By Sandy Long
With the demise of Audio Adventures, I have to listen to satellite radio more than I used to do. I have discovered a great psychic at 6 am CST, Rosie after that and rediscovered Dr. Laura in the afternoons along with the shows I never quit listening to such as Rolleye James, Coast to Coast and the trucking channel. On Dr. Laura last week, a young driver, 4 years experience, called in about having anxiety attacks that were affecting his driving after blowing a steer tire that scared him. His call made me aware that I needed to address surviving a wreck or other scary experience from my own life and career to help others like him.
In October of 2000, I was running team with my then husband Jerry pulling flatbed. He laid the truck over doing 70 mph at the 203 ¾ mm on I-74 in Illinois at approximately 11 pm while I was in the sleeper. I have mentioned the wreck often in general in many of my writings because it was a defining moment in my life; changing my outlook, causing me to undergo surgeries and life long disabilities and costing me not only 17 months off due to medical reasons, but also stopping me from pulling flatbed which I loved doing. However, I rarely go into great detail when I mention the wreck because when I do, my mind goes into a mind loop trying to figure out where I was when the truck stopped screaming down the road on its side and came to a stop and I go into anxiety attack mode.
I was pinned in the sleeper sitting on something looking down at Jerry who was pinned between the steering wheel and the door. It was dark except for the lights of the vehicles stopped on the roadway. I knew I was hurt badly and bleeding along with my right leg being pinned, but I thought that Jerry’s back might be broken so dropped blankets and clothing on him to warm him. A state trooper got there and sat in the windshield opening talking to us to keep us calm until the emergency personnel got there…Lord and Lady bless him.
I was in the sleeper for about 2-3 hours because they had to go back for the Jaws of Life deal to open the sleeper roof to get me out so they could get to Jerry. They did not unpack my leg from whatever was pinning it, they just reached in and pulled me out of the truck. The nightmare did not stop there but continued as I went into hypothermia, they tried to get an IV started and they only had one blanket. It continued at the hospital where they did not even keep me overnight. Jerry ended up only bruised, while I had 40 stitches in my lip and face, broken nose, dislocated wrists, knees and multiple bruises and scrapes. I could barely walk, my eyes were swollen shut as was my mouth which was also full of dirt, blood and god knows what else; they did not clean me up at all. Jerry got pain pills, they told me to stop somewhere and get some Tylenol. They did call a cab for us to go to a motel to wait for someone to come and get us. When we got home, my boss actually cried when he saw me and how I badly I was hurt.
I was released to go back to work in April 2001 though I was still under doctors care and still having some serious problems. My boss kept me off of I-74 for awhile, but it was our main route so when the time came that I would have to run it, I was solo, he had Jerry run it with me thinking that if I had any problems, Jerry would be able to help me through it. He was wrong of course, but he always did see only the good in people. It was a sunny day as we approached the 203 mm on I-74 in Illinois. The closer I got, the tighter my muscles tensed; I started to cry as my mind went into that damned mind loop as to where I was sitting when the truck finally stopped sliding down the road and the screaming metal stopped screaming. I started to hyperventilate and shake. I slowed down as we went past to almost a crawl and could still see the scars in the roadway from that night. I made it to the next exit and hit it. I got stopped and had hysterics; could not quit crying, shaking and actually thought I was having a heart attack. Jerry walked up to my truck and said when he saw me, “If you can’t quit that crap, you better quit trucking!” and walked back to his truck.
I called my best friend Marsha on the cell who talked me through that terrible anxiety attack and got me calmed down enough I could go on. She suggested that I be on the cell with someone when I went through there again for a while so I would not be so alone feeling. I did that and it helped a lot. I also got rid of Jerry who I had found had been having an affair with someone while I was off on medical and because of his insensitivity.
Three surgeries due to the wreck and 10 years later if I am tired when I pass the 203 mm in Illinois, sometimes I still have a twinge of anxiety but fight it off. I focus on the good things in my life to do this. I ended up developing serious claustrophobia because of being pinned in the sleeper in the dark; at first I couldn’t go through tunnels or into caves, but have worked on that and can go through tunnels and can go into the caves as long as I do not have to remain in there very long. I listen to classical or Native American music when I have to go into the caves too, it sooths my mind. I still cannot shut my sleeper curtains tightly without having some source of light in there.
I survived and continued to drive truck after that wreck even though it was tough for a long time. I thought about quitting, but realized that it was fear that I was allowing to rule my life and my career. A little fear is healthy to keep us safe, but to allow fear to control what you do or how you live is not healthy, so conquering that fear was necessary for me to continue both driving and living.
That is what that driver who called the radio show needs to do to continue driving; conquer the fear he feels and quit allowing himself to have anxiety attacks in fear of blowing another steer tire if he goes at speed limits. He, as I did, survived a scary occurrence. Survival is what it is all about; now if I could only figure out where I was sitting when the truck stopped screaming down the road…damned mind loop! I will stop you somehow!