Category: Car Accidents

Okay.  I know, I know.  I’ve feared your wrath for several weeks now.  Dear Scared Witless readers, forgive me, for I have sinned.  It has been nearly two months since my last blog post.  But in my defense, online holiday shopping, travel, binge eating, One Tree Hill reruns and a mad rush of projects at work kept me from conquering my fears at the end of the year.  I apologize and pledge to write more frequently this year – even if it means giving up my addiction to the cheesy, melodramatic CW soap opera I love to hate.  (Don’t judge me!)

I do, however, have exciting news.  This past weekend my friends and I finally got around to having that 14-lap go-kart race I mentioned way back in October.  My trusty Living Social coupon clutched in my sweaty fist, I reluctantly trudged into the giant indoor facility.  The smell of fresh tires did nothing to assuage my fears.  In fact, it reminded me of the nearly $2,000 I had to drop to get the transmission fixed on my car last month.  I think it may have even induced a little financial distress heartburn.  Continue reading


Ever had one?  You may have had one without even knowing it.  One website I found estimates that approximately 2.4 million adult Americans suffer from panic attacks.  I’m not sure how they measured this number, but I’m willing to bet it’s much higher.

Some people have recurring panic attacks due to stress.  Others have them in response to a scary event or a thought they can’t shake.  Still others think they are having a heart attack, a seizure, an allergic reaction or that they’re choking, and they are never able to identify that what they experienced was momentary, irrational, and due to anxiety, whether or not something scary at the time brought it on.

I’ve had panic attacks.  I’m not sure when I had the first, though maybe it was while being prepped for an invasive outpatient medical procedure about five years back.  The nurse left me alone and I couldn’t tell whether I was having an allergic reaction to something topical or if I was having a panic attack.  Here’s what happened.  My heart began beating VERY very fast.  So fast that I could barely breathe.  I thought I was going to die.  I writhed, touched my face, my chest, and tried to take deep breaths through my nose to slow my heartbeat down.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t call for a nurse in the position I was in and was too afraid if I screamed I would stop breathing, so I closed my eyes, continued breathing and prayed the nurse would come back in before I died.  A few minutes later, it was all over.  Lesson learned – whether I’m nervous or getting any kind of new medication before a procedure, I’m never letting the nurse leave again.

I realized that I was for sure having panic attacks a few years ago.  I had just found out that an old college friend had passed away alongside his girlfriend after their car was hit by a drunk driver.  It’s important to note that we weren’t close; hadn’t spoken since the end of my sophomore year.  He was two years ahead of me, and I would never have known him if I hadn’t tried out to be a writer for the campus sketch comedy TV show – and failed.  He was the director at the time, and I was encouraged to audition to be one of the show’s actresses instead.  Because of him, I ended up finding my college niche.  Thereafter I spent nights and weekends surrounded by a talented and devoted group of comedians and filmmakers, as well as enthusiastic crew members who just wanted to be a part of the family.  We were like a family, for sure.  It was not without drama; some didn’t always get along, me included.  It was stressful at times.  But I have memories to last a lifetime, songs that remind me of scenes I helped edit, quotes that still sneak up on me today as inside jokes…it was my college life, and this friend gave me that gift.  If it weren’t for NSTV, I’m not sure how my college experience would have panned out.  I may have floundered, trying out different student groups, but I’m not sure any of them would have been my home quite like NSTV.

Sam (that was his name) had moved out to L.A. just like I had.  I often thought about getting in touch with him, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure he’d remember me, and wasn’t sure we really had much in common anymore without the cloak of NSTV.  So I never found him on Facebook.  And a part of me regrets that, though it’s not like we’d have formed a new friendship or bond.  I’m just sad at how things turned out.

I attended his L.A. memorial service which definitely gave me some closure, but after that, I had these horrible images in my head that I couldn’t shake.  Did he see the car coming?  Did he try to swerve away?  Was he in pain?  Did he know he was going to die? 

For reasons I still can’t explain, I requested to be Sam’s friend on Facebook after his death.  I knew the request would never be accepted…I guess maybe I wanted him to know, wherever he was, that he was not forgotten and that his life, and the very brief moment I was in it, meant a lot to me.

The panic attacks started after that.  I’d be driving on the freeway, thinking about Sam or not thinking about anything at all, and there’d be this flash, like I’d blacked out for a second, and then I’d start sweating; my heart would beat fast.  Sometimes I’d think part of my face was going numb.  I’d get “dry mouth” and then I’d find it hard to swallow.  I’d become hyperaware.  One time, I actually called my husband Greg when I got home to tell him I couldn’t swallow and was looking at my throat to see if it was swelling.  The sad part is that I was pretty sure I was having a panic attack.  But I became irrational, lost in the swirling whirlpool of my fear, and I couldn’t fight my way out.  I watched TV till Greg came home and the feeling went away.  But every so often it returned, always while I was driving.  For a long time.

