Read an Excerpt
Terror Highway 193A GUIDE FOR THE SUDDENLY DISABLED
By Susan Freire-Korn
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Susan Freire-Korn, MSHSA
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART I:
The Accident That Changed Our Lives Forever
The town of Cool, California, is on Route 49 between Auburn and Placerville on a hill at an elevation of more than 1,500 feet (450 meters). It is in an area full of trees, horse and hiking trails, camping spots, and other recreational activities. It's located in the Sierra Nevada Foothills about thirty-eight miles from Roseville, California, and approximately one hundred miles from Reno, Nevada.
My husband, Jean-Pierre, and I live in Cool, just ten miles from where gold was discovered in Coloma, California. In the summer, we go swimming, and in the winter, we warm ourselves by the fire. Occasionally it snows—two or three times each year—just enough to look like we had a dusting of powdered sugar on the trees and ground. All year long, we enjoy the birds that come to either swim in our pond or enjoy the bird seed I supply on our back patio. I had never lived where I could enjoy a bird show right from the seat of my armchair. Each year, the Canadian snow geese fly overhead honking and then land in our pond for a swim. One winter, I discovered a group of sandhill cranes drying themselves off on our property. I could not believe the size of the beautiful birds and their wingspan.
Most days, the blue jays, chickadees, doves, finches, red- winged blackbirds, and quail visit our property for water and food. We have seen deer, foxes, rabbits, turkeys, red-tailed hawks, and coyotes from our back patios. They are truly gorgeous in their own environment.
The beautiful town of Cool straddles both Highway 193 and Highway 49. The air is fresh and free of smog, and the water is clear from our well and free of chemicals. Life here has minimal to no crime activity, and we attend the Catholic church of St. James in Georgetown, California. Life here is good to us, and we have grown to love the people and the community. When the Holiday Market moved in and Wells Fargo Bank arrived, I knew I was set for life. Then Autumn Moon Salon opened, and that is where I go for my hair coloring and pedicures. Being retired for three years, I was happy and realized my life was complete. Nothing could prepare us for the day a bomb went off in our laps and changed our lives forever.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. —Eleanor Roosevelt
What I Remember: Shock, Fear, and Pain
I was just four days from my scheduled foot surgery. The surgeon had informed me the surgery would keep me in bed for a significant amount of time and that it would be a one-year recovery time. It was winter, and we had just returned from a trip to Reno, Nevada, as we always did every year to celebrate the New Year. It was a particularly good year to celebrate, and we had taken my brother Anthony with us to show him how to ring in the New Year, the way we had done so for the past thirty years. This included driving to Reno, going to the delicious buffets, gambling to try our luck out at the tables, and of course shopping for all the sales after New Year's Day. Reno was a great place to do winter shopping and plan for all the future birthday gifts for our large family throughout the coming year.
It was Friday, January 2, 2009, when I could not get out of my mind that I just had not done enough partying and having fun away from my home to be settled in for a year in recovery. Due to the planned surgery on an arthritic toe that could no longer be ignored because of significant pain while walking, I was just days away from being in bed, in pain, and with my foot propped up on a stack of pillows, asking for ice packs and reaching for pain pills. I knew this scenario well enough because this was my second surgery after twelve years on the same toe. I just wanted to squeeze a little more fun out of my life before going under the knife.
I asked my husband if we could go see a cute movie called Marley and Me about a yellow lab. We have a yellow lab named Togo, and I was thinking it would be a lighthearted movie, and we could have some popcorn and munch out. Jean-Pierre was more than willing to grant me my last wish before facing surgery. We got up from the sofa and got ready to leave for the movie, which was scheduled for a 5:20 showing.
It was about 4:30 p.m. when we went out the door. As we left our driveway, there were no signs of severe fog. It was not until we entered Highway 193 about a half mile from our home that I noticed the fog was extremely thick. I mentioned to Jean-Pierre that maybe we should not go since it was so foggy.
I had driven in fog like this before while living in Daly City, California, and on trips driving through Fresno, but never before had I experienced it in our little town of Cool. Fog was one of my greatest fears because I had seen the terrible accidents it could cause. Just when I said, "Maybe we should turn back," I saw an oncoming car with the headlights on coming fast in our direction. It was in our lane and rushing toward us. I must have glanced away from the road because before I knew it, the car's headlights were lined up with ours. It was inevitable that we were on the course of destruction.
There was no time to yell, "Watch out!" or "I love you!" because we immediately collided in a crash of significant magnitude. My only thought in that split second was, Well, let's see if I survive this.
