Monday, July 31, 2017


"I'm fine. I've been in an accident. The EMTs want to take me to the ER just to make sure I'm okay."

This was the beginning of the phone call my wife received on Saturday morning, shortly after 9 AM. We immediately sprang into action: letting our other two kids know that we were leaving for the hospital, getting insurance information together, calling her ex-husband to let him know that his daughter was in the ER.

We actually got there first. As we watched the EMTs pull the gurney from the back of the ambulance, we could tell that she wasn't fine ... her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and every slight nudge would make her wince. Once she was transferred to a wheelchair we could see the bump of a broken collarbone, which was confirmed by an MRI.

Being the stepfather, my role was greatly diminished in all these proceedings ... my main function was to remember things: where the bathrooms were, how to get from the triage room to the lobby, a food order from Wawa, that sort of thing.

Oh, and to stay the hell out of the way.

Her father sat on the edge of the bed and held her hand, not letting go unless the nurse needed to run some tests. Her mother sat on the other side of the bed, talking gently to her, trying to distract her from the excruciating pain.

The picture above is of the car my stepdaughter was driving when she hit a steel and concrete barrier head on at about 60 mph. She suffered a broken collarbone from the seat belt and a "sternal deformity" -- basically, a dent in her breastbone that almost, but not quite, caused a fracture -- as a result of the airbag deploying into her chest.

It could have been so much worse.

Modern cars are engineered to crash. Back in the day the thinking was to build the cars solid so that, if they were in an accident, it was relatively inexpensive to repair them, and the passengers would be kept safe. The conventional wisdom of the time held that, the more solid the car was, the less likely people were to be injured.

What was discovered is, while the cars were inexpensive to fix, people were getting killed because the interior of the car in a high-speed collision was transformed into what amounted to a giant Cuisinart. Because none of the shock from the impact was absorbed, it was transmitted to the passenger area. People were bouncing off doors and windows. They were being impaled by steering columns. In some cases they were simply pulverized by 400 pounds of red-hot engine barrelling through the firewall.

Newer cars have crumple zones. While it makes it easier for the cars to be totaled, it prevents the people from being totaled as well. Engine mounts are designed so that, if the engine breaks free, it is driven down into the pavement instead of through the firewall. The firewalls themselves are reinforced and shaped to shunt forces around the cabin instead of through it. Steering columns are collapsible, and are engineered so that the steering wheel will go up into the windshield instead of into the chest of the driver.

In this case, even though she hit a solid steel and concrete barrier head on, the passenger compartment was relatively unscathed -- in fact, with the exception of the cracked windshield, deployed airbags, and steering column that looked just a little bit off, you couldn't tell from looking at the interior that the car had even been in an accident.

Readers of this blog have probably picked up on subtle indicators (Yeah. Subtle.) that I am not at all squeamish about bitching endlessly about the peccadilloes and foibles of the current administration, and that I can extract political relevance from just about any situation. Except this one.

There is nothing political here. There is no complaining about trump's tweets, or Republican intransigence, or Democratic corporatism, or Russia, or Benghazi, or emails. There is no commentary on Venezuela, or Syria, or Ukraine.

There is only gratitude.

I am grateful to the unnamed volunteer firefighter who happened to be on the road at roughly the same time and who was the first on the scene. I am grateful to the EMTs who did their best to keep her comfortable during the ambulance ride to the ER. I am immensely grateful to the staff of Einstein Montgomery who took excellent care of her while she was in the ER. I am grateful to her mother and father who, despite the panic that must have been rising in the back of their throats, managed to help her hold it together until we were able to get her home. I am grateful for the outpouring of love and support from, literally, hundreds of people -- in person, on the phone, and online -- offering help, advice, or simply best wishes. I am grateful to Ford Motor Company for building the 2014 Fiesta (which she named Paul) so well that she could ram into a solid object at 60 mph and walk away under her own power.

Above all, though, I am grateful that she is home, and safe, and resting comfortably, and that we didn't have to face anything much, much worse.

Madison and Paul when they first met.

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