Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Survived A Drunk Driver in 1991, In Honor of Sheena Blair

I am writing this to honor Sheena Blair, a young life taken far too soon by a drunk driver. I don't know why some of us survive this horror and some don't. I just think life is flat out unfair. This Saturday August 27th, there will be a DUI prevention summit at Jackson Hall, located at 314  MLK Way in Tacoma from 10a.m. to 3p.m. hosted by Frank Blair among others.

On September 19, 1991, I headed down Interstate 5 on my way to a seminar at The Evergreen State College where I was working on my Master In Teaching degree. I was twenty-six years old. My advisor and I had just had a conference with a teacher in The University Place school district and had made the decision to move me to a different location becase she was quite racist. We bravely but calmly confronted her about her racism, and she cried and told us she could not be racist as she was the daughter of an oil tycoon and therefore well-traveled. Well, that convinced us that she was racist for certain.

It was sunny and dry that day. It was a true typical Pacific Northwest September day. I was listening to a tape in my Honda's stereo. It was a tape of the Black Crowes. I was so close to the campus when my life took a change forever. I saw a long line of red tailights ahead of me and everyone was slowing down. I had to slow down, but I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a large truck fish tailing and heading right for me. I was trapped. I could not move to either the absent shoulder nor the left lane as traffic was moving quickly. I panicked. I thought I was going to die. Mr. Walsh, the drunk driver, hit me going about fifty miles an hour fish tailing. He was driving a 1979 Ford pick-up loaded with firewood.

He hit the right rear bumper very hard, slammed me into the next lane and I was swiped on the driver's side by a semi-truck. I continued in a forward motion slamming head into a Subaru. The next thing I remember is a voice outside my window. "I am nurse! Don't move! You have been hit very, very, very hard!" I tried to get my door open but the car was too smashed on the driver's side. I panicked. I just wanted to get out the car. The nurse pleaded with me to stay in the car in case of internal injuries. People were removing firewood from my car. A piece of firewood had smashed into my windshield and yet it managed not to smash my head to bits. I undid my seatbelt and crawled over the stick shift and got out of the driver's side. Everything after that became quite odd. I was very thirsty.

The pile up of cars Mr. Walsh caused was quite significant in number. I was the most serious victim, and yet I was wandering around on the freeway in a state of total shock. At one point, I refused medical care stating I had to get to my seminar. Later, I was placed in a police car with Mr. Walsh until he explained I was the victim, not the DUI driver. I asked the tow truck driver to drop me off so I could go to my seminar. He agreed to do that. So that is what I did. In a state of total shock I arrived at my seminar and told my classmates I had been hit by a drunk driver. "Why are you here then, Alison?" someone asked. "I had to come to seminar," I said. It was promptly detemined I was in a state of shock due to the complete lack of color in my face and my deep need for water.

Three of my classmates took me the emergency room. I was turned away from the first one for not having the right insurance. That hospital knew about the accident as it had made the news, but still, I was told to go to another ER. In the x-ray room the technician hit on me. He asked me what I do in my spare time. I told him that normally I moved my head side to side which I could no longer do. The following day was the worst. I was in so much pain I thought I might die. I had contusions on my chest from the seatbelt. I could not turn my head. When it was over, I had ten thousand dollars in medical bills for therapy to restore my neck to a somewhat normal condition. I had to use my own liability insurance to cover all damages as Mr. Walsh was both unlicensed and uninsured. In fact, the title to the truck was not even in his name.

Mr. Walsh hugged me on the freeway that day. He smelled like a whiskey glass. The scent of whiskey came from his entire body. It was disgusting. It was even more disgusting as I had just ended a relationship with a man who was a terrible alcoholic. I thought God might be punishing me, but that was not the case. America is just littered with drinking problems and drunk drivers and it just doesn't seem to be improving that much.

I honestly did not know what happened during the accident. A few days later in a dream I flew over the scene and saw it happening from above in my mind. I later matched my dream to the police report. It freaked me out that my brain knew what happened in an unconcious state, but I did not know what had happened until I had a dream and read the police report. It's very odd how the human brain works.

I remember one of my classmates telling the entire seminar the reason I had lived was that I was an "angel." No, that is not why I lived. I am not an angel. I was just lucky. Sheena Blair was not lucky. Neither is her family to have lost such a beautiful young woman to such a tragic event. I think Sheena was an angel because the activism of her parents has led to significant changes in DUI laws. All I did was go to a MADD meeting and tell the entire room off. "I don't care if you drink until your liver fails you," I said, "but don't you EVER get into your car drunk and drive again." A man came up to me and said, "You made me really mad saying that." I said, "Well so what. Be mad then." I walked away. That was far from angelic. I was outraged. When I feel my crunchy scar tissue on my shoulderblades to this day, I am not so much angry as wondering why I am still alive. I am not sure I will ever have an answer to that question. -Alison Whiteman


Madge said...

So many people I know of with MS showed no symptoms until there was an accident, or they were hurt in some way to irritate it up. Did you have MS symptoms prior?

Tacoma Gawker said...

Madge, I have displayed symptoms since the age of fourteen. I had to be taken home from church camp due to ongoing falling. I had tests for a brain tumor which came back clear. MRI brain scans started in the 80s but by that time, the medical profession had convinced me it was all in my head. It turns out that actually, they were right. It IS all over my head!