Unexpected

I thought 2010 was all about taking the big step in putting myself out there. I’ve spent the past couple of years getting myself ready for it, now is the time to go for it. Melbourne Comedy Festival was the big one I was focused on. Things were in motion. Things were happening. All was going according to plan. That is, until a little over two weeks ago.

Since that Thursday evening, things have turned so far off-track that a couple of days ago I finally made the decision to cancel the Comedy Festival Show – in essence, cancelling my comedy plans for the remainder of the year to instead focus on my recovery and the everything that has become ‘life after the accident.’ I won’t go into details right now on the actual symptoms, it’s far too boring and easy to devolve into woeful self-indulgent whinging, but suffice to say that things have changed. A lot.

So, seeing as 2010 has already offered me a massive and quite dramatic lesson in giving up expectations (ironic, given that my comedy festival show was all about the unexpected aspects of life, thereby giving me a very undeserved superiority complex in terms of understanding of these matters), I have resolved that there is only way to break my way out of this hell-hole of self-pity: and that is, to put pen to paper. Or finger to keyboard. Whatever. The point is, I am in dire need of a flotation device right now and I’ve realised that this is mine: to write, write, write.

Since the accident, I have had a million things going through my mind – I don’t know if this is because of the medications, or whether it’s just my brain trying to distract me from the discomfort in my body, or post-traumatic stress from the accident, or the fog of sleep deprivation from poor bubba boy being so unsettled at nights since the crash, or possibly just a combination of all of these, mixing together like the various combinations of meds they’ve had me on for the past two and a half weeks – but what it comes down to is this. I cannot, simply cannot write anything else until I firstly get the entire accident business out of my head and onto the page. It just has to happen. So here it is.

Thursday the 21st January was a great day. I’d just done my first of a six-day contract at the Gallery of Modern Art doing their kids tours, and they’d gone better than I’d hoped. I had arrived home to my sister Ang’s place (with whom were were staying for part of our Brissie stint) and was in a great mood. My husband was on his way home from picking up the older two kids from a holiday program, Ang and I had reconnected with a massive D&M while celebrating our very first outing with both of our babies in their respective prams, it was a beautiful evening. In essence, the calm before the storm.

On a whim – and ironically, for the first time EVER – I decided that tonight I would try to get Cass to sleep the easy way and take him for a little evening drive. And thus the nightmare began.

With him happily gurgling in his capsule, I made my way down to the end of my sister’s street. I was pretty sure he’d be out to it in about ten minutes. We approached the major intersection on Mains Road. The light was green. I was going straight ahead. It all seemed simple. Then life changed.

Both the paramedics and police asked me if I remembered the accident happening and I replied “yes” at the time, but when I look back on it now I honestly feel like I either blacked out or have blocked it out, because my memory is like this: one second I’m driving happily along, the next seconds are just a series of thoughts.

What’s that sound?

Why is the horn going off?

Why won’t it stop?

Oh my knee hurts.

I can smell smoke.

My tongue stings.

There’s a red car smashed into the front of my car.

Why won’t the horn stop?

There’s steam coming out of the engine.

There’s an airbag in front of me.

Oh my God I’m in a car crash.

Can I move?

How bad is this?

Oh God am I going to die?

Open the door.

Can I open the door?

What is that? What?

(The CD player suddenly kicks in. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” will never quite feel the same methinks).

Get out of the car.

My back, my back, my back.

The other driver is standing there, should I say something?

He does not look good, is he okay?

Oh my God. CASSIDY.

Oh please, oh please, oh please.

What am I going to find?

Oh please, oh please.

Get round to his door.

Look in, you can see him.

He’s screaming.

That’s a good thing, that’s a good thing. He’s alive.

Get him out.

Shhhhhhh.

Pick him up.

Shhhhhh.

It’s okay, it’s okay.

He’s settling down, that’s good, that’s a good sign.

Oh please God, please God.

