My L.A. Car Crash, Part 1
Crofton Chiropractor Nicholas Grande explains his car crash experience. Read about Doc's car crash and learn from his experiences.
It was an October Friday evening about 7 o’clock. I was in my first semester of chiropractic school, and I had just finished studying at the library. I got in my car and headed north on my way to the shortcut through the La Habra Hills that would take me to the 710 Freeway and home to Altadena.
That was my simple plan. Get home and chill after another week of 14-hour days of classwork and studying. Then study some more on Saturday and Sunday until I couldn’t take it anymore, and take a few hours off before starting over again on Monday.
I had taken to staying and studying late at the school library to wait out the parking lot that is evening drive time in the Los Angeles region. Monday through Thursday I stayed until 9, then zipped home from the school in Whittier through 45 minutes of thinned-out traffic. On Fridays I left early.
I drove my used Audi A4, which I had found in an ad in the Recycler. I loved that car, but it was never really right. It had a slow fluid leak from somewhere that my mechanic Jeff at Mid City Auto was trying to figure out. But I kept on driving it, and checking the fluids every couple of days.
I think my General Anatomy class was at the top of my mind that night. General Anatomy is the name given to a first-year class all physicians take. Whether you are an M.D. (medical doctor), a D.O. (osteopath), or a D.C. (chiropractor) you have the common experience of having immersed yourself in dissecting human bodies for a year. The class lasts throughout the whole school year. It is the main focus of your year.
For General Anatomy you use brute memory to learn the name, the function and the back-story of every part of the human body, as you remove them one by one from where they belong. Your classroom work and study expand on what you did in the dissection lab. General Anatomy is where you start on your lifelong journey to understanding how the body’s systems combine to do their work, and how to use that knowledge to help people. I am grateful to all the people who have donated their bodies for the purpose of study.
At my school, since we were going to be chiropractors, General Anatomy had another whole year parallel-track class called Biomechanics that taught us all the particulars about body movement, muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, arteries, nerves, and the physics of every joint and movement.
That day we were dissecting the neck, and one of the anatomy lab instructors had given us an off-the-cuff lesson on the motions of the cervical spine aka the neck. She was talking about Whiplash in particular, and she let drop the little pearl that because the neck can bend forward and backward farther than it can bend sideways, more damage is incurred in a side impact car crash than a head-on, or rear-end impact.
She said that if you have a choice, it’s best to get hit from the front because you have the most motion in forward flexion, and can take more punishment with less injury in that direction. That’s because in a car crash, the head moves first toward the location of the impact, before whipping back with slightly less force in the other direction.
As I left Whittier and my car started climbing up the hill, the thick trees lining the two-lane road cut off even more of the low-angled dying light. It was past dusk and almost dark. An unseasonal tap-tap of water started falling on my windshield. I turned on my wipers. It doesn’t rain a lot in Southern California in October, and like everyone else, I knew the first wet would make the road surface especially slick after too many months of dryness.
That’s one of the reasons people in the parched Los Angeles region have mixed emotions about rain. Rain means danger. Slick roads, deluges, land-slides. One time when I was living on Orange Street right off Wilshire Boulevard, water from a flash rainstorm ran so quickly through the sewer tubes that it popped off all the 75-pound steel sewer caps from Sweetzer to Fairfax, about one mile. The 2-inch thick caps were scattered on the crest of the road, as far down Orange Street as I could see.
Now I was up in the hills, staying at speed in a snaking line of cars headed north, with a mirror-image snaking line of cars to the left coming toward us, heading south.
Up ahead I saw the headlights of the southbound cars one-by-one enter the outside turn then smoothly turn back away from our lane. One after the other, I watched each enter the curve, and smoothly curve away, like in a Formula One race. Until one didn’t.
The tire crossed the first yellow line. Then it crossed the second yellow line, moving fast. It didn’t correct. The car was aimed right at my driver side door. I swung my steering wheel hard left so I would hit it head-on, and heard a sound I had never heard before.
I woke up. Something was wrong. I was slumped over the steering column. My chest hurt. My head was touching the dashboard. The steering wheel was gone. My legs were squeezed. I picked up my head, and saw smoke rising from the crumpled hood of my car. I had to get out. My hand searched for the handle, but couldn’t find it, because it was covered by the dashboard.
I hit the window switch, and my window rolled down. I tried to lift myself out through the window, but my seat slid out from under me, and I fell backward. The seat had ripped out of the floor. The seat back was broken and folded backward. I crawled out the window. I saw a man speaking into a car phone, leaning against a Jeep Wagoneer parked ahead with its flashers on. I heard sirens.
A black-haired skinny guy, limped toward me, and I knew he was the hitter. His Hyundai looked like a stomped beer can. But the pain hit my neck, and I couldn’t stand up anymore. I had to lie down. I lay down on my back on the wet down-sloping shoulder of the road. EMS pulled up, and they put a hard collar on me and loaded me into their ambulance.
The hitter was in there too. He said to me, “I only had 5 beers.” I knew I was supposed to punch him, but I couldn’t raise my head, so I firmly instructed him to do an anatomically impossible thing. That was all I could manage.
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