My Car Accident

For a few years, I considered writing a book about my car accident. I’ve seen books about less exciting things. I haven’t ever done it, however, and I sorta doubt I ever will. This post might be all I ever write on the topic. (That seems so final doesn’t it?)

On March 2, 1999, I was on my way to work. Apparently I had a cellphone in one hand, a cup of pumpkin spice cappuccino in the other hand, and an open briefcase next to me on the seat. The problem is that I was driving a car at the time, and apparently I didn’t enough hands for such multitasking. My car went off the road and into a group of trees, missing each one. That part was amazing.

It wasn’t a smooth ride through the foliage, however, because my head ended up getting thrown through the driver’s side window. So to set the scene, My little Chevy Cavalier was off the road, having jumped a snow bank. My head, scratched and bleeding, was hanging out of the driver’s side window. I was buckled in (thankfully), and unconscious. Due to being in that position for about 45 minutes before being found, I was shivering uncontrollably from exposure.

And the beginning of the story is the less depressing part. It only gets worse.

When I actually woke up, on the way to the hospital, I was in the back of an ambulance with IVs coming from my arms. (I’m actually thankful I was knocked out for that portion.) A paramedic named Steve was trying to chit-chat with me, to see if I had any brain damage, to keep me out of shock, etc. Steve is my first memory. Looking up in that rattly ambulance is like the moment my “ON” switch was tripped. I don’t remember anything before that moment. At all.

The hospital was… odd. Since I couldn’t remember anything, the doctors were sure I was a drug user strung out on something. Either that or I had spinal meningitis. My head hurt in a way that only people that suffer from migraines will understand. It was the type of pain that makes you want to beg someone to shoot you. That sounds morbid — but it’s really true. Anyway, the only way to “tell” what was wrong with me was to take a spinal tap. Since I was a druggie (um, no), they couldn’t risk so much as a local numbing agent, so I get the full monty needle in my back without so much as an ice cube to numb the pain. Thankfully, my head hurt bad enough that the little needle hanging out of my back wasn’t as bad as it sounds now.

Apparently, spinal taps take a long time to get results from, because I had to lay in the room without any pain medication for many hours. I didn’t know anyone. I had a wedding ring on, but was sure I didn’t have any kids (I was wrong). I didn’t know if anyone was looking for me. I was truly scared, in a way that I can’t ultimately describe.

Anyway, that evening, still without any pain medicine, a nurse came in to give me the phone. My wife was on the other end, and asked me what happened. They hadn’t told her about my condition, and she didn’t understand why I hadn’t called her. She had been driving around all day trying to figure out what happened to me, and stopped at the hospital in a desperation attempt to find me. I said something vague, and apparently she recognized my confusion, because although I don’t remember exactly what she said, I could sense the terror in her voice. A few minutes later she was in my room. Very beautiful. Very pregnant. Very scared.

Yes, it was awkward. But, you see, my wife is incredible. She held it together in a way that looking back, I can’t fully understand. As I type this, there are tears in my eyes remembering the odd combination of pain, confusion, fear, and love. It was a strange couple days in the hospital, and during the stay, I started to think I was some weird science experiment (much like the Truman Show). It wasn’t until my 2 year old daughter came to the hospital on the 2nd or 3rd day that I knew it was all genuine. See, adults could be faking. A 2 year old, however, couldn’t fake the excitement to see Daddy in the hospital room. Amanda ran across the room, with arms outstretched, shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” I’m not sure she’ll ever know how important that moment was for me. πŸ™‚

Anyway, the story gets more depressing from there, so I’ll abbreviate it a bit. I had constant headaches for months, and I actually didn’t sleep for about a month and a half. They say you go crazy if you don’t sleep. They’re right. It was the lowest point in my life. I couldn’t leave the house, I was agoraphobic. I couldn’t work, because I’d forgotten how. I stuttered. I was depressed. Very, very depressed.

And, to top things off, the car insurance company denied my insurance claim. Since I was shaking when the ambulance picked me up, they based their denial on the report I was “shaking” — because that meant I had a seizure, which is a preexisting condition. Having epilepsy would negate their responsibility to pay for my doctor bills, and my rehabilitation bills. Great, except that I had an EKG, X-Ray, MRI, and CT scan. I did not have a seizure, I was just shivering from the cold. They wouldn’t change their denial. I was stuck. No rehab. No counseling. Plenty of bills.

