Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hydroplaning while in Life's Fast Lane

This is my first entry into "Soap Opera Sunday", courtesy of 'Twas Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. I caution you dear readers, it is a bit heavy compared to my usual fare. If you don't want heavy, go to one of the other SOS entries, I'm sure you'll find something more to your taste. And come back here for Monday Memories and a bit more light-hearted look at my life. But if you are sticking with me, get out your popcorn and tissues for (Cue deep voiced announcer) Soap Opera Sunday (Cue music, fade out)

I was well on the road to success, working to finish my junior year of college, very good grades, majoring in Physics with a minor in Math. I was in great physical shape, having succeeded in earning a nomination as one of the first women to the Air Force Academy. I turned it down, but it was great to finally achieve something I had been working towards for so long. When the US Guv'mnt finally realized that women could be an asset and not a burden in their precious military, I was two years further in my college career and NASA had already determined to use more civilians in its astronaut corps. As I wanted to be a scientist and not a glorified bus driver (pilot), there was no reason for me to continue along the military path. I was breaking through enough barriers in the science world. My paying jobs were teaching in the astronomy labs and working as a waitress for a pizza restaurant chain. The waitress job paid pretty well when you included the tips I could earn.

My "love life", at least what one has at age 19, was basically on hold. My serious high school love had moved back East to college 2 years before and had decided he needed to focus on his school work and not a long distance relationship. Our mutual best friend was at the Air Force Academy and was disappointed I was not joining him but interested in eventually taking our friendship to another level since the way was now open. I was dating several guys, none really seriously, but one more for convenience. He was a manager at the restaurant chain where I worked and occasionally would call me in to fill in for one of his waitresses. As we shared a lot of the same hours and even worked sometimes at the same restaurant, it was convenient. Especially as my school load was pretty heavy and I did not really need romance or complications. Good-buddy sex was fine, even if it wasn't so good.

This was how my life had been going for a couple of months. Then on a cold December morning I was asked to open up a restaurant that was a half-hours drive away. It wasn't that early, but there wasn't much traffic on the road. However, the temperature was just above freezing and in Texas you get a condition on the roads known as "black ice". The night temperature drops so that the humidity freezes out of the air and covers the road. However, the black road surface is still warm and melts the frozen water drops back to water which then fills all the cracks and leaves a thin film. As the temperature drops further and the road heat radiates away, the water freezes in some patches. But it is not everywhere and it is not obvious. The first cars traveling over the road hit a surface where there is absolutely no traction. The highway department had made an effort to reduce this phenomenon by carving grooves in the highway. But it had not yet gotten around to re-carving the surfaces that had seen repairs during the summer.

So you see the set-up. I in my station wagon, traveling only 40 mph on the 65 mph highway,leaving plenty of space between myself and other cars, thought I was being safe. I did not see the ice. My only consolation is that many other drivers that same day did not see such patches. Ambulance drivers had a very busy day. Now the rest of the story is not something I "remember", but something that is created from memory flashes and from what has been pieced together by the police and eye witness accounts and what has been told to me by others.

I was traveling in the far left lane on the three lane highway. The road grooves ended just before an underpass. My car hydroplaned when it hit the ice. The back end fishtailed to the right. I let off the gas and steered into the swerve, just as I had been instructed in driver's ed. I got the car under control in the middle lane. Almost. There was more ice and the car continued with the rear end swinging around to the left in a slow circle. It crossed the remaining lane of traffic and continued in a sideways slide until it hit the third bridge support on the right hand side. The car hit the concrete pillar so that it left an impression of the tire and fender paint that could be seen for several years later. The impact tore the car completely in half, separating it at the firewall. The engine and front end of the car went around one side of the pillar, then continued back across the highway coming to rest in the fast lane. The back end of the car, with me in it, continued around the other side of the pillar, sliding along the shoulder of the highway and at some point ejecting me out of the front door so that I landed on my back in the gutter at the side of the road.