Sam’s death also made me afraid of car accidents.  I might have been afraid of them before, but the feeling intensified.  I don’t like going fast.  I like leaving space between me and the next guy.  Bluntly put, I don’t want to die in a car accident, and I don’t want to take anyone else’s life that way either.  And I’m afraid of it because I saw firsthand just a portion of the lives that Sam affected – at least a hundred or more – and how sad they were.  I know many accidents are just that – accidents.  No one’s fault; a split-second mistake.  Not intentional.  Just a thing that happened.  But how many lives that affects…the very thought makes me panic.

I haven’t had a panic attack while driving in a very long time.  I think talking to my parents (while using my Bluetooth, of course) helped distract me from my thoughts and enough time has passed that the images in my head of Sam’s accident have dwindled away. 

But for those of you who have suffered from panic attacks, know that you’re not alone and you’re not crazy.  It IS possible to talk yourself through it, and one of the best remedies I’ve ever heard is to wear a rubber band around your wrist.  The next time you feel a panic attack coming on, snap it.  Your brain will focus on the pain and you may just snap out of it.

I have NEVER liked going fast.

I was slow to tie my shoelaces, forced to take home the static-ridden preschool class record and practice along with the loathsome bunny song.  I was slow to ride my bike, preferring training wheels until I learned how to balance in my basement at age 8.  I was slow to do my own hair, keeping my personal hairstylist (Mom) in business until I was much too old to be doing so.  I was slow to date, not really quite getting the hang of that whole scene until college.   I was (and for the most part still am) slow to adopt trends in fashion and pop culture.  And when it comes to game nights with friends, if it’s not a word game, my brain is abnormally slow at adopting the concepts and rules, such that sometimes I’m forced to sit out rather than make my friends explain it all again and again.

I suppose I’m not slow at EVERYTHING.  I am quick-witted; a rapid typist; a speedy sprinter; a quick learner (at least when it comes to things other than calculus, reading maps, and the afore-mentioned complex games). 

But when it comes to being inside a vehicle, I’m a steadfast supporter of “slow and steady wins the race” or, alternatively, “slow and steady keeps on breathing.”  Whenever I notice my own speedometer creep over 70 on the freeway, I instantly lay off the gas, preferring granny-like speeds of 60 to 65.  And when I’m a passenger and I notice the driver changing lanes too swiftly or getting too close to the car ahead, I involuntarily put my right hand to the door, as if I can pull a hand-brake.  It’s my own cautionary thing.  It’s more for my comfort than anything else, though sometimes I think that when the driver peripherally notices my hand move, they slow down. 

Roller coasters are my arch nemesis.  Most of my friends love them.  They live for places like Magic Mountain and Disneyland, while my favorite theme park ever was called Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.  (I’m so hardcore, I know.)  During a high school band trip, I visited this park and was delighted to find that its focus was not on thrill rides, but on history, games, shows and other entertainment.  They had great shopping and a slow coal mine ride that took us down into a real cave for a tour.  I didn’t feel like a wuss for not riding rides.  I was just like everyone else exploring the fun and the focus wasn’t on me and my fears.  It was nice for a change.

For the record, I have been on one roller coaster before.  It was at another rip-roarin’ popular theme park, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  I was around 9 or 10 years old at the time, adorned with a pair of red plastic-framed glasses two sizes too big for my face.  I was average height and weight for my age.  And I was excited about the indoor ride I was about to go on.  Its name, I believe, was Blazing Fury.  I figured it was just a ride that moved you along in spurts past fun animatronic characters, Disney-style. 

When my dad, brother and I got on the metal ride, a single bar was pulled down that missed securing my body by at least 6 inches if not more.  But we didn’t worry.  This was just going to be like Small, Small World on wheels, but with Southern belles and fire. 

WRONG.  I don’t remember when we started going fast but it was up and down and all around as my body knocked around from side to side, back and forth.  I lost my glasses which meant I could barely see.  And I started crying and shaking.  When I got off that ride I could barely walk.  Luckily, the man sitting behind me had caught my glasses, otherwise I’d have spent the rest of my vacation squinting, or would have had to get new glasses in some po-dunk town like Sevierville, where my mom later ended up in a fly-swarmed clinic with chest pains.  (But that’s another story.) 

I will never forget that ride.  But it’s not just that old rickety ride, which by the looks of the website, has since been modernized.  It’s the log ride I went on during junior high with friends at Six Flags Great America.  As we sailed down the slope, I realized I couldn’t breathe.  I tried and tried and tried but it was like my lungs had both collapsed.  When we finally stopped moving, I gulped in air like I’d never taste it again.  It really scared me.

Here’s my feeling about speed:  if I need to close my eyes and squeeze my fists and keep my mouth shut so I can breathe, or alternatively let out a blood-curdling scream, I don’t generally find what I’m doing fun. 

Which is, I guess, why I am announcing my third feardom-fighting challenge.  Nope, it’s not a roller coaster.  I’m not ready to tackle that fear just yet, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

Instead, I’ll be fighting my fear of speed by competing against my friends in a 14-lap go-kart race on November 20th.  Okay, so it’s not a NASCAR experience.  But if you had been inside my body, feeling the sore arthritic finger pain that crippled me after I white-knuckled my way through my last go-kart riding experience, then you’d understand how big of a deal this is for me. 