Donna went to work bussing tables at a local restaurant for minimum wage. (7 months pregnant at this point) We moved into her mother’s house, and slept on a mattress on the floor. Life was not great. Then, Donna had complications, and was forced to go on bed rest for the last month of pregnancy. Shortly after, we were a very sad family of 4.

Here’s the point where the welfare system does what it is designed to do. We managed to get enough doctor notes, or whatever, to qualify for food stamps and a pittance of monthly income along with Medicaid insurance. My headaches were largely gone, and I started to relearn my trade. Thankfully, I had a computer, and oddly enough, I retained the ability to type like a mad fool. πŸ™‚ I spent the next 6 months self-learning about Linux, networking, computer repair, etc. In February of 2000, I was hired as the Technology Director for the local school district, where I still work. The administration took a big risk in hiring me, and I’ll forever be in their debt. I’m told it was a combination of my heartfelt, honest cover letter, and the fact that everyone in town knew my wife and our family.

So anyway, that’s the story of my car accident. I never did remember my past, apart from occasional odd “glimpses” of things. I’ve pieced together my history from speaking with others, and I think my brain might have filled in some of the gaps without me even realizing it. Memory loss isn’t as clear cut as you’d think. Many of my memories are ones that I’ve created from what people have told me — but I think many actual memories are in there too, and I can’t tell the difference. For the most part though, I never got anything back.

Now? Oh, we’re doing great. We have 3 beautiful girls, and they’re all doing great. We bought a house (not fun with tens of thousands of dollars worth of bad medical debt…) The rest you pretty much know. I’ve started writing, which has been a dream of mine both before and after my accident. And I never lost my sense of humor. There are funny stories galore about the whole ordeal, but I think I’ll save those for another time. πŸ™‚

42 Comments

  1. MWT says:

    Woah. Glad that you’re doing pretty good now.

    I have a friend who had a car accident a lot like yours. He said the memory loss was a lot like someone threw darts into his past to see which parts he would get to remember. He had a lot of short-term memory problems for a long time afterward, too, but has largely recovered now.

    I hope you switched car insurance companies. o.O

  2. Json says:

    I would be the friend that MWT was talking about. I don’t want to get too into my story but its very similar.

    I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and lost about 90% of my memory. I could recall some things and people for no reason and then others were completely erased from my memory. The best example of this is that I have two friends, one (Andy) that I’d known for 12 years and another (Craig) that I had known for 14 years. I met Andy through Craig and we all ran the same circles. After the wreck I could remember everything about Craig but nothing about Andy. When a memory would involve both of them I could remember only one. The doctor’s ascribed it as someone threw darts at a dart board. Where they hit is what I remembered.

    The medical care I received was topnotch thanks to my work’s PEO (Professional Employment Orgnaization). They went above and beyond the call of duty to get me better. The doctors told me that I had sixteen months (though in truth it was probably more like twelve to sxiteen) to get my memories back. The best way was through triggers. Spending time around people I forgot, doing things I used to like, etc. I still have a lot of holes but for the most part I’m like you and back to being normal though I still have very mild headaches.

    Fortunately, for both of us by the sound of it, we had our loving wives and families. Without the love of my own wife I doubt I would have made it through it.

    The memory thing is funny though because I have the same thing. I call them fabricated memories. People tell you stories so many times you begin to remember then as though you’re telling the stories.

    Enough about me though. I just wanted to pop in and add to what my friend had said. I hope those that haven’t gone through something like this never have to and for those that have I wish them the best and please remember that things do get better.

    Best of luck Shawn! I’m honestly relieved and happy to hear that you are doing better.

  3. Janiece says:

    My goodness. Man, the brain is a very weird organ.

    I’m glad you’re healthy and happy now.

  4. Brad says:

    I dunno man I think that story would make a good lifetime movie. Not that I have seen many so I’m pretty much talking out my butt as usual. I read what you posted and thought of how it must have felt from your wifes point of view.

    Maybe I’m way off but from either perspective hers or yours it makes for good story telling.

  5. Jeri says:

    Wow, that’s an amazing story. I agree, I really admire your wife for the grace and strength she displayed during the whole crisis. I’m very glad you’re ok now.

    Memory is such a strange thing. It must feel truly odd to have so many gaps.

