By Paige Nesbitt
From what I hear, 15 years ago today I should have died. I was not doing anything capricious or stupid. I had not been drinking or taking anything that could have altered my judgment. It was an accident.
Far more powerful than the fact that the accident could have killed me is the fact that it gave everyone involved the opportunity to see how powerful love, faith and selflessness can be.
On the freeway on my way home from the airport, my front-right tire blew out. That was the specific moment everything in life changed.
A witness later told police I was in the right lane and the pull from running on one tire shot me quickly to the median divider. He had noticed me leaving the airport the same time as he and recognized my car as my tire blew out and my driving became erratic. He called 911 and reported I was slumped over, likely unconscious from my head hitting the window as my car jolted when the tire popped.
My car then b-lined to the right lane and scraped against the guard rail until my car and the rail built enough friction that my car flipped over the guard rail. My car flipped a couple of times and slid down the embankment off the freeway into a tree.
That witness/caller pulled over on the freeway and remained on the shoulder until the firemen and police arrived. He did not want to give his name and become embroiled in any legal proceedings that may have ensued, so I don’t know who he is.
Starting 15 years ago today, that witness/caller saved my life.
Timing has never been my forte, but I was certainly in the right place. LAFD Fire Station #37 was less than half a mile away. B Company was on duty that morning and from what I have heard, their fire engine was the first vehicle to arrive. That engine did not have the Jaws of Life on it.
They decided not to wait for the Jaws of Life on the fire truck. Instead they used a hacksaw to cut windshield pillars and peeled the roof back to free me from the car.
They decided to bag me to ensure I continued breathing. The minute they bagged me and started manually providing forced ventilation was the minute I stopped breathing on my own. Their speed prevented any brain death due to oxygen deprivation.
Starting 15 years ago today, B Company at LAFD Fire Station #37 saved my life.
The ambulance rushed me to UCLA Hospital about 1.75 miles away. When my mother received the call from the hospital, I was in the CT scan. From what they could see, I had glass embedded in my left hand and serious head trauma, but did not have any other injuries.
My mother knew about UCLA Neurosurgery’s unprecedented study in treating traumatic brain injury (TBI). Dr. Eleanore Meyer is and was our family’s doctor. Dr. Meyer came to the hospital immediately to be onsite as my mother worked to contact the doctor who could enlist me as a test patient in that study.
Being in the study meant I had at least six doctors on the UCLA study caring for me 24/7 instead of a more limited care regimen.
Over the next several weeks, the doctors at UCLA Neurosurgery tried new ways to treat my TBI. For the first two weeks, I was in a coma.
By the third day after the accident, I had contracted pneumonia. This compounded everything the doctors had to do to keep me alive and likely to recover.
On September 2, I awakened. Over the next three weeks, I had to relearn everything; walking, talking, brushing my teeth, etc.
Everyone continued working on me. On September 25, the hospital discharged me for rehabilitation at home.
Starting 15 years ago today, Dr. Meyer, my mother and UCLA Neurosurgery saved my life.
I needed several naps each day those first weeks home. Every time I lay down, I convinced myself that when I awoke, I would shake my head and thank God this was just a dream.
Each time I awoke with a broken heart. I was still in bed with healing scars on my hand, trachea and abdomen. Numerous therapists had to work with me consistently to rebuild my mental and physical faculties including my motor skills, speech and memory. I felt broken and burdensome.
Once home, I was never alone for longer than 20 minutes before one of my friends came over to take me to coffee or for frozen yogurt. To make me laugh and make me feel whole and normal.
Everyone working in concert, doing much more than they had to do, saved my life. All of them provided something no one else could have given and they went out of their way to do so. Each of them strengthened me to do what I needed to complete my recovery. For every day in the last 15 years, I thank them – and I recognize just how much each one of us can do when we care enough to act with love, faith and selflessness.
Paige Nesbitt is a Los Angeles native, an author and a blogger. Her blog www.martinirescuesquad.com is based on her manuscript, Martini Rescue Squad, A Peer Expert's Guide to Being a Single Woman in Her Twenties or Thirties and Loving It. Nesbitt has a Bachelor’s in Theater and French from Vanderbilt University and an MBA in Finance from Pepperdine University.