It reminds me of a 2003 movie called End of an Affair. The male actor explains what shock feels like and describes his lack of feelings after being "bombed" from his staircase in London, England, during World War II: "I never heard the bang. I awoke in five minutes or five seconds to a changed world. I didn't feel love, hate, jealously, and it all felt like happiness and without any pain." It was as if we had experienced a bomb going off right in the front seat of our truck.
The only difference is I heard the bang of our 1995 green GMC Sierra truck and the other driver's car, a Lexus, as we hit on impact. It was like a flash of lightning, in the time span of a flick of an eyelash, and our lives changed forever. Jean-Pierre was driving and had made a spilt-second decision to take the brunt of the impact. At the moment of impact, I knew instinctively that the driver in the other car was dead from our head-on collision. I wanted to get out of my truck and offer help, but I was unable to reach for my seatbelt to release it. I also knew Jean-Pierre was in deep trouble. My mind would not allow me to think that he could be dying right there next to me. I was not ready to let him go. He was gasping for air, and with each breath that he struggled to take, he asked me if I was okay. He kept asking me that question until I realized I had to give him enough information to settle him down. It seemed like no matter what I said, he continued to ask me if I was okay.
I thought, He must be in shock and panicking. I could see him only from the corner of my eye. I knew the left side of my body was badly damaged, and it seemed like it was mostly my left arm. I kept trying to reassure Jean-Pierre that I was okay but then finally gave in and said, "It's my arm. I hurt it, and I think I broke it." I knew the damage was much worse than that, but I did not want to agitate him since he was in so much pain and trying desperately to breathe. He was literally drowning in his own blood! With each breath he took, there was a horrific gurgling sound coming from him, and I knew he was desperately trying to stay awake and alive. My mind refused to accept the fact that he could die before my eyes and I would witness his death.
Time stood still for us, and I began to worry about someone hitting us from behind. The fog was so severe, and it was a Friday evening; commuters would be driving like mad to get home.
It seemed like hours before anyone came to offer us any assistance. I knew from the impact that we were trapped in our truck, but I did not know the severity of it. Our green truck with a "winch and rack" place in the front of the truck had spared our lives. As we both sat there helplessly, I could feel my left arm floating above my head as if a balloon was attached to it and it was in midair with a feeling of weightlessness. When I tried with my right arm to bring my left arm down from floating in the air, I realized that my left arm was still at my side and not floating above my head. This sensation repeated itself several times, and each time it felt so real that I attempted with my right arm to reach up and bring my left arm back into place, only to discover it was already by my side. I had no explanation as to what was happening but just seemed to accept it.
First Person to Come to Our Aid
God bless the people who take time from their own lives to help out others they do not know in time of trauma and despair. I understood that someone cared enough to get out of their car and come to my window when I heard a woman's soft voice speaking calmly and gently. I had lowered my window immediately after the crash because I had heard somewhere that when there is an accident to immediately open the window before the electricity fails. This very kind woman asked me if I had a cell phone. I answered yes, and she asked me if I could reach it. Again I said yes and went for my purse, which was on the floor between my legs in front of me. Without asking any questions, I was behaving like a robot, taking instructions. I handed the lady my purse. I did not look at her, so I cannot describe what she looked like. I was only in touch with her voice and instructions. I told her the cell phone was in the side pocket. She asked me who she should call. I said Charles. He is our nephew and lives about ten minutes away from us. She called him and informed him of the accident. He had mentioned he was not home and away on business but that he would notify the rest of his family. Jean-Pierre's brother, sister- in-law, niece, and niece's husband lived another fifteen minutes away from the point of the accident.
The kind lady asked me if there was someone else to call, and I told her to call my son Joe. I heard her speak to him and inform him about the accident. After the calls, the lady handed me back my purse with my cell phone placed correctly in the side pocket. I could hear her calm and steady voice speak to me as I responded in a blank and nonfeeling state.
At this point, I had no emotions, no thought to ask for help. I was suspended in a state of nothingness. My husband and I were both pinned in the truck, helpless, and waiting for additional help to come to our rescue. I found out months later that the name of the kind lady who was the first to respond to our needs was Danielle, and her mother worked at the nearby Holiday Market.
The Fire Departments and the Emergency Response Teams
Minutes seemed like hours, and I continued to wonder and worry about how much longer my husband could survive before more help came our way. I later found out that the Cool Fire Department, which was only two miles away, could not make the trip due to the heavy fog. The Georgetown Fire Department, which was ten miles away, was the first to respond, so it took about between twelve and fifteen minutes before I heard a male voice at my window.
