me. I still dont believe myself when I think of the strength that I had when I was going through all that, alone. I still remember the 5 seconds when was sitting in the car when it was out of control, the flesh lying in the car, the look on the face of the guy who called 911, the people in the hospital, the Cathay Pacific Crue Head lady who spoke to me, my family and friends when they first saw me. I am very lucky to get away with just one scar on the left hand, it could have been a lot worse. I didnt want to die alone and I think that surviving instinct got me back my life!
I am planning a Las Vegas trip soon!