He’s settling, he’s settling.

What do I do?

My back.

My baby.

Help me. Help me. Help me.

At some point I realise I am actually saying those exact words out loud “Help me, help me, help me” and looking around for someone – anyone – to help. How exactly, I don’t know, but just to be with me. So I’m not standing here in the middle of this intersection with an old guy looking like he’s having a heart attack and both our cars smashed together with my back feeling like it’s permanently crooked and my baby in my arms.

I make eye contact with people in their cars, stopped, watching, looking, dazed, but nobody moving a muscle.

“Help me! Help me! Help me! Please!” But they just watch. Why will nobody help me?

After what feels like forever – this is the first of a number of fuzzy time sequences to follow in the coming weeks – a middle aged man comes running from a neighbouring house. “Are you okay? What can I do?”

I look at him, so grateful, but so confused. All I can say is “Please.” “Please, please, please…”

“Do you want me to take the baby?” he offers.

“No.” The pain of not holding my baby right now seems far worse than that of clinging on to him, I don’t want to let him go. Ever. “Please, please,” I say, “can you call somebody? The ambulance….?”

“My wife’s onto that love,” he says, pointing to a lady standing over on the corner with a phone to her ear. “Just come on over here.” He and a young Asian couple who have since appeared, help me off the street and onto the grass on the side of the road.

“Is there anybody you need us to call?”

“My husband. Please, I need to call my husband.” The young guy offers me his phone.

“What’s his number?” he says.

I panic. “I can’t remember his number. What is it?” I dial his number twelve times a day. Where is it? Why can’t I remember? What’s happened to my brain? Am I brain damaged? What does this mean?

“You’re in shock, love,” says the older man. “It’s okay, the ambulance is coming.”

I finally remember the number and we call. No answer. The young guy keeps trying but still no answer. “My sister just lives around the corner,” I say, “but I don’t know her number. It’s on my phone but my phone is in the car.”

“I’ll go get it,” says somebody.

“Oh my back hurts so much,” I say. Somebody tries to pat me, then stops realising I guess that they might hurt me: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the pain will get worse.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Great.”

Then – something happens, which, while adding insult to injury at the time, in some ways does provide my brain with at least some temporary comic relief – a freaking GREENANT BITES ME ON THE BUTT.

Yes. Uh-huh. That’s right.

I try to stand up, my helpers trying to support me but at the same time trying to tell me to sit back down. Perhaps they think that in my post-shock state I am about to embark on some imprudent mission to prove my physical prowess.

“Don’t get up, you need to sit.”

“But it hurts.”

“I know, the ambulance are here now.”

“No, no, no, I want to move.”

“Just wait, love, they’re almost here.”

“I’m getting bitten.”

“Bitten?”

“Greenants are biting me and I want them to stop!!!”

 Silence.

“We’ll get you a chair.”

What happens next is chaos. At least, in my mind. In no particular order, the ambulance arrive, assess me, somebody finds my phone, I call my sister who comes running down with the pram only to be utterly shocked by the seriousness of things. This isn’t a prang, it’s a full head-on collision. Both cars are almost certainly written off, the other guy is lying down next to his car, there are police, ambos and fire dudes everywhere, traffic is to a halt, I am now a part of the reasons for road rage everywhere, no doubt one of ‘those incidents’ on the radio traffic reports.

As the lovely older wife of the couple helping me out offers again to hold the baby any time I need and I finally relent, a car behind her beeps the driver in front – at which point, said uber-lovely grandmother turns round and without beating an eyelid shouts out “HAVE SOME PATIENCE YOU BLOODY PRICK!” then continues unphased to coo and cuddle Cassidy.

