I promised that I would write Inspired Nation post #2 today (if you missed post #1 about Jade Beall, please go check it out!). When I sat down to write though, I realized that I can’t get this all in one post unless you want to read a lot today! Post #2 is about J, one of my yoga teachers. She played an instrumental role in helping me to recover after a car accident. But I can’t really explain how much she empowered me without first explaining what happened and how I ended up in her “Yoga for Back Care” classes.

While my friends have tired of hearing this story, I have not tired of talking about it! It was the second big car crash of my life. To be fair, the first one was much, much worse (in fact, I wrote a poem about it). But I was only 9 then, and getting over a broken femur and a head injury didn’t seem so insurmountable.

This time around, I was 28 years old and had already been through a couple of years of various health issues, the most recent being a dental crown that fucked my whole world. You wouldn’t think that a little dental work could do so much damage, but let me say that if I could choose to go back in time and avoid either the crown or the car accident – I would avoid the crown.

So as it turns out, I need to tell you the story of the crown before I can tell you the story of the accident. If you want to skip to Part II and just read the “I got hit by a semi” part, feel free. Just know that I had already been in considerable pain for the months leading up the accident.

Part I: The Crown

It was at the end of January when I went in to have the crown done. I’ve never had much luck with teeth. I’m one of those people that has been getting cavities filled since I was 10. Yes, I brush my teeth. And just a year before getting the crown done, I had even started flossing on a DAILY basis! Like, for real. Every day. So I was a little peeved when my dentist told me I needed a crown on a tooth that had already been filled twice in my lifetime and just didn’t have enough tooth left to hold a new filling.

Getting a crown was the single most painful thing that has ever happened to me. Maybe it’s not this way for everyone – and maybe it was an indication that I should have had a root canal instead.

When you get a crown, the dentist basically shaves down your tooth (getting rid of all the rotten parts but also some good parts) until it’s just a sliver of a tooth left. This is not painful because you’re all numbed up just like when you get a filling. But then, they cover your tooth with a new fake tooth. The first one is temporary while they send in a mold of your sliver tooth to get a permanent fake tooth or “crown” for your sliver tooth. When they put the crown on your tooth, they tell you: “Okay, now you have to bite down on the crown in order to seal it in place. We only get one shot at this so you need to bite down hard.”  I knew that I didn’t want to fuck it up and have to re-do the whole process, so I bit down hard. Excruciating pain rocketed down my nerves, but I kept biting.

In the days afterwards, I was on a steady diet of pain relievers and soup which is normal. But when the pain persisted for weeks, I went back in. It was determined that my dentist probably hit a nerve while administering one of the injections. Apparently, this happens sometimes and isn’t too big of a deal. It just meant that it might take a few weeks for the nerve to calm down.

Instead, the pain continued for months. I couldn’t even eat a piece of bread much less crunchy vegetables or steak or a bagel. I was taking high doses of prescribed pain relievers all day long just to make it through without curling up in the fetal position under my desk at work.

I was convinced that my crown must be too high which was throwing off my bite. My teeth definitely did not fit together like they used to, but every day, they seemed to feel different. I went back to my dentist every couple of weeks to plead for help, and I would ask her to shave down the parts of my teeth that felt too high. But since my bite seemed to change constantly, it was hard to know what to do. After several visits to the dentist, she eventually told me that she thought I was grinding my teeth at night and needed a night guard. Are you fucking kidding me? I had just paid hundreds of dollars for this crown that made me completely miserable (keep in mind, I was in 0 pain prior), and now she wants another couple of hundred dollars for a night guard? I had never had any problems before the crown. I didn’t really think she was being malicious or trying to steal my money; I just thought she was wrong. Something was wrong with my crown – not my sleeping habits. So I put her off and asked her to shave down the crown just a little bit more.

Part II (The Accident) begins, Part I (The Crown) continues

It was on one of these trips to the dentist that my life took another painful turn. I left work early and got on the highway just before rush hour. I wasn’t in a hurry and kept exactly to the 45 mph speed limit in the construction zone – which I know because I checked my speedometer when I saw that a semi truck was starting to pass me on my left. I was in the right hand lane on a 3 lane highway. No big deal; let him pass me. I’m going the speed limit. But a few minutes later, I saw in my side mirror that the semi had decided not to pass me and had his blinker on to get behind me. All of this happened in slow snapshots of time for me.

