The one where she totals the van

So, remember waaaaay back, when we were first looking at shopping for a mini-van? And I was petulant because I did not want a mini van, thought they were cumbersome and mildly embarrassing? I’ve been meaning to blog for months now about my dirty little secret — I adore that van. Love it. Love driving it, love the space in it, love having a car of my own. Well, past tense – loved it. I was in an accident last night, and the van was a write-off. My first-ever car accident. Go big or go home, right.

I was making a left turn from Fisher into the Lone Star parking lot to pick up some takeout, with Lucas in the van. Lots of traffic. The lady in the inside oncoming lane waved me through. The chick in the outside lane was doing about 60 when she hit me. I didn’t even see her coming. When I thought about it later, I didn’t hear a squeal of brakes, or else I would have looked her way, so I’m not even sure she saw me.

She was in a little sedan, but she hit me hard enough to spin me around a 1/4 turn. The first thing I registered after “oh shit” and “the baby is in the car!” was “ouch, these fucking airbags are burning my (bare) legs!”

I jumped out without even thinking to turn the car off and got Lucas out of his car seat – he of course started crying on impact – to check him out, but he was fine. He doesn’t even have bruise marks from the seat belt. Thank god, thank god, thank god for properly installed car seats.

Right away, people were trying to help. One guy was behind me even as I was undoing Luke’s belt, saying “Oh my god, I saw the baby seat in the back and my heart stopped, is he okay?” Another guy is already calling 911. I’m pretty sure I’m okay and Lucas is okay but holy fuck it was a hell of an impact. A young girl is there, and she’s ashen and stunned, she reaches out her hand and starts to cry saying “oh my god was there a baby in the car?” I automatically reach out to grasp her hands and realize that she was driving the other car. She’s maybe 20. She’s far more freaked out than I am, but she seems to be largely okay, too.

For once in my life, I have my cell phone on me. In my purse. In the van. And as I turn to go back to the van I see that there are little licks of flame underneath it. Flame. And my brain goes on a funny little tangent and says, “Wow man, this is some serious shit you’ve gotten yourself into.” I turn to a nice lady who’s asking if we’re okay, it turns out that she’s the one who stopped to wave me through in the oncoming lane, and I ask her to hold Lucas while I go get my purse because it’s okay for me to go toward the flaming van, not so much the baby.

I get my purse and my phone, and people keep asking me if we’re okay, and I’m increasingly convinced we are, except for the wretched mess of the front of the van. And those troubling little flames under it. So I call Beloved, and try my very damnedest not to freak him out more than I have to. “Hi babe, listen, I’m okay and Lucas is fine. We’re really fine. But I’ve been in accident, and the van is in bad shape.” And just about this point, it’s the only time the hint of hysteria gets to me as I watch those tiny flames start to lick up the front of the van. “And the van in on Fire. It’s on FIRE. (deep breath, deep breath, do NOT freak him out right now, you must make sure he stays calm) But we’re okay. So can you come and pick us up?”

So I’m standing there in the Lone Star parking lot, holding Lucas in my arms, because I didn’t even bother putting any shoes on him because we were just going to the takeout counter and back, and we’re watching my van go up in flames. Surreal moment, dude. There’s this exceptional lady who appears, and she keeps talking to Lucas, to me, and she’s just the most calming presence. She tries to lead me away from watching the van go up in smoke (and really impressive bright orange flames) saying, “You don’t need to see this” but I tell her that I really do. Her sweet boys, maybe 9 and 11, have seen the whole thing and they are obviously torn between the thrill of watching my van incinerate and care for me and Lucas. I am in love with this family of guardian angels.

The fire department and police and paramedics show up and they put the fire out really quickly, wow, the little detached part of my brain is busy evaluating the efficiency of the fire department and the size of the hose and the sheer number of emergency vehicles and personnel who seem to have materialized out of the sewers or something they got here so quickly.

The paramedics begin to assess us, and I wave them toward the girl first. Once the fire is out, I lose a little bit of the adrenaline that has been coursing through my system and realize that the baby is very heavy and so am I and I think I’ll just go sit down on that curb for a minute if nobody minds. There’s another nice lady, an older lady, who seems to work in one of the stores in the plaza, and she’s offering me a chair, which I decline, and a drink, which I decline and she’s offering me food for me and for the baby and even though I’m starving I keep saying polite nos until finally just because she really seems to need to get me something I say some water would be nice. She comes back out with another man who ought to be her husband if he isn’t, they seem like a nice matched set, both with the remnants of a slavic accent from long ago, and I have to all over again assure him that I need nothing else. I realize later they work at the Macs convenience store behind me, and I really feel badly that I didn’t pay for the water bottle (and cup and straw) she brought me, so I’ll have to go pay for it today.

