Car Crash: Epilogue and Reflections

The car crash which I survived this past December 5, was a day after which my father passed away 11 years ago. Though I don’t usually look into such coincidences with much fanfare, I do today with a certain reverie.

As I was on my way to work today, my transport for whatever reason decided to take the same route Ed, Lito, and I used to take during the several months I’ve been here. It was the first time I had revisited that route since the crash.

Today is my dad’s birthday.

The intersection was as I remember it before the accident. How strange it now seems that a common work of concrete and asphalt is now personally imbued with such grim significance. My mother, a devout Catholic (not a religious nut) is a true spiritual follower, focusing on the goodness that thoughtful, soulful reflection can bring to oneself and to others. She’d probably remind me how an intersection is a cross (let’s not go there), but it’s just a measure of how much she loves and thinks about me I’m sure.

Dad passed away in pain. He suffered an aneurysm just as he was leaving work. Remembering him today surrounded by the memories of my recent accident, I can somehow imagine what he might have been thinking at the time. My sister and I were still finishing college while he was the sole breadwinner. I now have a child and my wife and I work to put food on the table.

It’s a horrible thing to worry about how your family will survive without you, so near to the precipice. To feel that you might never see them again. I know that dad must have thought those thoughts. HIs driver and family friend Jun was with him as he rushed him to the nearest hospital. As he was taken into the ICU, Jun told us that his last words were, “Study hard. Study hard.”

They could just have easily been my own.

Besides the bus driver who hit us, I was the only one who remembered the entire thing. Ed suffered head injuries, and though thank heavens they weren’t really serious, he couldn’t remember what happened when it did. Both of us were admitted for 3 days, and in that time, I was the one recounting the entire incident to officemates, friends and family (both Ed’s and mine). We both were released the same day, suffering the same aches and pains, receiving the same kind of medication. Ed of course has the worse scars, but if you seem him today (of course with a baseball cap), you wouldn’t know anything had happened to him.

It took about two weeks to really get over the pain from my contusion, bruises and neck pains. I’ve pretty much completely recovered. The only thing I have left is a very small mass (blood clot) around my right pelvis area caused by the seatbelt that is fading by the day. On the day I was released, it was about the size of a small banana. The nurses might have thought I was happy to see them.

I commented to several friends that none of the bystanders seemed to be willing to help. Most of them were gawking at the scene if not getting on their phones. But they along with other expats have told me that there are local considerations to be made. Many of the onlookers were maintenance crew, engineers, and other expats working in surrounding industries. And at the scene of an accident, the local police have free rein in rounding up nearby ‘suspects.’ Locals are usually spared, but if you’re a foreigner, you’ll usually be singled out and be brought in for questioning. So there are risks that you could even be accused of causing the accident if you happen to help. Compare that to Good Samaritan laws in France where you are required to help victims at the scene of a serious accident.

Speaking of culpability, the guy who caused our misfortune was a Pakistani driver working his usual bus route rushing to bring a few workers to their office. Many bus services here work several companies on tight schedules, so it’s not uncommon to see their vehicles rushing here and there at the expense of ‘minor’ traffic infractions. Their training here is rushed by their employers, so basic signs, like the one that said STOP on his lane, was most likely an afterthought.

When I exited the smashed car, I noticed three fellows exit their bus. I had no idea which of them was the driver. Now I don’t think I want to know. I don’t know his name, what he looks like, or how long he’ll be in jail, as he already is. The investigation was quick as I was informed there there’s a law where if the front of your vehicle is damaged, the accident is ruled automatically against you, regardless of the circumstances. Though I am satisfied that he is behind bars, there is a part of me that pities him. He is most likely from an impoverished background as most drivers here I know are, slaving away to save money for his family, not being able to go home often due to travel costs. Part of me wanted to know if he was given a just sentence; if he’ll be treated fairly.

That of course must be of little concern to Lito’s family. His full name was Angelito Asperec, and he worked as an administrative assistant in my uncle’s procurement division. He is survived by his wife Liezel and his two children. My heart goes out to them. I was told that she learned of accident while at a party. As she was told to go home, her relatives were contacted as well to proceed to her place to help her through what she would be told next.

My mom got that same sort of news when my dad passed away. I cannot describe to you how a mother has to prepare her children for the loss of their father. It’s something you wish on no one.

There was small solace that my great friend and uncle Samir, Lito’s boss, had been meeting with the company’s chairman that same day of the accident. The chairman rarely gets to visit the company, as he last visited several months before. When someone mentioned to him that Samir had lost a valued friend and employee, the chairman offered a year’s worth of Lito’s salary as compensation (the usual is 3 months). It was a generous heartfelt gesture considering that the company we work for is going through a tough time.

