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Accident Report

On Dec 29, 2022, Bill Allen and I were driving home from our Christmas gathering with my family in southern California. We were on a straight stretch of Highway 128, only half an hour from home. I was driving along watching the road in front of me coming at me between my hands, when suddenly instead of pavement, I saw trees coming at me. Bill yelled, “Nancy, watch out!” or something like that. I tried to brake and steer away from the trees, but it was all mud, and we just slid along. The next second, trees stopped us.

The lights were still on, the windshield wipers were still on, and the engine was still running. I turned off the wipers, the lights and the engine. Then I realized that my window was still closed — it was not broken. I thought I might need to crawl out of it, so I turned the engine back on and opened the window, then turned the engine off again. I picked up my purse which was right next to me, got my phone out, and called 911. I said we’d gone off the road somewhere between Boonville and Philo, on Highway 128. (I may have been confused and said 253 at first, perhaps that’s why they looked for us at the wrong place first.) My purse is large, with a large open top — nothing had fallen out of it. At this point I thought Bill was fine, since I felt unhurt; then I saw he was hunched over toward me. There was no blood, but he was obviously hurting and unconscious. I put my hand under his head to hold it up and kept yelling at him to keep breathing! 

I stayed on the phone and holding his head up until someone came. There was pale pink mucus coming out his nose. When people finally came, they couldn’t get him out the opening in the doorway. His knees were crammed right up against the dashboard, and I was worried they would be quite hurt. They said maybe they’d have to go get the “Jaws of Life,” but I said, “There’s a lever just by the side of the seat that will make the seat-back go down,” so they pulled it, and sure enough, the seat back leaned back, and now they could get him out and on to the stretcher. I climbed out after him, clutching my purse, and grabbed his beautiful suede jacket that Olivia had given him. 

I walked up a little slope where the paramedics put down a big red tarp, which I then sat down on. I saw that the lumber rack with the car carrier still attached had been thrown clear of the truck and was laying maybe 20 feet to the right of it.

The paramedics and everyone were so kind and sweet, and I was very, very grateful. They told me Bill had a serious head injury, and they wanted to airlift him to Santa Rosa (they may have said “Ukiah,” but I heard Santa Rosa) but they couldn’t, because the visibility was so bad. 

They brought him to an ambulance to take him to Ukiah. Meanwhile, they did a quick assessment to my well-being, then took me over to another ambulance. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into it, but Antoinette said, “You’ve just been in a very bad accident, and I really think you should go to the hospital.” I said, “But how will I get home?” She said, “we’ll get you a taxi; but how would you get home from here anyway?” I said, “Good point!” and went into the ambulance. Thom talked to me all the way to the hospital very kindly, and made sure I was okay, and not getting too car-sick. Really, the two of them were angels!

At the hospital they checked me out, X-rayed me, even did a cat scan. They said that if one person in an accident has brain damage, they check out the others in the car to be sure they don’t as well. The x-rays showed that I had two cracked ribs. My right wrist was slightly bruised and swollen. I had no other injuries. 

I have since learned that my injuries, including the hurt wrist, are consistent with injuries sustained — especially in women — when an airbag is deployed. I hadn’t been able to figure out what had caused my injuries, so this explanation makes perfect sense. I heard someone saying that Bill wasn’t too happy to have his clothes cut off him, so I guess at that point he wasn’t in a coma. They observed me for a few hours, and released me about 10:00. Bill was in a room right next to mine, and they invited me to see Bill right before I left; he was on a gurney ready to be airlifted to Santa Rosa, where there is a much more sophisticated brain trauma center. Obviously the weather had cleared up by then.

When I was asked what happened, I really had no idea how I had gotten off the road, and said maybe I shut my eyes for a second or something. I was asked right away if any other cars had been involved, and I gave an emphatic “no,” even though I saw tail lights going to the left and front of me. I knew I did not hit another car. In thinking more about it, however, I don’t believe I ever lost consciousness before, during or after.

Some people have suggested that I hydroplaned. Others have suggested that maybe I had a blowout, but I never heard anything or felt anything that I think could be consistent with a blowout. Instead it was smooth and slidey, like it has felt a couple of times when we’ve been stuck in the mud before, trying to drive on a muddy un-rocked road by our house. Braking and steering made absolutely no difference in both cases. If the tail lights I saw had belonged to a car that had just passed me, the extra wind and water it threw up could have contributed to my going over. But regardless, I was driving, and somehow got us off the roadbed, and into a slide downhill, where the center of the truck hit a tree, and seriously injured the love of my life.

The next day I drove to the tow-yard to see the truck carcass. Some people have suggested that it flipped over, but I am certain that it did not. The inside of the driver’s compartment was not compromised at all, including the roof, and I never felt it turn over, as well as the fact that nothing fell out of my purse. The tow-truck driver said that people (if conscious) always know if they flipped. 