In a quiet moment, I sit on the curb and cry just a few tears, more in response to the sheer kindness being show to us than over what has happened. I know the insurance will cover the cost of the van, mostly, and that these things happen. I do have a bit of a bad moment, though, whenever I let myself think of what could have, might have happened. How very much worse it could have been. It makes me weirdly giddy. My new best friend, I find out her name is Karen, the lady who tried to convince me not to watch the van burning, reappears. She’s told the Lone Star takeout counter what happened (note to self, call Lone Star to apologize, too, I never did go pick up the food) and has brought orange slices in a plastic cup and four mini-packs of crackers. As I’m sitting on the curb, taking bites of orange out of my mouth and feeding them to Lucas, the police officer walks up with a stroller and a Roots backpack that look suspiciously like mine. This is the detail that temporarily sends my brain into blue screen until I realize he’s retrieved them from the back of the van for me. This makes me start to cry again. He says it’s about all he could recover, and I realize my iPod and my gym membership card are in the glove compartment. Crisped beyond recognition, I’m sure, and likely a lot more wet than the time I sent them through the washing machine. My brain wanders away for a while, contemplating why the universe does not want me to have an iPod.

While I’m overwhelmed by the accident, what really amazes me is the sheer kindness of the people around me. What seems like dozens of people have asked if I’m okay, if Lucas is okay, if there is anything they can do. The lady in the oncoming lane who waved me through has had to move on, but she leaves her name and number. The emergency services people are outstanding. I learn that the paramedic and one of the fire department guys live on the street behind me and have been in my back-fence neighbour’s hot tub. I tell them I am disgruntled that I have not. The paramedic seems to appreciate my humour-as-a-coping-mechanism schtick and we somehow end up arguing about whether almost turning forty is wretched or not. When the police officer arrives to finish his report, he joins in on the debate. Everybody is genial and it’s a pleasant afternoon except for the first-degree burns on my hand and second degree burns on my leg from the air bags, and the fact that they’re hauling the burnt husk of my minivan onto a flatbed to haul to the junkyard.

Beloved arrives, and he’s dropped the big boys off with my mom. I’m so relieved to see him, to see he is smiling and that he’s here. A few minutes later, as I’m talking to the police officer, my dad arrives, too. I should have called my mom. Too many things to remember. The paramedic asks one more time if I want to go to the hospital, and while all seems fine, I think it prudent to get Lucas checked out. As soon as I realize, though, that the paramedics can only take him to the children’s hospital, I balk. No way am I taking my healthy baby into the emerg there, with H1N1 and who knows what. But the ambulance cannot take him anywhere else. The paramedic explains other options, I can bring him to a walk-in, or bring him to Queensway Carleton hospital myself. I decide on the latter.

The police officer is a gem. He tells me he’s about to add to my pain, and I get a ticket for “failure to yield” – $100 and three demerit points. I’m giddy with relief again, because I hadn’t known what to expect of this part. I suspect he has been easy on me, administering the lowest fine he was obligated to, and I’m a little choked up with relief. Right about this time, we realize that we have a problem. We have never put a baby car seat in the Focus. We discuss options for getting Lucas home with the police officer. I know that car seats should be discarded after an impact like this, but we decide in this case that it’s a better alternative than the booster seats in the Focus that the big boys use. Mark goes to the van to retrieve it, but it’s soaked and covered in bits of glass from when the windshield (shudder) exploded in the fire. Not an option. We chew it over for a minute, and knowing we have a proper spare car seat at home, we decide the best option is to strap Lucas into the booster, and the police officer will escort all the way home. By this time, maybe an hour or even a bit less since impact, and everything has been cleared away. The young woman has gone to the hospital, but I speak to her mother and it is more precautionary than anything. Her mother is also kind. The cars have been hauled away. Beloved drives us home.

