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Drunk Driving: A St. Patrick's Day Tragedy

Updated on May 7, 2016
Anna Marie Bowman profile image

Anna is a writer who wears many other hats and has a wealth of experience that she draws from, sometimes funny, sometimes serious.

When looking at the topic of this week's HubMob, I was torn between writing a fun, upbeat hub about the St. Patrick's Day holiday, or writing one about a story of a personal tragedy in my family. I felt the need to write both. This one is more of a cautionary tale for parents of teenage children, and the teenage children, themselves.

All of what I write in here is true. It happened to our family, and similar stories have happened to others I know. All of it is painful, and this may be one of the hardest things I ever write. Mostly because I am so hesitant to do so, and it causes me great pain to revisit these memories. Please read this and know that this happened to my family, but it could just as easily have been your family, or the family of someone you know. It isn't about St. Patrick's Day, either. It could easily have been Independence Day, Christmas Eve, etc. Share this with others, so that this message gets out to as many people as possible. If, by writing this, I have saved one person from harm, then I have done what I set out to do.

My beautiful sister. photo by AMB
My beautiful sister. photo by AMB
My sister as a little girl. Photo by AMB
My sister as a little girl. Photo by AMB

The Story

Some parts of this story have been told to me second hand, as I was not there when all of this happened. Some of the events that occurred are known only to those that were there, and in truth, I may never know what really happened. I only know what I know; I know what type of person my sister was, what type of person she wanted to be, and what happened to our family.

My sister was a senior in high school. She was a bright, bubbly, and very talented young girl. She had her whole life ahead of her, and she had so much promise. I know, people always say that, but in her case, it couldn't have been more true. She was a dancer on the varsity pom squad at school, a recent winner of a regional beauty pageant, a courageous and dedicated member of a water ski team, and a talented singer. I could go on and on about how great she was. I often smile when I think of her, and sometimes I cry, as well. I can't help it.

On St. Patrick's Day, several years ago, her school let out early for the day. This was also to be her first day of work at her very first job. Apparently, it was planned that there would be a party at the home of a friend of hers. So, she left school and went to the party with her boyfriend.

As with many teenage parties, where the parents are not around to supervise, alcohol was involved. The alcohol was obtained through a friend of the brother of the girl hosting the party. As far as what happened at the party, I can't really say. Different versions of events have been given by those at the party, and I can only speculate as to what really happened. I find it strange that there have been several, conflicting accounts of what happened that day. I also find it strange that some of the kids at the party refused to talk about it without being granted immunity. Immunity from what? Despite the fact that my sister was a smart girl, and despite the fact that she knew she had her very first day of work at the same place where my mother also worked, she had alcohol in her system. That much is known. How it got there, however, is not known. As I said, different stories have been told, and even after all this time, no one really knows what happened. I know my sister was a smart girl. It doesn't add up in my head, and some of you may be thinking that I didn't really know my sister. Teens hide things, they keep secrets and do things they shouldn't. Trust me, I know this. I clearly remember what it was like to be a teenager.

At some point, she decided to leave the party, then dropped her boyfriend at his home, and headed off to work. Again, there are conflicting statements as to the timeline of this. Her boyfriend said she went back to the party, but it doesn't fit with the time that he said they left, or the time she had her accident. He later changed his story, and said she never went back to the party. I don't know what to believe.

At some point, she headed off to work. It was March, and the roads were still icy. The weather in the Midwest can be unpredictable at that time of the year. She was running late, and in a hurry to get to work on time, and lost control of the car as she was coming around a corner. Her car hit a telephone pole hard enough to almost split it in half.

Rescue personnel arrived at the scene, and a few minutes later, a car rounded the corner. This car pulled over. The driver of the car sat looking on in horror. The car that was wrapped around the telephone pole looked startlingly similar to the very car she owned, and that her teenage daughter should have been driving. The person that was pulled over on the side of the road, watching in horror, and wondering as to the people involved, was my mother. She pleaded with the police to give her some information. She gave them a description of the person in the car, things that would have been in the car, and the make and model of the car.

They told her it was very difficult to determine the make and model of the car, due to the amount of damage, but that the passenger did happen to be a young, possibly teenage, blonde, and that yes, the descriptions she provided as to what was in the car did match. It was my sister, it was my mother's car. The worst nightmare a parent could ever imagine was right in front of my mother's eyes in the harshest way possible.

Canadian Drunk Driving PSA

My parents have become advocates against drunk driving, and give presentations at schools
My parents have become advocates against drunk driving, and give presentations at schools
My sister after the accident
My sister after the accident

What Is ARDS?

ARDS, or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is when fluid builds up in the tiny air sacs in your lungs, think pneumonia, only worse. It tends to occur in those that are already severely ill, or have had devastating injuries (like my sister). A large number of people who end up developing ARDS, do not survive.

It can be caused by sepsis (massive infection), inhalation of dangerous substances (including smoke from a fire, or aspiration of vomit into the lungs), a very bad case of pneumonia can escalate into ARDS, or crushing injuries to the head, and/or chest (as in a car accident).

In my sister's case, it is believed that she aspirated some vomit into her lungs, and combine that with the infection she already had, that led to sepsis, and her already frail condition, the result was almost inevitable.

The Outcome

My sister, amazingly, did not die that day. She was very badly injured. She had broken her femur, her pelvis, and several other bones. She sustained a serious head injury. The doctors were unsure of her long-term prognosis. She was in the hospital for a very long time.