Ang sees me just as the paramedics are locking me in a hard neck-brace, I don’t realise it yet but my eyes are fully bloodshot and I’m looking…well, you know, like one of the ugly step-sisters had Cinderella finally gone all loco on her ass. Ang starts crying. She tells me later that she thought by the phone call – as did Tim once I finally got through to him – that it was just a little fender bender. In my defence, when I told her on the phone that “I’m fine, Cassidy’s fine,” I wasn’t trying to downplay things, it was really just that by “fine” I meant “not dead.”

It takes two different paramedics to check Cassidy out and give him the thumbs up until I am satisfied and just calm the heck down. “Look at him,” says one, as my little dude clambers all over Angie, smiling and eyeing everything with the fascination of just any other sight to see in this amazing world, “there is no WAY he could possibly have a head injury.”

They cart me onto the stretcher and Ang tells me she’ll take Cass home, meet Tim and the kids there and then meet us at the hospital. She doesn’t want to leave me, but I am so much happier knowing that she is with Cass, the rest is details.

They do the stretcher thing. The cart into the ambulance thing. It’s bumpy.

“How would you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten?”

“With ten being childbirth?”

He laughs. “If you like.”

“Well, I’d say a four.”

He laughs again. “Well, childbirth is something I cannot even possibly imagine. So you’re saying you are in a lot of pain then?”

I pause. “Yes.”

He gives me a weird inhaler thing to take the edge off the pain, but I’m getting frustrated. I don’t know if the shock’s wearing off or whatever, but I’m starting to feel things more now. “If you really want to give it a kick we can give you some morphine.” I think about it. Morphine. Isn’t that what gave that lady all those trippy visions in “Soft Fruit”? How can I even remember the name of an abstract Aussie movie right now? I couldn’t even remember my own husband’s phone number?

“Okay.”

I am disappointed. No hallucinations, nothing fun, it just makes me feel like my face has become contorted into a tight ugliness, like one of those old people making funny faces on black and white birthday cards. We finally get to the hospital, where I am immediately wheeled in.

The paramedics wait at my bedside for the doctor to be briefed and while they do so, proceed to have a very passionate yet whispered (evidently not quietly enough) moaning session about how they’d just been about to knock off work when they got called to this accident. As I’m lying there, neckbraced up, morphined up, stretchered up and no idea what the damage is actually gonna be, I can’t quite work out whether I should – or even can – respond to that. “Gee, so sorry to have interrupted your afternoon. Hope it didn’t, I don’t know, RUIN YOUR ENTIRE DAY!!!”

The doctor arrives. Tim and Ang arrive. What follows is a series of tests, x-rays (the only other time aside from being in the actual car that I seriously freak out about how bad this could be – I can’t stop thinking about a clip on PA hospital or one of those shows about a chick who stuffed a disc in her spine in a car accident and had to have it fused or something) and chit chat with my cheer squad, reliving the nightmare. It plays like a loop in my head. I can’t stop it.

The horn.

The airbag.

Cassidy.

The results are back quickly – no obvious breakages, which is awesome. A couple of my ribs are very sore and it hurts to breathe on my left side; the doctor says they couldn’t get a clear image of it but there’s no point bothering with it as even if it was broken it wouldn’t change the treatment.

“Considering the nature of the accident and ones I’ve seen similar, I’d say you are very, very lucky.”

He and the other doctor have a very impassioned discussion about the merits of airbags, then proceed to debate how to treat my seatbelt burn; I’ve seen it at a glance, Ang tells me later it was bleeding pretty badly and everybody keeps talking about it like a major concern but it honestly feels like nothing compared to the pain in my back. They dress the wound, give me some more meds and talk about me staying the night so they can monitor things and offer more pain relief if I need it.

Tim goes home to the kids and Ang comes with me into the new room: just as I’m settled in, a couple of curtained-off sections away we hear what can only be described as Shrek puking his guts out, coughing violently between every heave. This goes on for a solid two minutes. I look at Ang and say: “I don’t think I want to stay here after all.” We laugh and laugh and the laughter hurts just as much as I need it.