In my side mirror, I saw the blinker on the semi indicating that he wanted to come into my lane and get behind my little blue Prius.

But there isn’t enough room. You are too close to me. There is not enough room.

I pressed my foot on the gas, but I was driving a Prius, so yah know…

Surely, he sees me, and will wait until I am far enough head of him before switching into my lane.

Still, I watched, as the semi came over into my lane. No time. No space.

Actual diagram from police report
It seemed so mean and so angry as the semi hit my little Prius right above the back tire well. I watched it in my side mirror and felt it shake my whole body. I gripped the steering wheel. My whole body tensed, as it would remain for 2 full years afterwards.

Why is this not ending? Why is he not going back in his own lane?

The semi continued to shove the back of my car to the right, and I tried, I tried so hard to keep the steering wheel going forward, but it whipped out of my hands, and I surrendered. I let go. If I believed in God, I would have said “Jesus, take the wheel.”

The front of my car (where I sit with my arms in the air, watching my steering wheel spin) jolted to the left, as the back of my car went to the right. My side of the car slammed into the front of the semi as it continued to push me down the highway.

Out my driver’s side window, I looked directly at the grill of the semi. So cold. So mean.

This is going to be really bad.

I knew that there was quite a bit of traffic on the highway. I envisioned a pile up. With me in the car that is getting piled up on.

As the semi hit its brakes (I think), my car continued its forward momentum, and I crossed the other 2 lanes of traffic. Completely astounded as I crossed the shoulder of the highway and went down into the median. Realizing that I had control of my car again, I grabbed the wheel and gently hit the brake.

Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit. I’m alive. No other cars hit me. My car didn’t flip. OMG. OMG. OMG.

My Prius came to a stop a short ways down in the gravelly median of the 6 lane highway under construction. Luckily, we were in a section where not much construction work was actually happening, and there weren’t any walls or barriers to prevent me from going into the median.

I was out of my car in less than 10 seconds, adrenaline pounding throughout my entire body. Shaking. Traffic continued buzzing by, and I watched the angry yellow semi continue on its way.

Did anyone see me?

Would anyone stop? 

Would the semi driver stop?

Luckily, a Border Patrol vehicle driving 100 yards or so behind us had seen a shot of blue (my car) cross traffic and create a cloud of dust in the median. They didn’t see what had happened, but they stopped to check on me. They offered me water and a snack and called the police. They also offered to call an ambulance.

I knew that if an ambulance was called, I would have to pay for that. Even if it was someone else’s fault, these things take time. And in the meantime, that would be my bill to pay. Also, I looked myself over and everything seemed to still be in place. I knew from a previous car accident (yep, I’m a magnet apparently) that injuries from car accidents don’t always make themselves known until hours or even days afterwards because your body is pumping so much adrenaline. Better to wait until I know what hurts.

It took about an hour or so to complete the paperwork with the officer that arrived on the scene. Luckily, the semi driver had pulled over at the next exit and had also called police. I called my dentist to let her know that I would be late. Yep, late. I didn’t cancel. That’s how much pain my jaw and tooth had continued to cause me. If you’re a dentist, though, I would recommend refusing to see a patient who has just been in a car accident. When she checked my bite, she found that she definitely needed to shave down parts of my dental work in order to make my teeth hit correctly. This, after weeks of her telling me that my bite was fine. My guess is that after being hit by a semi, your jaw might be knocked out of its typical alignment, even if just slightly or temporarily. At the time, though, I was happy because I thought maybe finally my mouth would be fixed!

Instead, I just had new problems to juggle. In the next few days, I suddenly was unable to sit down for even 10 seconds without being in intense, incredible pain. I had a tailbone injury. One of the most embarrassing, intrusive injuries one can be struck with. You don’t even realize how much you (and everyone else) sits until you absolutely cannot sit down. And the last thing you want to do is tell everyone that your butt hurts.

Inspired Nation post #2b will continue on Tuesday. Please check back to hear about my recovery process and how my yoga teacher helped me get through it.