How my MVA renewed my sense of empathy

It was a bright, clear Wednesday afternoon on September 11, 2013; a gloomy day despite the hot and sunny weather. I was returning to work from my lunch break (at the time I was working for a chiropractor in Tacoma and living in Milton). It was a little after 3pm as I was traveling south down I-5. Traffic wasn’t too bad however, it was definitely revving up for rush hour. I noticed that the driver behind me seemed to be a bit distracted and would leave various distances between him and me at different points during the sluggish traffic due to the upcoming merger of 705. Since my exit was coming up and I would merge onto 16, I stayed in the far right lane. I had plenty of time until my next massage session at work, so I was just going with traffic.

I rolled to a stop keeping a car length distance between myself and the vehicle in front of me. I looked up into my rear-view mirror and witnessed the driver behind me not slowing down as his attention was fixed on his dash and not noticing that I was stopping with traffic. I braced for impact. The driver rear ended me. That momentum propelled me into the vehicle in front of me; which somehow placed my vehicle in the middle two lanes of I-5, the nose of my car was now facing the median. Unable to move, my sunglasses were knocked off of my head leaving me blinded by the sun. I dared not get out of my vehicle out of fear of the possibility of getting hit by a car. Shaking I looked behind me making sure oncoming traffic could get around me. That’s when my eyes locked with the driver of an empty dump truck. He couldn’t stop in time and with screeching tires he hit the front of my car which pushed me back into the right-middle lane facing the correct way (with the flow of traffic). Shaking and disoriented; I stayed in my vehicle.

A witness who had seen the accident pulled over and got out of her vehicle along with a couple of others. She cautiously approached my car and asked if I was okay. I replied with a weak and shaky “I think so”. All of the drivers that had been involved with the accident safely pulled over to the right shoulder and got out of their cars. Traffic on I-5 had stopped in those three right lanes leaving only the far left two lanes open for traffic flow. Still in shock, I retrieved my phone, keys, purse, and sunglasses. Everything in my car had been tossed around during the accident. I crossed the interstate to the safety of the shoulder with everyone else. Fingers fumbling, I quickly called the office to inform them that I was involved in a serious accident and would not be returning to work.

The witness who had checked on me asked if I had called 911 and offered to on my behalf. Not realizing that I was still in shock I tried to tell the responder what happened. Unable to fully describe where on I-5 I was located the witness gently placed a hand on my shoulder and offered once more to help. As the witness quickly answered all the 911 operator’s questions she handed my phone back to me and said help was on the way. As I stood by the shoulder and watched the car who had hit me glide over by the other vehicles that had been involved. I watched the driver slowly emerge from his car. The driver was a young man who couldn’t have been older than 23 gazed out onto I-5 and saw the wreckage of my car. I stared at him hoping he would see that I was okay and waiting for the apology that would I never hear.  The coward climbed back into his vehicle and drove away. My stomach dropped. In the midst of my shock I hadn’t recorded what kind of car it was or even the license plate number. I couldn’t believe that he fled the scene.

Luckily, the car that I had hit had two teenagers who were taking photos with their phones of the vehicles involved in the accident. The state trooper who had responded assured me that they would apprehend the driver who hit me and make sure that justice would be dealt. The trooper collected everyone’s testimonies and highly recommended that I get an attorney.

The firefighters who had responded asked me questions and assessed my injuries. Since I didn’t have any cuts and nothing appeared to be broken I refused the ambulance service. The paramedics insisted that I at least go to the ER to get checked out. As I spoke to the first medical responder on the phone and gave her my reason of refusal she asked me questions to make sure I hadn’t suffered a concussion. When she asked me what day it was I looked at the firefighter who was in front of me and it dawned on me that it was the infamous 9/11. I thanked all the responders even though words seemed to pale in comparison the gratitude I had for them all including the female witness who helped a complete stranger.

Fast forward a couple hours later my cousin drove me to St. Francis hospital in Federal Way; which was virtually empty. As I described the accident in detail to the ER doctor he was astonished that I was able to walk away. “I think I passed by that accident on my way to work...that was you??” he asked out of sheer disbelief. He continued informing me what I should be looking out for and said that I would more than likely feel the effects of the accident later that evening. I was recommended to ice my upper back, neck, and shoulders. Since my accident was high impact and the risk of my having fractures was great the ER doctor highly recommended my getting x-rays.

After months of chiropractic and massage treatments I was experiencing less pain and higher range of motion. I recall my frustrations with pain management and the fear that this accident may end my early career as a massage therapist. That wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I returned to work with a renewed sense of duty as well as empathy. I can say first hand that by combining massage with chiropractic visits I was able to quickly and efficiently heal from all of my injuries. Although, I still deal with chronic neck and shoulder pain; it could have been a lot worse.

As for the driver who had hit me; he spent his 21st birthday in jail and is now a convicted felon.

Jennifer Roldan, LMP Northwest Wellness