The Accident

The Accident

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

The Accident

We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.

Luciano de Crescenzo

The accident should have been fatal.

It would have been, too, if not for a series of serendipitous events that, together, saved my life.

It had been a long day, longer than most. I was up at 5 AM, an hour-and-a-half commute into Manhattan’s financial district, a busy schedule of meetings and interviews, and then the same grueling commute home. Nothing unusual, except this time, my day was far from over.

No time for dinner. My teenage sister, ten years my junior, had been unable to take the bus to a youth retreat, and she was waiting for me to drive her three hours to the retreat center. I left a note for my husband, grabbed the car keys, hopped into the car, and swung by my parents’ home to pick her up.

We drove straight through, arriving a little after nine. She took her suitcase and waved good-bye with barely a look back as she followed one of the camp counselors who had met us as we pulled up. Turning down an offer of refreshment, I started up the car, eager to get back on the road. The sooner I started the three-hour drive home, the sooner I would arrive.

The drive back seemed interminable, my fatigue compounded by sniffling and sneezing. Allergy season was at its height. The highway stretched out before me, a dark ribbon hypnotically set against an even darker horizon. It was after midnight on the Friday before Labor Day, and few cars were on the road. Time seemed to stand still. I was exhausted, and the long day was finally taking its toll.

I didn’t notice any other vehicles as I was driving in the right lane. Light poles along the side of the road cast a limited glow, straining to pierce the blanket of darkness that engulfed my car. Twenty minutes from home it all caught up with me. Shortly before the highway traveled under an overpass, I ran off the road at fifty miles per hour, plowing through weeds and shrubs until the car plunged down a slope. Shrubs and undergrowth closed in around the car as it collided, head-on, with the embankment wall.

The car was hidden from the view of any driver who might be on the road. To make matters worse, I had not worn a seat belt. The doctors later determined my face had hit the steering wheel, smashing the bridge of my nose, causing broken bones and substantial bleeding.

The driver behind me witnessed what happened, stopped his car, and lit flares to attract help. According to the police report, he extricated me from my vehicle—which now resembled an accordion—and waited with me until a state trooper arrived. Then he disappeared. There is no record of his name or license plate number in the report. The state trooper could not explain why he didn’t follow procedures and obtain my rescuer's identification. Although we later tried to track him down to thank him, it was as if he never existed.

Had the Good Samaritan not stopped, I would have bled to death overnight, unnoticed because of the camouflage of trees and shrubbery that hid my car.

The ambulance rushed me to the nearest hospital’s emergency room. Medical personnel bustled around me. In spite of their purposeful activity, I was scared and confused. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be in my own bed, far away from this nightmare. I decided that if a doctor was necessary, I would see my own physician the next day.

My husband soon arrived and, along with the medical staff, convinced me to stay. Neither he, nor the doctors, allowed me to view my face. If they had, the shock would have been more than my conscious state could have processed.

The ER doctor took one look at my smashed nose, with fractured bones sticking out perpendicular to my face, and fearing she would leave severe scarring, declared to my husband that she would not attempt to repair the broken bones. Instead, she called a surgeon specializing in reconstructive surgery. The surgeon arrived within the hour—a Jewish doctor called out on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the highest holy day of the Jewish calendar. He performed the surgery at 3 AM. Within two days I was released from the hospital.

One week later, I saw the surgeon for the first of several follow-up visits, over the next six months. It was a few weeks before I could look at my face in the mirror without breaking into tears.

A week after my final visit, I returned to his office to thank him and his staff, only to find the doctor gone. He had left his practice for a sabbatical—but he didn’t return. Our efforts to locate him ended in failure.

These two men, my rescuer and my surgeon, seemed to come out of nowhere and disappeared just as mysteriously. I think of them as my guardian angels—to whom I will be forever grateful.

Ava Pennington

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