had already been a long day for both of us, but it was about to get much
Thursday, I had a speaking engagement in Princeton, New Jersey at a
pharmaceutical conference for some of the world’s biggest drug companies. I
spoke about the importance of authentic collaboration between patients and the
people making their drugs. My nerves were on high alert all morning as Sarah
and I made the stressful trek to Princeton, and to make matters even more fun,
our GPS spazzed and took us through what appeared to be Narnia, except with more
of my nervousness came from the impending presentation I had to make. This
was a topic I had never spoken on before, and I didn’t know how the audience
would receive my ideas. These were big, scary, black-suit, corporate big wigs.
I am just a 22-year-old jokester with a bow tie.
even if I bombed the talk, the plan was to spend the rest of the day with my
girlfriend, Anna, since she lives right outside Princeton.
delight, the talk was a huge success, and we even sold out of copies of my book
during the meet and greet after the presentation. There was a great sense of
renewed passion in the pharmaceutical community regarding the improvement of
exhaled deeply and drank up the sun as Sarah and I left the hotel. The stress
melted away in the afternoon warmth.
my girlfriend Anna was having an equally busy day. Her morning began at the
crack of dawn with an early horse-riding lesson, leaving her tired and sore
(and smelly) as she drove directly to school for two midterms. After the
midterms, she was coming straight to the hotel where I was speaking to swap
cars with Sarah.
Traveling with a wheelchair can be a logistical
nightmare. Since I was staying in Princeton to hang with Anna, Sarah was going
to drive Anna’s car back to Bethlehem so that Anna could bring me
home in my accessible van that night. Okay, I guess that’s not actually that
confusing, but it seemed way more complicated when we were planning it.
Anna and I went back to her house and had a wonderful
evening cooking and eating dinner with her family, but by 8pm we were both dead
tired, and still had to make the hour-long drive back to my house. And here is
where the fun began.
We loaded the van (after a 45-minute search for a pair of
Anna’s shoes (we were going to a gala fundraising event the next night, so she
needed heels)). I was sitting in the front space where the passenger’s seat is
usually located. We had removed this seat the previous weekend for our vacation, to give me a better view of our trip, like a puppy being allowed to
put his head out the window. Although, I don’t drool as much. Actually, that’s not true.
My location in the front of the van is a crucial
detail for the events that followed.
I put on “Crazy For This Girl” by Evan and Jaron, and began
singing at the top of my lungs, as did Anna. Are you puking at our cheesiness?
Don’t worry, we’re about to pay for it. The universe couldn’t handle how cute
we were being, and needed a way to fix the situation.
About a minute later, while cruising on one of those
two-lane roads that’s not technically a highway but people drive fast enough
that it basically is a highway, we crashed.
Everything happened faster than I can even remember it, but
I can recall these details: I sensed Anna’s panic first, looked up from my
phone, and saw a huge deer sprinting across the road about ten feet in front
of us. I remember screaming and my head falling forward as the brakes were
slammed. I remember an unearthly smashing sound and the feeling of a heavy jolt
as we struck the deer head on. I can still feel the g-forces of our van jerking
to a stop on the side of the road. I swear it was over in half a
Okay, still alive. I opened my eyes. Van was upright, my
chair had moved considerably despite the tie-downs, and my left knee was wedged
under the dashboard, but there was no pain registering yet.
Anna. I looked to my left, asked if she’s okay. She was. Relief.
There were many shock-stricken words shared between the two of us. That did not
just happen. We were breathing heavy and cursing and possibly crying, but mostly
just trying to make sense of the chaos.
Reality slowly set back in and brought with it increasing
clarity. An ambulance pulled in front of us and the lights were flashing in
my eyes. I assessed the situation more rationally. It wasn’t too bad of an
accident, I didn’t think, but then I realized my leg was throbbing, and my arm
was also jammed in a painful position.
Battling shock, Anna delicately got me untangled and helped back my chair out of its wedged position, a task that was not easy. As my knee
comes free, a wave a pain washed over me, but I barely had time to think about
it before we were bombarded by EMS and a police officer.
We recounted the story several times and reiterated that we are
both okay, a fact that seemed to become more true each time I repeated it. Our
information was collected and we waived an examination by the EMS (in hindsight,
I may have been lying to myself about how much pain I was feeling).
My brand new van suffered some damage, but it appeared to
be mostly cosmetic, except for a door that won’t open. The officer said we may
drive the van home, a small blessing, since arranging another accessible
vehicle could have been a true catastrophe. He offered to follow us for a few
miles in case we decided the van was unsafe to drive, but by the time we reached the main highway to Pennsylvania, we have decided it will be okay.
The ride home was quiet at first. We were badly shaken, but
then, like a small ray of sunshine peeking out after a storm, the joking
“That’s the last time we ever listen to that awful song.”
“Actually, can you try to hit another one? That was
Andrew texts me: “Heard Santa is gonna be one reindeer short
Pat texts me: “Tell Anna not to stress because you were
probably being an annoying backseat driver anyway. I would’ve hit the deer too
just to prove a point.”
We laugh, and slowly, we relax. We begin to realize how
lucky we were that the accident wasn’t much more severe. The deer could have
come up through the windshield. I could’ve had my straps off. The airbag
could’ve deployed. We could’ve been going much faster.
By the time we pull into Bethlehem, the whole day is
weighing pretty heavy on us, and my bed looks like a heavenly oasis. Falling
asleep that night, I remember feeling incredibly thankful to be alive.
But we weren’t quite out of the woods yet.
My night was long and restless, as the pain in my knee began
to get progressively worse. By morning, even the slightest movements sent
wrenching pain through my body. Something was wrong.
Through the cloudy eyes and coffee mind of early-morning at
the breakfast table, I related this new development to my family. Getting me from
my bed to my chair had been almost impossible from the intensity of the pain.
An hour later, Anna, my dad, and I were on our way to the
emergency room. Mom stayed home to handle the car insurance details that needed
to be sorted out.
The rest of the day gets cloudy, but this time the haziness
was caused by some very nice pain killers provided to me by the hospital. I got
a few x-rays that required four pairs of hands to execute because of the
precarious nature of my muscle contractures and the injury I had suffered. Nothing
appeared to be broken, but the jury is still out. My pain has since gone down a bit,
but I’m still on meds so it’s tough to say for sure. (Also, can I get a fist
bump for writing this under the influence of narcotics? It’s probably riddled
with grammatical errors. If so, I’m sorry.)
Looking back on the events of Thursday night and Friday, Anna was
nothing short of phenomenal, taking care of me like a hero despite my endless
whimpering and complaining. My dad was equally as patient and caring. Although
I must say, snuggling with Anna helped way more than snuggling with my father
would have helped, I imagine.
Unfortunately, I had to cancel several speaking engagements
on Friday and Saturday and Monday. I hate canceling events, but I didn’t want
to risk my health. Life has such an interesting way of switching things up when
you least expect it.
My dad summed it up best when Anna and I spoke to him after
the crash. We were obviously upset by the damage and stress we had created.
He said, “Are both of you okay? Like really okay?”
Yes, we answered.
“Well, that’s all that matters. You’re both
alive. Nothing else matters.”