    If you don’t mind my asking, what was your profession before the accident? Were you in IT then too, or was that entirely new ground for you when you did your self-study?

  6. Camron says:

    Remember the pee guy story? Hubby will always be my hero, but you’re running a close second… Hospital stays are awful. no matter how we couch them.

    What brought this up, sugar? Are you OK?

  7. Anne C. says:

    Wow. I’m so glad you are married to such a wonderful woman. Without her, we might not have our Shawn!
    Thanks, Mrs. P!

  8. Jim Wright says:

    The question of course, is were you this cool before the accident?

    Or was it more like Henry, that Harrison Ford movie? Were you an evil lawyer before the accident?

    I’m kidding, Shawn, but if you can still laugh, then you haven’t lost anything.

  9. Michelle K says:

    Whoa. (to echo several earlier posters)

    I can’t decide if you’re incredibly lucky, or incredibly unlucky, but either way, you have a wonderful wife, but must have a significant store of your own strength, to come through this with your sense of humor in tact.

    I’m glad you came through as you did, and hopefully that filled your quota of bad things for this life.

  10. Kate Baker says:

    Speechless is not really how I expected the day to start, but I must say, I admire both your wife and yourself for your ongoing courage.

    I can’t even imagine losing my entire memory. While there are things I’d like to forget in my all too short life on this planet, there are things that one holds dear like a old teddybear.

    Jim does have a point though, our experiences make us who we are, somewhere down the line, your brain must still remember some things, because in the short time I’ve read your blog and have “known” you from the Whatever, you’re one hell of a guy.

  11. Shawn Powers says:

    Yes. I’m fine. πŸ™‚ Everyone was so kind to me over at Janiece’s blog, celebrating my fictitious holiday, that I thought I’d share a bit with the class.

    Thanks for the kind comments here as well, everyone. I feel like I owe you all cookies or something. πŸ™‚

  12. Nathan says:

    I feel like I owe you all cookies or something.

    That’s because you do.

  13. Wow. Sure, I go on lurker mode and you pull this. Sneaky.

    That’s a hell of a story you’ve got right there, Shawn. Glad you’re back together. The world would be less funny and fun if you hadn’t made it out.

    And you’re right about the wife thing. The only time I passed out (from dehydration) it was my wife’s voice that brought me back out.

  14. FENICLE says:

    Hi. I came across this by total accident. But I was drawn to it because I was in an awful car accident myself a few years ago. Thank you for sharing!

  15. […] fancy pill cases with the days on them. I used to have one when I was on like 13 medications (post car accident), but anymore I just try to remember to take my one blood pressure pill. And, usually […]

  16. […] Worst thing to ever happen to you? Car accident. It was also the best thing that happened to me. So go […]

  17. […] A book discussion my car accident, where I elaborate much more than I did here. I’d talk about all the details regarding recovering from such a life changing event. There […]

  18. Marc says:

    I am wondering why you didn’t get a lawyer? I hate lawyers but it sure sounds like this was the case for one. The fact that they based their case was shaking and your studies that showed no seizure should have been an easy ambulance chaser’s dream.

    • Shawn Powers says:

      Sadly, I did end up with a lawyer, and he screwed me almost as bad as the insurance company. When all was said and done, I ended up with a “settlement” that left me $14,000 in debt to the hospital.

      That was REALLY interesting when it came time several years later to get a mortgage for a house…

  19. Pat Hickman says:

    Please help me. I need help with a couple of Blogs and some help with how you put your life back togetheer. Forgive the typeing and spelling mistakes, it a result of a Chiari I Malformation. I need some one who has been there . D, Angel try to help but they have not been there. I can help them with rebuilding there life as I have been there, and there memory problems are different. they have to put down the walls that prevent them from giving or accepting love in the Normal ways. I need some one to talk to about severl things I hope you can be that person. I will agree to dissagre about what every you call him, as we do not divorce children, we are native american and only have real chidren

  20. I’ve definitely got to go a lot easier on you. πŸ™‚

  21. […] off, you should know about my accident. Reminiscing about childhood memories is much less significant unless you have acute amnesia. That […]

  22. Steve Dew says:

    Wow, man. No wonder you have such a grounded and positive perpective. You know what hard times are and when you’re not in them. I no longer curse you for all those damn netbooks you’ve been winning.