Lito was a short, quiet kind of guy, but whenever I saw him he was always smiling. All of us Pinoys in the office would get together for lunch (all the nationalities have their own table groups, like cliques at a high school canteen). During Ramadan, where non-Muslims have to scurry away from the majority just to have lunch, we would all gather in the drivers’ quarters and, for lack of a better phrase, “shoot the shit,” talking about current events and politics, but never anything really personal.

My last memories of Lito are of us sharing emails and chats over Pacquiao’s success over Miguel Cotto. Greeting him every morning when Ed picked us up, and wishing him well as left at the same spot. I once walked with him as he went to a nearby remittance center, preparing to send support to his family no doubt. I didn’t know him long, but he was a decent man.

When Samir arrived at our accident, he said, “Thank God nothing happened to you.” If you were there you would see why. Death was pretty much outside the driver’s door. But oddly enough, I can’t really say I’ve been traumatized by the event. Or perhaps I am and don’t know it (subconscious denial?). I was lucid when it was all happening, systematically going through what needed to be done (as far as I knew) without giving a seconds notice. I can’t say that I’ve been preparing for this all my life, I can’t describe what my thought process was like. It was automatic.

Perhaps it’s because from time to time, I intentionally go through my worst fears and think through them. Not as a form of masochism, but just to understand. I consider myself a very empathetic person, trying to comprehend thoroughly what other people go through. There are times where I have gone through what a loved one’s loss, what disastrous experience, or even my own demise, would ensue. It can be quite painful at times, but you’ll be surprised at what realizations you’d come to. Some consider it morbid, I consider it strangely necessary.

I am grateful that I am still breathing, experiencing pain as it tells me that I am still alive. I definitely thank seat belts. But I am especially thankful for those people (associates, strangers, nurses, doctors, friends and family) who have contacted with genuine concern and care for my safety and well-being. Especially mom and Claire whose feelings for me need not be explained. It is true what they say here in Saudi that relationships are very important. Once you really get to know someone here, they really do care for you, as my circle here has shown.

And dad, Happy Birthday. I hear you loud and clear.

I was in a car crash

About quarter to 7 this past Saturday morning (the start of the workweek here in Saudi Arabia), the car I was riding was hit by a bus. It was the most violent incident I’ve ever experienced firsthand; the kind of crash you only see in movies. I survived with some minor cuts and bruises, while two of those with me suffered different fates.

The three of us (me, Ed and Lito) were on our way to work, approaching the last intersection towards the office. That intersection had been the scene of an accident before, which morbidly enough, also involved a car and a bus. It has no traffic lights, save for say a stop sign for vehicles to yield to the main road. Clearly, that sign had no bearing to the driver that smashed into our car. Smashed is the right word.

Picture for a minute our car heading north. Nearing the intersection, a white passenger bus heading in the same direction was ahead of us (think to our left, northwest). It was slowing down preparing to turn left. Ed, who was driving, naturally moved aside to pass it. In perfect yet deadly sequence, a green bus (Mercedes passenger type) was going east on that intersection.

That white bus must have been the catalyst for the crash. It blocked Ed’s view of the green one before he could anticipate, and surely, if for a moment, must have blocked the green bus’s view of us.

As we passed the white bus I saw the oncoming green one. It must have been 2 full seconds before impact. And in those miliseconds, I can recall perfectly the simultaneous thoughts raging through my mind. Succinctly, “Holy Shit! That green bus is not slowing down! We are going to get hit! Ed!”

Just as I was about to utter those very words. Boom.

The side where I was sitting. on Twitpic The bus which hit us in the background on Twitpic The driver's side. on Twitpic

One sees those car crashes in the movies and becomes amazed at the spectacle of it all, but what never occurred to me is how overwhelming the sound is from within the vehicles. The physical and aural assault was so complete and instantaneous, that for a full second everything seemed black, every sense deadened, and then slowly faded back into focus.

My environment was transformed. Comfortable seats and clear glass turned to wreckage and debris. There was silence, and then there was groaning and gasping, my own mostly. I was totally out of breath, so I wondered, do I have a collapsed lung? Just keep breathing. Breathe. Breathe.

My lungs seemed to be ok, so I started moving my limbs to check if anything was broken. Nothing was in pain, so I felt myself for blood. No blood no foul.

I took off my beloved seatbelt and could see bystanders starting to walk in our direction. I could hear Ed groaning like I was. His head was streaked with blood pouring down his face but I didn’t know what to expect from him at the time. I exited the car.

I kept on shouting for help, but nobody seemed to understand what I was saying. As I exited the car, Ed asked me to help him out. I asked him if anything was broken, but he didn’t answer. Miraculously he had the strength to push himself out of his seat as I gave him a hand. No one else did despite them surrounding the car.