With a warning that whiplash symptoms often take a while to rear their ugly heads, I am discharged the next morning.

I remember at Woodford Folk Festival in the admin office, they had a sign up saying “Sometimes, when you think things are finished, they are really just beginning.” I smiled at it. I loved it. I thought I knew what it meant. And who knows, maybe I did.

But that morning, as I walked out of the hospital, it meant something different.

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8 Comments

  1. Sarah
    February 8, 2010
    Reply

    Jen, this is just so unbelievable…I cried reading it.
    I was just talking your show up to someone the other night saying how excited I was for Comedy Festival and to be seeing you perform! This is the hugest disappointment, but thank God you’re ok and that Cassidy is too. I’m so grateful you’re still with us!

    Minus the horrific car crash, the exact same thing happened to me 5 days before my Melbourne Fringe show last year. I was packing up our props to go do our trial show, we were 5 minutes from walking out the door. And I sneezed. Not a huge sneeze, just a normal sneeze, and I literally crippled myself. I went down like a tonne of bricks and couldn’t walk. The sneeze threw my back out that badly.

    The worst bit was, because I didn’t think a “sneeze” could possibly warrant calling an ambulance (especially calling them away from people like you) I lay on the living room floor for the next 12 hours, moaning and paralysed… By the time 6am rolled around I was in 10 times as much pain, still hadn’t moved from the living room floor, and knew at some stage I’d have to go to the bathroom, so finally called Nurses Hotline, who in turn told me sneezes can cause horrific back injuries, and I needed to immediately call the ambulance.

    Called the Ambos, they came right away, saw me on the living room floor and said I’d have to walk myself over to their little wheelie bed. I laughed and told them I hadn’t been able to walk or even roll over since it happened and “couldn’t you use one of those boards they slide under people with spinal injuries on TV?”, so they did.

    They asked what the pain was on a scale of 1-10 and because I’ve never had a baby, I said 10. Good God. I can’t believe you said 4 because childbirth was a 10…my pain was so excrutiating, I figured I was all prepared!! They gave me the same pretty green whistle to suck on like you got, and it did nothing. NOTHING. Got to hospital and tried about 2 other drugs before a male nurse offered me liquid morphine mixed with apple juice which finally did the trick.

    I then began freaking out about the show. We opened in 5 days, our trial show had been cancelled, I wouldn’t be able to rehearse again before opening night…all these things going through my head…then a nurse came in and said “I did exactly what you did, and I couldn’t walk for 3 months”. 3 MONTHS. The doctor came in and said there would be no way on earth that I’d be walking in the next week possible two weeks, and would have to cancel the show altogether.

    That night I was finally about to be discharged, then upon moving, vomited my guts up from all the meds and fainted. Went home, stayed in bed for 3 days, and miraculously, out of nowhere, began walking. It hurt like hell and my hip pointed in a completely different direction no matter how hard I tried to straighten up. I went and saw an osteo who worked wonders on me every two days, and despite having to cancel the first week of shows, we managed to go on the following week.

    I am so so so so heartbroken that this has happened to you, Jen. Just know that your brilliant show will keep, and it will be brilliant no matter when it’s performed. And when it opens, whether it’s next year, or 10 years from now, I’ll be there to watch, and cannot wait. In the meantime, will keep telling everyone what a fabulous performer they missed out on. Comedy Festival won’t be the same without you.

    x

  2. mona
    February 21, 2010
    Reply

    I’m so sorry to hear about the accident and your husband’s health problems too… I hope you guys are doing a bit better now!

    My best,

    Mona

  3. June 5, 2010
    Reply

    […] all I know is that it gives me such incredible joy to do it, it has been such an incredible part of my healing process this year and to try to hide it away from everybody is just not being honest about where or more importantly […]

  4. […] from the foggy haze that has been the start of this year. Thank heavens. We really have had one trauma after another. And now I’m finally ready to start getting back on the damn horse and kicking […]

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