So, wish me luck, and in the meantime, I’ll continue sharing my fears with you.  Because I think that in addition to helping myself, I’ve got a real chance to help others.  One of my friends recently told me she faced her fear of riding horses after reading my blog.  And I’ve looked at the search terms that have randomly led strangers to Scared Witless.  More than once I’ve seen the phrase “scared of ziplining.”  And whether those strangers went on to go ziplining or not, I hope I was able to make them feel a little less alone.

The Aftermath

I hate accidents.  And I hate that we all want to stare.  Not that I’m not guilty of staring myself, but I just don’t understand the sick pleasure we get from seeing crumpled cars and knowing someone was injured or worse.  That could be your mom, dad, sister or brother.  That could be you.

Maybe we stare because it’s a reminder of how short and precious life is.  Maybe after seeing something like that we go home and hug our kids, tell our spouses we love them and vow to be more careful when driving.  After what I saw and later almost did this weekend, I’m definitely going to be more careful, particularly on my own street.

We were just driving from one end of our neighborhood to the other after a friend’s barbecue.  We’d gotten to the intersection we live off of and turned the corner into unusually slow-moving traffic.  I remember hearing my husband say “Woah, what is this?” before the street opened up and we saw a small crowd of people in front of a car, with an unconscious person lying on the ground.  Greg immediately pulled the car over and started dialing 9-1-1. 

A part of me wanted to just drive by.  I could see someone at the scene on their cell phone.  I wanted to forget what I’d seen.  But what I saw wasn’t as bad as what I heard.  Someone was in agony.  Either the driver of the car who hit the pedestrian or a loved one of the person down was sobbing and screaming “Oh my G-d!  Call 9-1-1!  Oh no!”  But it wasn’t the words that freaked me out.  It was the panicked tone.  The utter helplessness and distress. 

My heart was breaking and I knew I could do nothing but wait for Greg to get through on 9-1-1 – side note:  I get that not every emergency can be handled at once, and I understand that sometimes too many people are calling 9-1-1 for the same emergency, but doesn’t it seem wrong that you can get told from 9-1-1 “all operators are busy”??? 

Once the call went through we decided to get out of the road and go home.  Before we made it to our front door, we heard the sirens, but the damage was already done.  I was spooked and shaking and all I wanted to know, all I still want to know is that that person is okay.  But without a lot more investigative work (trust me, I already tried to find a news article and came up short, though it gives me some hope this accident didn’t turn up on the L.A. Times Labor Day Traffic Fatalities List), I’m sure I’ll never find out and I’m really kind of haunted by that.  I guess I’m glad I didn’t see the accident actually happen, but we were seconds from it.  And all I can think of are the phone calls the victim’s family and friends got.  The horrific guilt of the driver, who may not have even been at fault if the pedestrian ran across the street, as often happens in our neighborhood.  How many lives are affected by split-second decisions.

I could have been that driver this morning.  At the very same intersection, I inched forward at a red light, waiting to turn right.  No traffic from my left, so I let off the gas to turn.  Without checking right.  Where two people on bicycles were crossing inches in front of me.  

I slammed on the break but the first bicyclist screamed at me in anger and fear and I 100% deserved it.  I didn’t touch either biker through some miracle, and if I had, it may have done no more damage than to their bikes.  But I would have had to live with that.  My legs shook as I drove away.  I can’t believe I didn’t look back right.  I shouldn’t have been out in the crosswalk with my car.  I came this close to possibly injuring two people.  I’m never ever EVER doing that again.  I have no defense.  Though there is almost never someone crossing the street there when I drive to work around 7 am, it’s no excuse.  And to those people I almost hit, I am so incredibly sorry and ashamed.

There was a death on my street a year or two ago.  Some guy sped down our street in the middle of the night, likely drunk, and ended his life by crashing into several parked cars and a tree.  His car was damaged so badly that the next morning it was unidentifiable as a vehicle.  I knew instantly when I saw all the cops and the blocked off street that someone had died.  You come to learn that they don’t usually block off entire streets and investigate for hours afterwards unless there was a fatality.  The cross nailed to the tree this man hit is a constant reminder that someone’s final moments were on the street where I walk my dog, twice every day.

My street scares me sometimes.

And on that note, be extra-careful drivers, but also be aware and respectful as a pedestrian.  If you know you’re walking past blind driveways, peek out and listen before crossing in front of them – I’ve almost been hit that way before.  Don’t run out in the middle of the street at night because chances are that your clothes are dark and no one will see you.  Use crosswalks whenever possible, and even so, look around and be sure the drivers notice you.  We’ve all had moments as drivers where we’ve been so lost in thought we’ve missed exits, red lights and even people in our path.  So it’s just as important to be aware and alert when driving as it is when walking. 

Please everyone, stay safe.