A simple twist of fate? Or something more?
So many things in this world, practically everything can be rationalized. A random stroke of chance, a simple twist of fate. Throughout my life, especially in my younger years, i was very accident prone. Broken bones, skull fractures, contusions, abrasions, lacerations were all frequent parts of my life.
So often during, or soon after these occurrences, the same phrases were uttered by both family, friends and complete strangers. "You were so lucky" "An half inch that way and you'd be dead" "You have a guardian angel watching over you". It got to the point that I truly began to believe that there was in fact someone watching over my shoulder.
I was raised Christian, and faith had always been a part of my life. But up until ten years ago, I really didn't know why.
I was working as a security officer in Florida. It was a good job, I got lots of exercise walking 10-15 miles a day. I liked almost all of my co-workers, and it was a heck of a lot nicer than working construction or cooking. Then on the morning of January 27th, 2003, I woke up to excruciating pain on the back of my left leg. It felt as if someone had stabbed a knife into my leg and was twisting it around. I could not walk. You may wonder how in the world I know the exact date that it started. Well that answer is easy. It started the day after Tampa Bay won the Superbowl against Oakland. Living in St. Petersburg, it was something to experience. We'd gone to a friends house to watch the game, there was plenty of jumping up and down and hooting and hollering. But I apparently paid the price the next morning when I woke up in agony. I went to work that evening and feigned an attempt to do my job, but soon found it to be impossible. I spoke with my manager the next morning and explained my situation.
That afternoon I was in a doctors office. There I was told that I had an inflamed sciatic nerve. Apparently a common enough problem with no real solution other than medication. I returned to work the next evening equipped with medication. I soon found that the regular dose didn't alleviate the symptoms enough to work. Nor did a double dose.
The next day I reluctantly put in for medical leave. The only time I was moderately comfortable was in a sitting position. Standing hurt, laying hurt. So my decision to drive a taxi until my sciatic nerve decided to cause me less pain seemed like an easy one. It was an interesting enough job, got to meet some unusual people, and got to experience a life I probably would not have if not for an inflamed nerve.
I had been driving for about two weeks, I was making some money, learning the ins and outs of the job. I had a pick up at a night club, it was after two in the morning when a young man walked out and flagged me down. He jumped in the cab and gave me an address. We drove to his home where he said that he had to pick up a few things and then we would be off to a second stop.
With the meter running I decided to smoke a cigarette. I opened the door and sat with my legs outside the cab. About two minutes later, about half way through my cigarette, something told me to get my feet inside the cab. I pulled my legs into the car and closed the door. Only moments later I saw headlights coming towards me, headlights that seemed to be moving too fast for the residential street. Then with no warning, those headlights changed direction and were heading right at me. There was no time to think, no time to react, there was only impact.
My ears are filled with the sound of a horn, my vision is blurred, and I can't seem to get a breath. I see movement out the corner of my eye, it's my passenger, he's leaning through the back door, his lips are moving, but I don't hear anything but the horn. There's something wrong with the door he's reaching through, it's at a very odd angle.
Exiting the vehicle, my passenger is at my side, I can hear him now.
"You shouldn't move, sit down, sit down" But I can't sit down, not yet, not until I can get some air into my lungs. It seems like an impossible length of time has gone by to still not be breathing. My head is starting to swim, more than it already was. My passenger is holding my arm, he's trying to force me to sit down. As I come down onto the sidewalk I'm finally able to take a breath, but something isn't right. It feels like there are dozens of ice picks poking against my lungs when I inhale. I can't get a full breath, but at least I'm breathing. I'm leaning against something, a tree, a pole, I really don't know. The pain is excruciating, my lungs feel like they might tear with every breath, is seems there is a huge weight pressing down on my chest, and there is a gash on my left knee soaking the lower half of my pants.
I couldn't tell you how long it was before the flashing lights were in front of me, hurting my eyes, it seemed like only the briefest of moments.
Soon enough they were making me lie down, they were placing me on a board, placing a neck strap and pads around my head. Then they were hoisting me into the back of an ambulance, I think I must have lost consciousness at that point because the next thing I remember I was in a hospital bed. I could hear voices on the other side of the white curtain, after a few moments it became clear that they, presumably the police, were talking to the guy who hit me. I don't honestly remember much about the conversation that was going on except for one very significant phrase.
"Do you remember anything at all sir"
"I think I remember a taxi."
It was about a half an hour before the doctor came in to speak with me. He told me that I had dislocated my left knee, that I had cracked four and broken two ribs on the left side, and that I had a herniated disk in my neck.
The next day my wife and I went to the taxi station to see my cab. The rear passenger door had been ripped nearly off and was sticking up at an odd angle. The front end was almost entirely gone, it didn't look as if someone in that car could have survived. We didn't know until later that night, but my wife, at a ripe old age of 23, had a heart attack. A minor one albeit, but a heart attack.
The next 10 months were some of the hardest of our lives. I was incapacitated for the first ten or twelve weeks. I wasn't cleared to go back to work, and my wife didnt' make enough to cover the bills. We were paying the utilities just enough to keep everything turned on, paying little or no rent, not having enough money to feed ourselves and our two small children.
After 10 months I met with my attorney for only the third time. And sitting in his plush office was where I was dealt my most crushing blow. The man who hit me had no money, no prospective earning potential. This would mark his FIFTH DUI, and he had no steady income. Even though I could sue this man for hundreds of thousands of dollars, that could take years, and I may not EVER see a penny. Or, we can take the insurance money. Twenty five thousand dollars. It really wasn't a very hard decision at that point. I owed nearly four thousand dollars in back rent, on final notice with every utility, my family was dying, and I still couldn't go back to work yet. I had to take the insurance money. What wasn't explained to me at the time, what I probably should have realized but didn't, was that everyone had to be paid out of that before I got the money. There were the rehab sessions twice a week, doctors bills, and of course, the lawyer.
After all was said and done, I walked out of his office with a check for just over eight thousand dollars. It was in that car ride home that I made a decision. It was time to get out of Florida, our luck had been nothing but bad for what seemed like forever. So I made a deal with the landlord, God love him, and gave him two thousand dollars and the promise that we would be out in a week.
So we packed up the U-haul, loaded up the car and headed North to parts unknown. Well to me anyway. I'd never been to Pittsburgh.
We had some rough goings along the way, it's never been what one could call easy. But we're happier here, our family has doubled in size, I have a good paying low stress job and a minivan.
I could be angry with the man who was driving the truck that hit me that night. I could be resentful that I still get headaches all the time. But this crisis taught me one very important lesson.
We are all meant to walk the path put before us. Had I not pulled my legs into that car, I would have lost them, or died. Had I not been driving that cab, I probably would have stayed in Florida, where I wasn't nearly as happy as I am here. If I hadn't woke up that January morning with a pain in my leg, I never would have been driving that cab to begin with. This entire incident along with the aftermath galvanized my faith like nothing ever had before. I saw very clearly that even the bad things are meant to teach us things. That people are put into our lives to help us when were down. My landlord for example. Do you know many landlords that would let you stay in a house owing thousands of dollars in back rent? I do, at least one anyway.
So in the end there's only one group of people to blame, or thank, depending on how you look at it. And that would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for winning Superbowl XXXVII by a score of 48 to 21.