My adventures did not end there. In shorthand: I waffle between a walk-in and the hospital, and decide on hospital just because I fear the walk-in might just send me there anyway. Arrive at Queensway Carleton hospital, realize I don’t have Lucas’s health card. Just then my mother calls, with that uncanny intuition mothers have, and asks if she can help. She offers to get the card and bring it to me, and to help with Lucas at the ER. I agree. I get into the ER, and see there is not a single empty seat in the waiting room. I ask the triage nurse if we’re looking at an hours-long wait. She nods. “Even with the baby?” I ask hopefully. She nods again, and an elderly lady tells me she’s been waiting since 1 pm. It’s a little after seven. I walk out. While waiting for my mom, I call my pediatrician’s number, thinking about the after hours clinic. I have to call back twice to get the number right, but eventually get through and get an appointment for 8 pm. I have a little more than 30 minutes. Still waiting for my mom, call the insurance company. The guy taking the details actually says, “Wow” when I tell him about the van going up in flames. I’m impressed that he’s impressed. Swallow down another “what might have happened but didn’t” panic attack. Getting increasingly agitated for time, and my mom shows up. I take the health card, thank her, and we head in opposite directions. I try to pay for my parking and can’t get the infernal device to work. Feeling time-pressured, I finally get it to work. $16 on my Visa to walk in and out of the ER. Gah. Then, the infernal gate won’t open. I’m nearly hysterical, it’s almost the time of my appointment at the after-hours clinic and I still have to drive 15 minutes, and it keeps telling me my ticket isn’t valid. I repay, just to be out of there. It accepts another $16 charge on my Visa, and the gate still won’t open. With four or five cars queued behind me, I lose it. Lose. It. I jump out of my car and yell toward the unmanned barrier, “For Christ’s sake, will somebody open the goddamned gate!” By the time I hit the word gate, my voice has gone up three octaves and I’m crying. Total meltdown. Long story short (way too late for that) I make it to the after-hours clinic and — the door is locked. I call, and I’m in the wrong place. Remember this story? I’ve gone to the place I should have gone the last time, and it turns out I should have gone to the place I did go. It takes the very last of my reserve not to do an encore presentation of “meltdown at the after-hours clinic” but I manage. The doctor examines Lucas, and we marvel over the fact that there is not a single bruise on him. He is perfect, as always.

It’s all good.

(Edited to add: you had to know there’s be a photograph. Can you believe it’s the one time in a million I didn’t brink the Nikon — and that’s a good thing — but I snapped this one with my cell phone, not so much for the 365 project as for potential insurance issues, and posterity.)

171b:365 Lookit that, my van is on fire.

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

48 thoughts on “The one where she totals the van”

  1. OMG, I am so glad that you and Lucas are OK. It sounds absolutely terrifying, and you held it together much better that the majority of people would I believe. Many, many hugs and may you have a peaceful and safe day today.

  2. I’m so glad to hear that you and Lucas are okay…this post was very scary! I can’t believe you got back in the car to drive again later — you’re a brave soul. Hope everyone is doing alright today.

  3. Oh Dani. What a rollercoster of events.

    So glad that you’re physically fine and that Lucas is too.

    Thinking of you….

  4. Wow! I am extremely happy that everyone is ok. I am also surprised by the fire. That’s not a common occurence. Peace and hugs

  5. You’ve managed wonderfully.
    It is great that so many people showed their good souls. People can be amazing.
    Awesome post. I had my heart in my mouth reading it.
    Now take care of yourself!

  6. I’m with Kathleen — I had my heart in my mouth reading this post. Thank goodness you and Lucas and the other young woman all escaped with minor or no injuries. I’m so glad that you were treated so well by our fellow Ottawans. Oh, I feel like crying just thinking about all this. Rest up, hug the family.

  7. OMG DANI! I’m so glad you are ok
    I have tears coming down my face after reading all this.
    Aren’t people wonderful? gives you renewed faith in the world.

    ( I want to give you a lecture about driving after the ordeal, but I will hold off until another time. )

    I wish I could give you and Lucus a BIG HUG right now.

    Love and hugs

  8. Wow, I don’t even know you but was compelled to read all the way…so much so that i burnt my toasts this morning! But who cares, I’m really glad you and your baby are okay.

    And it’s a new day today.

  9. OMG Dani!
    The fact that you and Lucas have come out of this relativly pain free is amazing!

    Thank goodness you had a whole bunch of guardian angels looking out for you!
    Big, BIG hugs

  10. wow, Dani, you go all out! I’ve been in 5 or 6 accidents, but most ended in just replacing the back bumper. And here I was almost in tears reading this, and you stick in the bit with the ipod (you really need to try a different brand!).

    So glad to hear you and Lucas are okay, and the young woman, too – if she hit you that hard, it’s a miracle she wasn’t hurt. Thank goodness for airbags and carseats. I hope you’re feeling okay today – sometimes whiplash comes later. And your legs! Wishing you fast healing!