  23. Shawn Powers says:

    Steve — I think everyone should go through something like my family did. (Well, maybe not as drastic) It really makes you value things better, I think. I worry our kids will grow up without an understanding of what it’s like to struggle, because my wife and I tend to give them TONS more than they need. (I’m sure to make up for our poor childhoods and early struggles)

    So anyway, it was both the best, and worst, thing that has ever happened to us. πŸ™‚

  24. Liza says:

    This is a fascinating subject to me as I have often wondered if my husband Shawn had made it through our car accident would I want him to have lived as a broken man. The answer is YES!!! Unfortunately on Sept. 13th,2008 we were caught in a rockslide that took our 1 ton Chevy off the road we were on and we tumbled down a cliff and into a river. Shawn died during the tumble and I could not help him. I was frantic to get our truck off of him but after only 432 days of marriage I lost my husband that day. So your wife is so lucky to have you. Spoil your babies all you want. Girls need to be treated like princesses so when the time comes they will look for men who will treat them the same way. Glad to read your story…our friend in the accident with us almost died of hypothermia at the scene as it took awhile to hike out of the Rocky Mtns. and find help and then it took 2 hours for search and rescue to cut him out of our truck that was submerged in the river. He was my husbands best friend and he was married 1 week before the accident. His wife is thankful and feels guilty having her husband when I lost mine. Shawn would not have wanted to hurt his best friend. I still relive that day every day, multiple times. Wish I had lost my memory…but maybe not after reading your struggle. Thanks for the story it answered a few questions I have asked myself since then. Good Luck with your life.

  25. Liza says:

    Your accident happened on my birthday, March 2. A few coincidences involved in all of this…

  26. Kirsten says:

    Wow, your wife must be an incredible woman to be able to manage through all that. It’s a hell of a story. Good luck to you.

  27. mel says:

    in 1995 I had a car accident and it seems oddly familiar to yours- well I guess more familiar when I read what you experienced after the initial BANG!

    the top of my head went through the front windshield, I was the passenger. The glass stopped short of scalping me thank goodness, but, I had lost all the hair atop.

    …broken arm in three places (metal plate 12 screws)
    …fractured hip socket (an odd injury I deal with everyday)
    …broken nose, stitches galore and 4 broken ribs…

    Meanwhile…I woke first upon entering the trauma center after the ambulance ride…according to rescue workers I was loud and clear for the ride- I just do not remember. A Chaplin was praying over me and I am not Catholic. Then a male nurse came up and told the Chaplin to please leave, now that i was awake they needed to talk to me. I did not remember who I was with or what happened, I didn’t remember the year but knew the President, I knew my mother work phone number but not my home phone number… All of the aforementioned came back before I checked out during the 12 days… other things have never come back. Initially people did not understand that they would have to tell me why/how/where/when landed me in this shape! that was frustrating.

    It seemed like I had forgotten how to do everything almost. I was very depressed, I had a different perspective on everything. Today I am well, lucky and working…degree in art, an 11 year old and a great guy. . .a fortunate life, a leg and arm…I can walk!

    It’s been over 15 years but this day still affects me…sometimes good and sometimes bad. I enjoyed your story and by the way I found it because a loved one recently had to have a spinal tap…I then remembered how my parents said I had one during the accident and I wondered why- today.

    Um, it appears that with my punk rock chic look back then, they must have assumed there were drugs pumping through my veins as well- there wasn’t…

    very lucky that day…lots of factor beyond my control and the rescue workers control allowed me to live… the accident happened out int he country, no medical teams in my small hometown…

    I lived, in short, because A) a friends mother left work early due to being ill, she had a CB in her van B) there was a minor accident on the closest highway- that ambulance left he scene to get me before I bled out (I was happy to learn I received my mother’s blood and not a strangers but people donate blood!).

    best to you and your family.

  28. Warren says:

    If you end up writing a book, I think you should name by name, the insurance company. As if it weren’t bad enough they can change their rules without quarter, and we are all required by law to subscribe to these crooks services, the public has the right to know when companies pull this kind of thing. Same with the attorney, please do us a favor and let our capitalistic society work how it is supposed to. If someone doesn’t fulfill their agreement, the public should be aware so they can avoid that service. If they didn’t want bad press, both professional service providers should have fulfilled their agreements adequately. It doesn’t sound like they did. You have voice now, and the best voice for change it knowledge. If people don’t know, then nothing will change.