I went to look in the back to check on Lito, and seeing him will stay with me ’til the end. He was slumped somewhat facedown on the seat, which was drenched in blood, about a liter’s worth.

I saw the side of his face. I knew right then it was badly fractured. His left side had a crack in the middle and it was impacted. There was another on the top of his head, which was as drenched as the seat. Lito was murmuring; all I could make out was “Tulong…” (Help).

I wanted to get him out, but I was so frightened that moving him would make his condition worse. All I could do was touch his shoulder and say, “Lito, huwag kang gumalaw. Huwag kang gumalaw.” (Lito, don’t move. Don’t move).

Ed and I were screaming for help, but the locals weren’t doing anything except gawking at the mess. I spotted an officemate whom I didn’t know, and he started calling the medics. I called my uncle. Ed called his wife. While Ed was on the phone he kept asking me what happened repeatedly. Each time I told him not to think about it now and just rest. It worried me that he asked each time as if it were a new question. He also asked me where the blood was coming from his head. I pointed it out to him (from the top).

I then started to feel a slight sting near the back of my head, and sure enough it was bleeding, but nowhere near as bad as I thought it was at the time (about half an inch long, and not deep). It turns out I must have hit my head on the right hand window as I was looking left towards the green bus. Good thing I was wearing my seatbelt. Lito was not.

The crash sent the car probably 20 meters into the intersection road heading east. We could have been sent flying into another vehicle, or barrel rolling several times. Heavens be praised. My uncle arrived and told me “Thank God nothing happened to you.” I recognized more people from the office, where there was supposed to be a party that morning celebrating Eid al-Adha. It was cancelled.

The ambulance must have arrived 15-20 minutes after the crash. I got in, Ed next, and then Lito was brought in on a stretcher, with his head the most heavily bandaged of all. The trip must have taken 10 minutes to get there. Ed and I were facing each other as I was continuing to point out which spot on his head he should keep pressure on. Lito was groaning the whole trip. God knows how much agony his head injuries were causing him. His right hand was fractured, and he kept on using his left to remove his oxygen mask, which must’ve have been causing him much pain. The attendant in the ambulance with us was also Filipino, and told Lito that he needed the oxygen. He also put in tubes to remove blood from Lito’s mouth in case it was hindering his breathing.

We got to the hospital which gave us all the prompt attention. I was attended to last because I was the luckiest. I was shipped from room to room on a wheelchair, encountering officemates I knew and didn’t know, not knowing where Ed and Lito were around the facility. As I finished having my x-rays taken in the ICU, I saw Lito in his stretcher, and I spotted him blinking and breathing. Heavens be praised, he looks like he’s going to be alright.

In what seemed like an hour later, I was in another room for my ultrasound scans, I overheard some Filipino nurses and technicians speaking.

“May namatay na Pinoy sa ICU kanina.” (A Filipino died in the ICU a while ago). I asked who it was, it was Lito.

It couldn’t have been! I saw him minutes ago! He looked like he was going to make it!

It was just what they heard. I asked them what the cause was as if that mattered; it was a massive car crash. As the day went on, I got different causes. Head trauma. Hemorrhaging. Cardiac Arrest. He might have had them all. The last one was the official cause.

I have some ugly hematomas around my waist and a contusion around my left ribs because of the seatbelt (It’s what caused my loss of breath). I have multiple tiny blood scars on the back of my left hand because of the minute glass debris. Even after a day after the crash, I accidentally bit on those little shards every time I winced in pain. When I undressed the first time after the accident, bits of glass fell out of my clothes and shoes.

I was given a neck brace in the first two days mainly for precautionary measures. I didn’t feel pain in my neck for about an hour after the accident, but that’s normal because of the shock from whiplash. Even today I have stiff neck symptoms.

The contusion made it difficult to breathe even after the accident. It didn’t help that my uncle Samir (God bless him) kept on making me laugh even while I was being evaluated. Comedy is the best medicine.

Ed thank goodness is ok, and was ok even in the hospital, despite the great pain he felt understandably. I was almost certain that he was seriously injured when the crash happened. He also feels some back pain while walking, but x-rays revealed no broken bones whatsoever. His wife Cynthia is one tough cookie, bringing humor and strength for both of us while we were in the hospital. I would like to have that reservoir of resolve wherever she gets it. Ed and I were released on the same day.

I’m the only one who remembers the whole thing. And strangely enough, though I can recall pretty much every detail of what went on, it was only today I relived the whole incident when I was riding in my boss’s car today as he came to visit me. It wasn’t that he wasn’t driving safely (He was), it’s that for whatever reason, I was only ready to process what it felt like.

It was a terrifying day. A day I thought I was going to die.