Painful reminder: Accident teaches powerful life lesson

By Danielle Scroggins | Published Saturday, July 21, 2018

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Twenty-six years ago.

July 14, 1992, changed my life in ways that affect me everyday even to this day.

I was 17, enjoying the summer before my senior year. I had taken my sister and her friend to the Decatur Country Club pool and spent the afternoon self-consciously sporting my very first bikini while watching two 11-year-olds.

I remember laughing at their games, and feeling gratitude that my sister had kept in touch with a friend from our pre-Decatur Marine Corps brat days. Their visit had been carefully organized and planned by the parents, and I still live with the guilt of messing that up.

We left the pool, and stopped for Dairy Queen Blizzards on the way home. They were in the back seat of my Diahatsu Rocky – a Jeep type vehicle that I loved as much as anyone can love a car.

I was in the front seat, bravely driving with all the windows down, and feeling the sun hitting my shoulders. I remember feeling the freedom of summer and my long hair tickling my cheeks as the wind swirled it in a million directions. I recall the tightness of my summer sunburn and hearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” on the radio.

I remember turning onto Preskitt Road and secretly cussing all the potholes. I remember feeling the shocks of my beloved Rocky gasp for air each time we hit one of those potholes. And, I vividly remember making the decision to dodge those potholes.

It took just one second for everything to change. Our singing stopped. The Blizzards spilled. The wind whistled. The radio silenced. My Rocky crumpled.

As I dodged one of those potholes, I topped a hill. At that exact moment, another car did the same thing, and that sweet summer afternoon ended.

I don’t remember how it happened, but I do recall standing up on the side of the road. I wasn’t in my car anymore. The car was on the wrong side of the road. The car was actually on its side and looked like a wadded up piece of paper.

My sister was screaming. She and her friend were still buckled in the backseat, but they were insistent that the car was going to explode any second.

I unbuckled them both, ushered them to the road and immediately looked for a t-shirt for myself. Being the brave teenager of the day, I was still sporting my bikini top and denim shorts. In my rational and modest mind, I remember thinking I should be clothed as we went to the hospital.

The other driver was an angel. I will never forget her face or her name. I knew her from high school, but she was older than me and I figured she didn’t know me. She collected us into her car, which was still functional, and drove us to the hospital.

As I sat in the front seat, I looked at my legs. Blood. Something was wrong with my knee. I pulled down the visor. Blood. Something was wrong with my eyebrow. Wait. No, something was wrong with my face.

I can still feel the bile rising in my stomach as I slammed the visor back to the roof. “Just get through it” was the thought that flashed through my mind.

When we arrived at the emergency room, I think I left my body. The memory is surreal and cloudy. I remember calmly giving our information – parent’s names, address and phone number, my driver’s license number, my sister’s name and age and our daily activities. I asked for my dad and I remember the relief when I was told my sister and her friend were perfect.

They each had severe seat belt bruises and wanted Gatorade, but they were OK.

I think that’s when I started hurting, but they told me not to cry. “Sweetie, your face. Just try not to cry.”

I remember the anxiety and worry about the car. I didn’t want to face my parents’ disappointment. I couldn’t breathe. My teeth felt weird. The nurses laid me on a table and cut off my T-shirt. In my hurry to ensure my modesty, I had wiggled into my sister’s shirt. My ribs hurt, I think. Maybe, it was my whole chest. I just wanted to breathe. Everything started to hurt. I turned my head and saw my dad.

As I’m writing this, tears still fill my eyes at the memory. His face told me it wasn’t good. I was gone then. The doctors had to get the gravel out of my face.

When I awoke, I heard the nurses telling someone about where to get plastic surgery. My mom was talking about the dentist, and when to replace my teeth. I still couldn’t breathe. They realized my three broken ribs had punctured a lung. I was awake when they put the tube in my chest. I can still feel my muscle fibers resisting that strange plastic invader. Sleep was all I wanted.

I spent the next seven days at Decatur Community Hospital. My injuries included the aforementioned broken ribs, punctured lung, a broken shoulder blade, three broken teeth, a scraped and sanded face. There were countless stitches. Nurses fainted when dressing my wounds, and friends left the room holding their stomachs.

I still wasn’t supposed to cry. The pain medicine made me sick. My lung complained each time I tried to breathe properly. But every time I woke up, someone was holding my hand – friends, family, nurses and even strangers. My room filled with balloons, cards, and flowers. People called to assure my full recovery. My mom kept a sign-in sheet. My best friends brought “Saturday Night Live” tapes to cheer me up, not realizing laughing with broken ribs was quite painful.

I was overcome with support. I was also overcome with dread to face the family of my sister’s friend.

They rushed to Decatur, stayed in our home, and spoke forgiving and prayerful words to me as they held my hand. Their relief at my recovery overcame me. In those moments, I felt God’s love. But, I still haven’t shaken that guilt.

The rest of the summer was spent in recovery at home. There were Vitamin E treatments for my face, wraps for broken bones, removal of stitches and dentist appointments.

I didn’t want to leave the house. People stared.

My mom washed and braided my hair. She cut my food into tiny pieces since I couldn’t bite with my front teeth.

I slept. My sister played video games, and we watched movies in the afternoon.

My parents forgave me. There was no question they would.

It was September before I could think about posing for Senior Portraits, but I did. No plastic surgery. I was told it was a miracle. I know that to be true.

People often speak about seizing the day and expressing gratitude. That fateful day in mid-July imprinted that philosophy on my heart and in my soul.

The truth is, I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I stood up from the pavement because the car ejected me. I landed on my face. I should have been permanently broken, but I wasn’t. I could have gravely injured another person, but I didn’t. I was given a chance. I was given a choice – a choice to live, love and celebrate every single day.

Tomorrow is always uncertain, and in a time of national political upheaval, negative local politics and a strained social fabric, I won’t forget the chance I was given. I can’t.

Danielle Scroggins is a Decatur resident, Decatur High school graduate, former teacher and mother of three. She writes a monthly column, Life is Kid’s Stuff, for the Messenger.

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