I was apparently conscious the whole time. When witnesses ran up to me to see if they could help, I was lucid enough to give my name and my Mom's phone number as well as my work's number and boyfriend's (BF) name and number. The ambulance had been called. I do remember looking up at the faces peering down at me and realizing that they thought I was going to die. I don't remember being in any great pain but I was very cold and soaked to the skin. This is one of the last memories I am sure of for the next 3 months. No one else was hurt in the accident. The ambulance arrived and medics checked me out carefully. I did not have a scratch, though I was bleeding from some places where my hair had been torn out. I was obviously going to have some bruises, I was very cold and likely entering shock. But I had no broken bones, I was coherent and conversing with them, I had no obvious internal injuries, my blood pressure was good, and they had six other calls lined up after me. I did not want to go to a hospital that was an hour's drive away from my Mom's house. My BF had been reached and was on his way. The police were on scene and agreed to let me stay in their car. I was released with the promise to go immediately to my own doctor (who operated from a small hospital in the town my mother lived in). The ambulance team went on its way to the next emergency.

I waited in the car with the police who were filling out the accident report. Apparently when the were asking me questions I got upset and started crying, asking if I was going to get a ticket! I had never had a ticket and was very distressed. One of the officers said that since I had not done any real damage to the bridge and no one else was involved and it was clear that I had not been speeding, he did not see any reason to cite me this time, but I had to promise not to do it again! It must have been rather comical as by then the first tow truck had arrived to remove the front end of my car and sweep up the debris. There was some conversation with the tow truck driver who asked how many had been killed in the accident. I know these guys must have had a great laugh out of my worries about a ticket as they were only too ready to share the story with BF when he arrived.

When he had been called he was only told that I had car trouble. My Mom could not be reached and my work was told I had been in a car accident and would not be coming in. BF arrived to see the back end of my car being towed away. He was only too ready to take me to the hospital when he finally realized I was safe in the police car. He drove me to the town where my Mom lived and by then I really was in shock as I could not tell him where we were or where to go anymore. My brain had started to swell and I was not able to communicate any more. Somehow he found the clinic and they rushed to get full body X-rays. Apparently it was only in the hall outside the X-Ray room that they realized I smelled like gasoline. I was stripped naked in the hall, rubbed down with some sort of cleaner, and put in a gown. It happened so quickly that BF was surprised at the brisk treatment I received from the two nurses and X-ray technician. But of course this was a hospital where people were on oxygen. And the gasoline soaking into my skin was also not healthy!

No broken bones, but my skull had a slight fracture and evidence of at least 2 concussions! And lots of bruising all over my body. But not a scratch! Later when we looked at the car, there were chunks of my hair wrapped around the window crank in the back seat. I should tell you I was not wearing a seat belt (a lap belt for that age car). It probably saved my life, on of the rare instances where a seatbelt was not a help. The steering column had been shoved up to within 2 inches of the front seat. Although I was thrown around inside the car and ejected out of the door that had been popped open, I had not been pinned by the steering column to the car seat, my legs were not crushed along with the floorboard, and in truth I was lucky to be alive, lucky to have no worse injuries, lucky in so many respects.

But luck does have its price. I had a serious short-term memory loss. I did not know BF, I knew friends and family but only scattered memories of the prior 3 months. I did not remember the apartment I lived in or my own phone number. And every day I woke up I did not know where I was or why I was there. Needless to say I was kept for observation for a few days. And then I caught pneumonia and was very seriously ill before the doctors realized it. My only real memory of the hospital was looking out at my mother through the plastic of an oxygen tent and hearing my own breathing making rattling sounds in my chest.

After a week I was "ambulant". But I could not be left alone. I still had serious memory problems and was easily confused and frustrated by the world around me. The doctors said this was temporary and would slowly improve, but there was little more than time that could provide the healing. I guess I should say something about my family situation. My parents were divorced, in fact twice from each other (a separate Soap Opera blog in itself). My mother was in the middle of writing her thesis for her Masters Degree in English as well as holding down a full-time job. My two brothers were in their junior and sophomore years in high school. There was no one "home" to look after me and I could not be left alone.

So BF volunteered to look after me. He moved into my apartment (it was cheaper and better than his), and I went to work with him, sitting in the restaurant reading books and magazines (I think). One time when we were at the apartment together, I went to take out the trash and got lost. You need to realize it was a very small apartment complex, only 20 units. But I could not find my way back and could not figure out what to do. So I just sat down and waited. Eventually BF came looking for me. As you can see I was in bad shape. I resigned from the university. Even thought my grades had been excellent, I could not remember the classes I had been taking. I had notes and papers in my handwriting, but I could not recall any of the lectures. I did not even recognize the teachers, with the exception of my guidance counselor whose class I had the previous year. It was very strange and rather sad. But everyone thought I would be back within a year.

