I heard the helicopter going full throttle. This was a familiar sound to me as a geologist who works in remote locations.
We were about to take off and I was lying on a stretcher. A paramedic told me, “You’re going to the emergency room and a lot of people are going to be working on you.”
Then everything faded to black.
When I awoke I was on a bed being wheeled away. A crowd of people hovered over me as I moved down the hallway. “Where’s my husband?” was all I could say in my foggy state. When they asked for my name, I even thought about whether I should affix or completely replace my last name with that of my new husband’s. I stuck to my maiden name.
The nurses continued to ask me questions but my every third reply was, “Where’s my husband?” I had no idea what happened to him and I was getting worried.
Wait, what even happened to me?
Finally one of the nurses said, “He’s at Ridgecrest and he’s fine.” I fell asleep.
“Do you have any allergies?” They continued to ask me more questions just to cover all the things to which I could be allergic, like latex or bananas. It was quite hilarious to me, even in my state. I said, “You guys are so funny.” They laughed, and I fell asleep again.
They woke me up to sign some consent forms on a clipboard. They told me they were going to clean up the wounds on my left arm, which were down to the bone around my elbow. Though I did not feel any pain from my body, my mind was sort of there, my head a bit dizzy. The anaesthesiologist explained what he was going to do for this surgery. I signed the consent forms haphazardly then I was out again.
Then I was lying down, about to enter an MRI machine. I remembered only about a minute of it, then nothing again. MRI scans typically take 30 minutes and I had at least five other X-rays and CT scans that night.
I woke up in a hospital room. A Middle Eastern doctor in his 60s with round, dark brown wide frame glasses came to my bedside.
“You broke your neck, honey,” he told me.
I was still in a haze. I saw my aunt and uncle enter the room… we were supposed to see them that night. The neurosurgeon and my aunt discussed the details of my injury. I could hear parts of their conversation, slipping in and out of consciousness. He talked about a device called a “halo brace” that they would put on me as soon as the next morning. He asked me to wiggle my fingers and toes.
Never in my life did I want them to move so much, fearing that I had become paralyzed as a result of breaking my neck.
But THANK GOD they moved. Okay, I’m not paralyzed. I’m going to have a normal life again, I thought. Everything’s going to be okay.
I asked my aunt, “Tita Lolit, is this a dream?” I really thought it was. She looked at me with great sadness in her eyes and replied, “I’m sorry, anak (my child)… unfortunately, it is not…”
Well, it was worth a try.
I fell asleep again. When I woke up, my husband was by my side. It was so great to see him. My aunt and uncle drove an hour and a half to Ridgecrest to pick him up, and then an hour and a half back again to my hospital in Lancaster, California. I giggled as I noticed him wearing a blue nurse’s scrub as a top with his jeans. This was at 3:30 am on April 27th, 2015.
My husband remembered the entire accident. Leaving the day after our wedding from Toronto, Canada, we were on the eighth day of our honeymoon in the US. As geologists who love hiking and camping, we had planned a 19-day road trip across the US to discover the picturesque national parks.
We had left Death Valley National Park in California on April 26th at 2:30 pm. We were to drive five hours towards Rowland Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles, to spend the night with my aunt’s family and then carry on with the rest of our trip. We were going to meet them at a restaurant, just in time for dinner.
My husband drove for about an hour. I voiced my guilt for being such a useless passenger – he had driven ninety percent of our trip, nearly two-thirds of the continental US! Although he didn’t mind and claimed that I was “the best co-pilot ever,” I insisted on taking the wheel and cruised through the flat, desert plains of the Panamint Valley.
After an uneventful hour of driving, I started feeling tired. My husband offered to switch with me immediately while we passed the small town of Ridgecrest.
But no. I wanted to power through and stop at the very next town, which was in a measly ten miles. I left Ridgecrest and turned left on Route 195 to get on the 395.
Then that was it.
I suddenly awoke to the sound of my husband telling me to go back to my lane. I was in the opposite lane, trying to pass a minivan, when a pick-up truck started coming right at me. Out of panic, I abruptly returned to my lane, but had to turn the wheel back to the left to stay on the road. Before I knew it, we were swerving left and right and lost all control.
Our car reached the edge of the other side of the road and I screamed as we forcefully hit the roadbed. Just after our car quickly turned sideways from the impact, I blacked out. My husband was still conscious.
Our car rolled over at least three times and ended up on its roof. The people from the minivan and pick-up truck stopped to help us. They dialled 911 at 4:13 pm. The cause of the accident? Whether I zoned out for a few seconds with my eyes wide open or fully fell asleep on the wheel, I still don’t know.
I looked through some YouTube videos of how this may have looked like. Play this video at around 0:56. I suppose it was like that but the car ended up pretty far from the road – about 100 yards according to the tow truck company.
The accident report I received months later also had a diagram of our path and the car parts scattered all over the road.
In my memory, there were big rock walls on either side of the road (maybe it was all those days of driving through Utah). But it was actually nothing but desert:
My husband tried to extricate me from the car, but the onlookers advised against it as both of us might have had some broken bones. Although my husband said that I was still conscious, constantly complaining about the pain in my left arm, I don’t remember anything from this part of the accident. I’m glad I don’t.
The land ambulance arrived and took care of my husband, but I had to be evacuated by helicopter to the trauma hospital in Lancaster some 80 miles away as my injuries seemed more severe.
At Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, emergency staff performed a full examination of my husband. Except for a mild concussion and small pulmonary contusions, he was completely fine.
I, on the other hand, suffered significant injuries. I fractured the distal ulna and fifth metacarpal on my left arm, and more seriously, the C5, C6, and C7 vertebrae in my neck with severe damage to the surrounding ligaments. Usually people become quadriplegic (paralysis resulting in partial or total loss of all four limbs and torso) if there is also damage to the spinal cord in this area.
Luckily for me there was absolutely none… God was definitely watching over us that day.
I spent that night in bed in a neck brace called a Miami J collar.
Since then, I would spend every waking moment, 24/7, in some sort of neck brace to stabilize my fractured neck as it healed.