Looking at the damaged truck, the accident site, and my own experience inside it, it becomes quite clear that it did not flip over. What does become clear, as related to me by the tow driver and two people who talked to him at the towing site while observing the carcass, as well as their observation of the site of the accident, is that the truck slid off the road and into a tree that hit the side of the truck, smashing into the back door right behind Bill; that impact sent its path into a stand of small trees that were able to stop the movement. Thus the inside of the cab where I was, was not in the least crushed. nor was the driver’s side window broken, as I stated before, and that it was still quite operable. The driver’s side door was dented on the outside where the trees stopped it, but it was not crushed. The lumber rack and car carrier had flown off. (20 years ago when we got the truck and the rack, the rack was just set into the truck, not bolted in.) The tow driver got our suitcases out of the carrier and put them in his truck cab, so they would stop getting wet. There were five metal garden chairs and a wicker chair tied onto the bed; only one metal chair was bent and is unable to be used. The others, including the wicker, were fine. (My sister and her husband took them off the truck.) This would not have been possible if it had flipped.

The bed of the truck looks really bad in the photo, but a great deal of that is because the clean-up team scooped up the lumber rack and pieces of car carrier, wood from a chest we were carrying, other plastic debris from boxes we’d had in the truck, as well as the tailgate that had probably flown off with the impact into the tree, and put it all onto the metal chairs, and tied it all together with ratchet straps. There is an imprint of the tree we first hit on the door behind Bill’s door. That door was completely destroyed, the computer packed right inside of it was completely destroyed, and clearly this is how Bill was hurt. 

We had just gone to the grocery store in Santa Rosa. Six or seven bags of food were in the backseat behind the driver’s side, as well as my boots which were completely unscathed, and a box of a dozen eggs. only TWO were broken! 

I have to say this really surprised me! Most of the rest of the food was fine, except for corn chips. A few of the cans flew out of the truck through the passenger side door, as that was the only exit. (I just realized that a can could have hit Bill as well!.) Even a delicate ‘papier mache’ dragon mask that our niece made Bill for Christmas was barely damaged; a little paint and it will look like new. I say all this as evidence that the truck never rolled over.

Only Bill, the most valuable victim, was badly injured. No broken bones except his right clavicle and a small crack in the back of his skull that the doctors are not worried about; even his knees that I had been so worried about being hurt are fine. No broken neck, a huge relief. His right arm and shoulder were badly bruised.

But the awful part of his injuries is that his brain was seriously shaken. He has been in a coma now for more than three weeks. Cat scans show improvement; the MRI shows that there was only a very small amount of frontal lobe damage, no brainstem damage, very little axonal damage. In short, nowhere near the damage the doctors were expecting to see. So they are flummoxed as to why he hasn’t woken up yet.

Olivia dropped everything immediately and came to be with us at the ICU in Santa Rosa, a tremendous support! We have been playing him his favorite music: body-healing frequencies, which sounds like that old show “Hearts of Space” that we listened to in the 80’s, Mozart, Eric Satie; we recite the Great Invocation, have a hand card under his hand, talk lovingly and positively to him, and of course, pray. 

I think he just needs more time to rest and heal from this horrifying and traumatic experience! My sister and her husband also dropped everything immediately and came to help. Olivia and I were in the ICU all day every day except one. At first we spent the nights in there with him, but through the generosity and kindness of two of Bill’s old friends, and my sister and her family, we were able to stay in a BnB where we have been able to get much better rest. Other friends and neighbors have been keeping our cats happy, and home safe. Betsy and Charles had to do quite a job to fix a breach in some of our doors during the storms.

Bill has had some small improvements nearly every day the past week in the ICU. He is breathing on his own most of the time now, his lungs are good; two weeks in, he has finally opened his eyes some. To quote from one of his favorite movies, “Small steps, Sparks, small steps.”

On January 16, he was well enough to be out of the ICU, and moved to another facility in Kentfield, where he is given physical therapy. Breathing on his own, but with a Trache to help a little, and to aid in coughing up phlegm in the lungs, he is still in a coma; there are many levels of “coma.” He sometimes turns his head my way and opens his eyes when I talk to him. But he is far from “awake.” Getting there though! Yesterday he opened his eyes more, seemed to smile at me, and mouthed, “Hi” to the physical therapist. He has a long ways to go, but he will get well! Thank you all so much for your prayers and healing thoughts and love!

One Comment

  1. Laura Cooskey January 28, 2023

    Wow, what a big misadventure. I hope your husband gets all back together soon, and awakens to total normal awareness.
    Thanks for sharing this. People (such as me) often wonder what went on. You have told your story very well. I would not want to be in your situation, waiting on your husband’s recovery, right now. But then again, it could have been worse.

    Best of luck to you both!

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