But life's hydroplaning was not over for me, as I was to learn a couple of months later. You see BF's mom lived in California and she had come across a "fantastic deal" on a restaurant that was for sale. She was willing to put up the funds for BF to come and run the restaurant. I should tell you more about BF. While he was born in Texas, he had lived from a very young age in Hawaii. He had never graduated from high school. He had read one book in his life and that was "Jaws". He was a 6' 3", well built, friendly, easy-going, nice guy. Everyone liked him and he had been in the restaurant business for 4 years, even managing a pizza restaurant in Guam. His big dream was to run his own restaurant and here it was being handed to him. It was not something he could pass up. So after 10 days of discussion and long distance phone calls, he decided to move to California.

By this time, I was better, but was so dependent on BF that I could make no decisions on my own. I did not drive, but then I no longer had a car. I went everywhere with him. I had not been alone since my accident. And after a few incidents of getting lost and confused my whole confidence in my abilities to do anything was non-existent. I was not the same person I had been prior to the accident. I no longer had any conversations with friends. I saw no classmates and only a few colleagues from work who had known me before. At this point I should have had some sort of therapy, but it seemed like I was coping very well. What I did not know is that BF was keeping a lot of things from my Mom, so she was unaware of how dependent I was on him. She was also so busy with my the teenage crises my brothers were in and her own pressures from college and working as junior high teacher. She did not know what was going on with me. No one did.

So it came as a great shock to her when I showed up at her school at lunch to announce that I was getting married and moving to California. This was on Monday. We got married on Wednesday. We moved to California on Saturday....

16 comments:

anno said...

This must have been a terrifying experience - I can hardly fathom the composure with which you're writing about this.

About the ending... just making sure we come back next week?

Fourier Analyst said...

Leave it to you dear anno to be the first (especially when JIH is on vacation!) Yes, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I have enough fodder for several months of Soap Opera Sundays. And just titillate you further, it gets worse...

And as for my composure, 30 years does give one perspective!

But did you like it? A bit heavy I know, but something I need to do. Mondays will make you smile I promise!!

Kateastrophe said...

Holy crap!! This is crazy! I can't wait to hear what happens next!

Brillig said...

Oh my gosh, FA. This is crazy and terrifying stuff. Thanks so much for writing it. I can't even imagine those memory snippets, but not ever really knowing what was going on and where you were.

My mother was in an accident at about the same age--her life was saved because she wasn't wearing her seatbelt too!

Thanks for participating in Soap Opera Sunday. This is such an excellent piece.

Real Life Drama Queen said...

Wow! Speechless. I cannot wait to read the rest.

soccer mom in denial said...

FA - I continue to worship the ground you walk on. It is reassuring how decades can give us perspective.

I'm so amazed at how SMART you are. That beginning was so exciting. Smart, smart, smart....

As we say in this part of the world - wicked smaht.

anno said...

Of course, I loved it. Scary stuff, but good, very good.

Luisa Perkins said...

Ho. Ly. Cow. Unbelievable! Very well written--and what an awful experience. I look forward to more!

Jen said...

What an amazing story. And of course you've kept us on the edge of our seats. Soap opera indeed. I'm glad that now it seems you've come out of it okay...

Annette Lyon said...

Wow--intense stuff! Can't wait for the next installment.

Dedee said...

This is amazing. My little high school snippets seem pale in comparison.

Can't wait for next week!

Fourier Analyst said...

Brillig and Kate,
Thanks again for such a great idea! I hope SOS is considered a success as I am really enjoying all the entries I read!

RLDQ and Anno,
Thanks so much, but you know I love reading about your dramas as well!

Luisa and deedee,
Welcome ladies! I am really enjoying reading your entries and am glad they are not all as heavy and heartbreaking as mine!

Jen,
Yes, I've had some hard knocks, but have turned out pretty great. Hope there's a lesson in there somewhere...

Annette,
Welcome, I consider this a real compliment coming from a published author like yourself!

And oh yes, there is more...

Fourier Analyst said...

Dear SMID
It's great having you as a fan! But if I was so smart, how come I got married at 19? Oh yeah, I'd lost my mind! Just wait until you read how dumb I really was. That's what keeps me humble these days!

Rhonda Can't Help You said...

Oh. My. Gosh. What a scary situation. I can't wait to hear the rest.

summershine said...

Oh my gosh. I am so sorry you had such a terrible ordeal.

Jenn in Holland said...

Um. Woah.
The things you don't know about the girls you hang out with, eh?

What a start to this story. I am on my way to chapter 2.