Updated: Jan 23
The green light and green turn arrow flash on, pointing me west and I ease into the intersection. In my peripheral vision I see the future. Then I feel the dread. I know what’s coming and there is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can prevent it.
I whisper a prayer. Be with me, God.
Last Wednesday, I had wrapped up a breakfast meeting with a colleague (border town omelet with English muffin for her, scrambled eggs and crispy bacon for me) and was pointed north on 4th Street, preparing to turn onto Fort Riley Boulevard.
As I come to, I smell smoke and hear voices. A pair of Good Samaritans who saw it happen, are talking to me. The woman asks if I’m OK and other specific questions which lead me to believe she has some experience in these types of situations. A man’s voice says he has called 911. I cannot see them because my glasses were thrown off and I’m surrounded by deployed side airbags.
Over the Bluetooth hands-free, the voice of an emergency dispatcher is asking all the right things. I’m still a bit woozy, but my new best friend is helping decipher my ramblings and she shares vital info with the dispatcher. Within seconds, police and firefighters arrive.
The need to reach my wife now consumes me. She’s a half-hour out of town, bound for Kansas City. Immobilized by the seatbelt and airbags, I can’t reach my phone, which is on the driver’s side floor. She’ll later report I was still in shock when I called. My wits are inching back and a sliver of peace of mind gains purchase, knowing she’s headed back to me.
Driver’s side door immovable, I swim through the passenger’s side airbag and tumble out. A firefighter helps me to the curb. He sees what I see – no visible injuries, and that I’m pretty shook up. He tells me an ambulance is on the way. No need, really, I respond. He’s done this a time or two and sees what I don’t. Just because there are no visible injuries, it’s what you can’t see that could prove problematic.
Through the rain, I see pieces of what used to be my car strewn through the intersection like so much vehicular detritus. The car is pointing east, 270 violent degrees away from my intent.
The firefighter speaks into the mic strapped to his chest and guides the ambulance off Fort Riley Boulevard, onto 4th Street, at the southwest corner of the Manhattan Conference Center. I was there just last week, facilitating Q & A for the Lieutenant Governor at the Flint Hills Regional Leaders Conference. Odd, the things you think about in an emergency.
EMTs invite me into the ambulance, check me out. Police officer shows up and does his job. Can’t get to my wallet to show him my driver’s license. Blood pressure cuff on my right arm. Pulse oximeter clipped to my left index finger. No hurry, he says, knowing EMT work trumps accident paperwork.
Several times, someone asks how I’m feeling. A little stiff and sore on the left side of my neck and through my left shoulder. Their response confirms my dread. Pain is to be expected when you are T-boned by a 4-ton box truck running a red light at 40 miles per hour.
My wife arrives and we begin the aftermath process. Cancel appointments, call loved ones, insurance, body shop. Fear and concern in his voice when my son calls. Once secure in the knowledge that his old man is all right, the conversation switches to Bill Self’s ill-timed timeout. My son’s a Jayhawk and we have differing perspectives. My daughter-in-law, a physician, offers all manner of experience-based good advice.
I work up the family tree and call my 87-year-old mother, in assisted living in Tennessee. All good Mom, not to worry. Be there in the spring. We’ll lock down some dates this weekend.
Gradually, slowly, inevitably, the fear is waning, displaced in roughly equal measure by gratitude. For friends with offers of food, errand-running, or just to let me know they’re at my service, if needed.
For good-hearted motorists who saw what I felt, got out of their vehicles and ran toward the danger to help. For first responders. Compassionate, trained professionals who have purposefully chosen a selfless call to duty, service to their fellow man and their community.
My hands are trembling, my eyes are misty, and my heart is full as I write this column and remember it all.