I flew out there the next day. My parents and I lived in the ICU waiting room for the entire two weeks that I was out there. It was all the time I could get off work. When I say we lived there, I mean it. We ate and slept in the waiting room. They allowed for it at that hospital, and even brought us blankets and pillows. Friends and family brought us food, and other comforts. Someone was always at my sister's bedside. She had surgery after surgery, but still, there was no indication of her long-term chances. I flew home with no more answers than I had when I arrived.

Over time, her broken bones and cuts all healed. She was in a coma for months, as her body struggled to repaired itself. The waiting was agonizing. Several months in a rehabilitation facility followed the few months in the ICU. Finally, she was able to come home. She was still minimally responsive, and in what the doctors called a partial vegetative state. She wouldn't talk, but she would make noise, and it seems as if she could see you when she looked at you. It was so hard to see her that way.

She was cared for day and night by my mother, with the aid of a visiting nurse. My mother traveled with my sister to her frequent therapy appointments, and attended to her every need. All in the hopes that little by little, she would return to a semblance of her former self. Months had passed, and she had done little more than open her eyes and groan. But, that was something! A glimmer of hope!! She was making progress. Every little eye movement, every little moan was a sign that she was still in there...somewhere.

They played music for her, talked to her, read to her, and held her hand when it seemed she was in pain. The months of agony for my parents went on and on. I can't imagine the heavy weight of sadness in the house with them. Sadly, I cannot tell you that this story has a happy ending.

Seven months after the accident, she was stricken with a fever, and had begun throwing up. My parents rushed her to the emergency room. It was an infection, and she needed antibiotics, is what they were told by the doctors. She was admitted to the hospital once again, and seemed to be improving, so she was sent home. For a short time, it seemed that this crisis had passed. Just a bump in the road. Then she started throwing up again. The fever returned. She was once again rushed to the emergency room, and once again admitted to the hospital. Once again, she ended up in the ICU. More aggressive antibiotics were given, and much was done to help her.

Then I got a call. "Please come home. Come home now. There isn't much time." I knew it was bad. I flew home the very next day, on the first flight I could get. Her condition deteriorated. She became septic. They called it ARDS. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. A thing that still makes no sense to me. It sounds like one of those things that they tell you when they don't really know what to tell you. Like SIDS. The answer when no answer is possible. I know that isn't really the case. I looked up information on ARDS later on down the road, so that I might understand.

After hours upon hours, upon hours of talking, my parents made the hardest decision a parent ever has to make. The doctors could do nothing for her. She had a very low chance of survival, and an even more diminished quality of life if she were even to survive. So, after eight months of struggling, my sister quietly passed away. She had a room full of friends and family around her as she took her last breaths. She was surrounded by signs of the love everyone had for her. There were a lot of tears, a lot of cries of pain and anguish. There was also a lot of love.

The outpouring of love my family felt in the weeks and months that followed was a true tribute to the great person my sister was. So, every St. Patrick's Day is tainted with a lot of sadness. I always wear a little pink (her favorite color) with my green in honor of my baby sister, whom I loved dearly. I see her everywhere, and feel her close to me when I need a guardian angel. I miss her so much, and though I know I will see her again, I am saddened because the world lost out on so much the day she passed away.

One beer is one beer too many

A Note to Parents

I wanted to include a small note to the parents and teenagers who may read this.

Parents, please, be aware of what your children do. I know it isn't possible to watch them every second of every day, but be aware of what they do. My parents are great parents, my sister was a great kid, and they had a great relationship, and this still happened. Don't assume you know what your child is doing at every minute of every day. Talk to your children. And, just as important as talking to them, LISTEN to them. Hear what they have to say. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your kids. Start when they are young, so they know they can come to you if they need to. A strong foundation of communication is the best way to prepare your children for those difficult decisions they will be faced with throughout their lives, and it is the best tool a parent has for protecting their children when they get to the age when they feel they don't need protecting.

Talk to them about alcohol and drinking and driving. Tell them that it's OK if they need to call you because someone was drinking and can't drive, or that they have been drinking and can't drive. Do not see this as giving them permission to drink. Trust me, if they want to drink, they are going to do it no matter what you say. But, it is far better to have a child who will be honest, and call you, asking for you to pick them up because they have been drinking than to have a tragedy like this happen, all because they were afraid of you getting angry with them.

To the teenagers out there. It seems like such a short time ago that I was a teenager, but the years have been slipping past faster than I notice them. I do remember what it was like. I drank when I was in high school, and I put myself into my fair share of bad situations, but I never got into a car with someone who was drinking, and I never drove after I had been drinking.

Even one drink, one beer, is one too many!!

I can't stress that enough. If you find yourself in a situation where the person giving you a ride has been drinking, call someone!! Call a sibling, parent, cousin, friend, neighbor, anyone!! Do not get into a car with that person. If you have been drinking, DO NOT DRIVE!!! Even if it was just one drink. Even if you don't get into an accident, you could get into serious trouble. Many states now have a zero tolerance policy for under-age drinking and driving. You could loose your license, be hit with huge fines, and other punishments. Please, if you have been drinking, do not drive! Call a friend or relative to pick you up. If you are afraid of getting in trouble, call a friend, or a relative you can trust.

Please remember to be safe this St. Patrick's Day, and every day!! The world is a much better place with you in it!!

© 2009 Anna Marie Bowman


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