I could see a tan jacket out of the side of my vision as I heard a male voice say with certainty, "Madame, my name is Ryan. I will be with you until more help comes." It was a Georgetown fireman, one of the first to show up to our rescue. I heard his voice, and it sounded like he was reporting to duty. I was so relieved because I knew he was in charge. When he told me his name was Ryan, I thought, Oh, thank you, dear God, for sending me a sign. My littlest grandson's name is Ryan, so I immediately saw it as a stroke of good fortune.
I asked about the other person, the one that hit us, if he was okay, even though I knew in my heart he had died in the moment of impact because I felt his spirit leave this earth. I heard someone answer me from a distance, as if he or she were on the opposite side of our truck. It was a woman's voice but not the same woman I had spoken to earlier. Her response was more firm and final when she said, "There is nothing we can do for him. He has gone. It is okay. He is in heaven now." Confused, I wondered if I heard her tell me that or if it was my own voice I was hearing.
Now I could hear additional fire trucks sounding their horns and the ambulance sirens in the distance. As the time passed, I wondered what was taking them so long to get there. After a while, I knew there were more firemen or rescue teams on the scene because I could hear conversations all around us. One rescue person was saying, "I think I'll try to get her out first." Then the Jaws of Life came crashing down directly above my head. One, two, three times I heard the slamming, powerful noise come crashing down before my passenger door was finally opened. I experienced no fear of the equipment hitting me; I sat very still. With the door opened, the rescue team very carefully removed me from our demolished truck. I remained motionless, and although my eyes were opened and I was conscious, I could not see anything around me. I could not see all the cars that were in the long traffic lines on both sides of the highway. I was placed on a gurney in a lying-down position. I remember asking someone if they could hand me my left hand so that I could hold on to it. It felt like my left arm was just dangling at my side and outside of the strap or belt they positioned me into for safety when on the gurney.
I knew that for Jean-Pierre the situation was far worse. He was trapped with the steering wheel locked up against his chest. His foot had gone through the floorboards and was deeply cut. The air bag had deployed, but the bottom part of it did not protect him. I remember that the firemen and rescue team did not drop a second once my door was opened; they immediately began to try to use the Jaws of Life on the driver's door. As they were lifting me onto the gurney, I could hear they were having a more difficult time trying to free my husband. It was taking them far longer than it had to release me. He continued to struggle for each breath and tried desperately to stay alive.
I heard someone say as they were lifting me into the ambulance, "Are you going to go ahead and take her?" Someone else yelled back, "No, I think we will wait for him." I thought to myself, Yes, that would be good, because I wanted to be with my husband to be reassured he was still alive and breathing.
I did not recognize him as they lifted him into the ambulance and placed him next to me. He was wearing an oxygen mask, and they were beginning to start the IVs. But I knew in my heart it had to be him. There were four rescue persons in the back with us, or so it seemed. Everyone seemed to be rushing about, even with as little room as there was in the back of the ambulance. I tried to look over my shoulder to see if Jean-Pierre was okay, but the two rescue men were squatting down with their backs to me, and it looked like they were shielding me from seeing what was going on. I did not know it at the time, but I found out later form reading the fireman's report that they were administering advanced life support to my husband. Squatting down with their backs to me was their way of protecting me from seeing they were trying to save my husband's life.
The next thing I recall is the driver or someone in the front of the ambulance yelling back to us through a window, "We are almost there," meaning the trauma center at Sutter Hospital in Roseville, California. They pulled up to the emergency entrance of Sutter Trauma Center. I do not remember them taking me out of the ambulance.
My last thought in my memory bank of that night was looking down at my right leg and seeing someone's hands working large scissors and cutting off my brown corduroy pants. As the scissors began to reach the area around my knee, I realized I must have been in bad shape because no one had asked me to undress; they were doing it for me by cutting off my clothes. I must have blacked out or received medication because that is my last memory of that horrible night.
My Husband's Perspective
On April 13, 2012, I interviewed my husband by asking some questions regarding the accident to capture his perspective.
When you look back now on all that has happened to you with the accident, what do you know now that you did not know prior to the accident?
"That's hard to say, but I'm more aware of other people now, the feelings of other people. Before, I did not care about people getting hurt; I just thought, They will get better. But now it hurts me, and I do not want to hear about other people getting hurt. I'm more sensitive to hearing about other people's injuries. I'm more conscious about it and more compassionate about it. Before, I would think, Okay, big deal, he got hurt. Now I can relate to their pain and suffering even though I cannot do anything about. It is just a good thing that there are doctors to help people with their pain and sufferings."
Excerpted from Terror Highway 193 by Susan Freire-Korn Copyright © 2012 by Susan Freire-Korn, MSHSA. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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