  29. brandon says:

    shawn, thank you so much for posting, blogging, podcasts and everything else you do for the public. after watching a podcast from LJ, i brought up this site to see what it was all about. As goofy and fun loving as you are, i thought the link would be to a couple of pictures and a weird story. the truth and honesty, the no holds heart-felt story you have written is inspiring. Not to belittle you or your story, but you have really put into perspective how life is taken advantage of. How everything you do effects someone(s) else. I really do love your podcasts, and as a noob, have learned alot from them. i borrow my cousins printed LJ so i can read them (My wife will only allow me to get one mag subscription a year, and i didnt know about LJ the last time i picked) Hopefully as a word of encouragement, God will only deal you what you can handle, He will never hand you “too much”. I hope to read more about you and your work with linux in the near and far future.

    Brandon

  30. Shawn Powers says:

    Brandon — you’re incredibly kind, thank you for the wonderful comment. πŸ™‚

  31. brandon says:

    i just want to know, did u really rush over to your desktop and fire off an email? either way, keep up the good work. still perusing your amazing site!

  32. vera says:

    I did not remember who I was with or what happened, I didn’t remember the year but knew the President, I knew my mother work phone number but not my home phone number

  33. Velidoran says:

    wow, this was quite heart felt and amazing if i do say so. i never knew. guess i really never could tell, aside from the occasional migraine. hah if only i began to become intrigued by linux earlier could have saved you a few tedious and mindless runs down to fix computers ^-^ cause now im gone in a few months. month? somewhere in there. anywho. much respect and love.

  34. Shawn Powers says:

    Thanks man. πŸ™‚

    And no worries, you’d be surprised how much I appreciate intelligent and sensible students able to carry on an adult conversation. It’s more rare, at least in my geeky circles, than you’d think. I truly appreciate all the help you’ve been this year. (Even if your ears terrify me, lol!)

    Don’t be a stranger after you get out. I don’t “graduate” for another 19 years… ;o)

  35. Velidoran says:

    hah awesome, same goes for you. hard to find someone that i can actually talk and hold a conversation about technology or something of the sort without them condescending heavily. ha yea no problem, computers(even troubleshooting them) is a HUGE love of mine. sometimes i even enjoy the occasional computer crash because of the couple hours of entertainment i get after. yea i definitly wont, im sure i will run into ubuntu issues over the years. or bug ya about games on steam ^-^. hah well it looks like you’ve got some time to spare then.

  36. Amanda says:

    Write the book.

  37. Angela says:

    WOW – I found you totally by accident (which is ironic really) but I am so glad I did. Your story really brought tears to my eyes – firstly by the account of the pain (no pain relief because you might be a druggie), then anger at the Insurers – how can they do that !, and then Joy at the way your wonderful family pulled together and your amazing strength. You don’t seem at all bitter and yet the world is full of nutters that blame their past as an excuse for their terrible behavior.

    Definitely can see this as a movie script !!! πŸ˜‰

  38. David says:

    What an amazing story and really glad it worked out so well in the end. My friend’s daughter had a car accident about 7 years ago now and she swerved to miss the car in front that had stopped suddenly and she hit a tree instead. It was an instant reaction – but her injury was horrific compared to what might of happened to her and the car in front if they had just hit each other. She ended up paralised from kneck down. Her son was only 18mths old at time. But like you she isn’t bitter and has found a way to live with it all.

    Just makes us think about what’s important in life. Good Luck for your future.

  39. What an incredible story. Sounds like you have worked hard and been very fortunate in your recovery, and that is wonderful to hear. I wish you all the best life has to offer from here forward!

  40. Hi Shawn. That was an amazing story. Took a deep breath after reading it. It’s a great come back and from the story i could see how good & strong your heart is. I love the way you teach linux. I used to watch other linux related podcasts and it sure did put me to sleep. I almost came to a conclusion that i can never become a linux guy coz if its something we love, it shouldn’t put us to sleep. But yours was different. You gave me a better insight in linux and i owe you a lot mate. The whole video session was very interesting and thanks to your sense of humor it made the session more lively. Keep up the good work mate and i’m hoping to see all your podcasts in the near future. Thank you once again! πŸ˜€ – Saran

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