  11. I’m so glad you and Lucas weren’t hurt! I’m sorry that your van and iPod went up in flames though.

    It is the “what could have happened” that gets you and makes you weak in the knees. A month ago, I was involved in a hit and run at night on Dunrobin road. The other car? truck? (didn’t see it) hit the very back of my car at a right angle and kept on going. I had been turning. A fraction of a second earlier and it would have broadsided us. And I say ‘us’ because both girls were in the car with me. They likely would have been badly hurt, booster seats or no.

  12. Oh my gosh!! So glad you and little Lucas are ok. So glad the other driver was ok. How scary.

    I had the exact same accident a number of years ago … except I was coming out of a parking lot … waved out by one person waiting to turn in and a bus driver also waiting for me … hit hard by a car coming by the bus in third lane. Mine wasn’t nearly as tragic (or thank goodness flammable as yours) but let me tell you, I now never trust a wave to go …

    And, excellent written post, by the way.

  13. AAH! SCARY! So sorry this happened to you and Lucas, the accident and now the aftermath – the replacing of items, the I-Pod, the anxiety and the everything.

  14. I’m having a panic attack for you. Oh my god. Oh my god. I’m so glad that you are both alright.

    And my captcha is July insecure. Which seems appropriate.

  15. Hugs to all of you, Dani! I’m so glad you’re okay! I’ve been in a couple of accidents, so I can totally relate to that feeling of surreal panic-but-calm that happens in the moments and hours afterward. Thank goodness for friendly strangers and awesome emergency personnel. Hope you are both feeling okay this morning, and that you can get a shiny new mini-van (and iPod!) very soon.

  16. Oh my God, Dani. This post made me cry. I cannot imagine how scared you must have been, having Lucas in the car with you. I am so sorry!! I have been in some accidents, but, luckily without any children in the car at the time. So sorry. And yes, it is amazing and emotional witnessing how truly kind complete strangers are in situations like this! Glad you and Lucas are okay. Take care.

  17. Oh dear Dani! thank teh Lord that you got out of that van relatively unscahed. Take good care of yourself in teh next few days.


  18. THANK GOODNESS you two were okay. My heart was just jumping out of my chest reading your post. That is so scary. Take Care!

  19. Wow, I’m glad everyone’s OK. That’s far more excitement than anyone would hope for on the way to get takeout.

    I hope you have a new van soon, and that you love it just as much. 🙂

  20. I am once again wiping away the tears. You are such a talented writer! Thrilled that you and Lucas are fine. Hope you are not having nightmares. Turning 40 will be a breeze after that accident.

  21. I’m so glad you’re both ok! Something similar happened to me at the corner of Bank and Hunt Club and I think of it every time I drive by there…

  22. Dani —

    OMG! I’m so glad you and Lucas are okay!

    It sounds like you handled it beautifully, if that’s any consolation.

    Scary stuff!

    (My spam verification is “are floozies.” Insert joke here.)

  23. Oh Lord, I’m so happy you and Lucas were okay!

    The same thing happened to two of my staff last night, though at a different location. They were working and decided to stop for their supper. They had to turn left across three lanes of traffic and the cars stopped to wave them through. Someone got impatient and went around the line and side swiped them. They were okay – thank God!

    It was a full moon last night and I heard Police, Fire and Paramedics (not to mention hospitals) were busy, busy!

    Again, we’re so thrilled you’re both okay.

  24. Holy shit! The picture at the end was not what I was expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting, but you sounded so fine and the picture is so scary.

    So very very happy that everything is OK. Hope your nerves are feeling a little less.

  25. Wow what a tale! So glad to hear that you both are okay – how are you feeling? Whiplash or anything?

    Btw, I can’t get over the fact that you had to get a ticket and all that. I mean, didn’t you technically try to yield? I dunno…

  26. Dani I am so glad you are both okay. This story made me all choked up. There are wonderful people in this world, but it seems you have some angels with you too. Again, glad you’re ok.

  27. Dear Dani…What a story! I Thank God for watching over you and your son and keeping you safe.

  28. Don’t know if I’ve ever commented here before, but I’ve been reading for a long while and really enjoy what you have to say. I’m so glad you and Lucas and the other driver are ok! And that you had insurance. I hope your longer-term emotional recovery goes fine too.

  29. Wow! I am so glad you and Lucas are safe. Impressed at how you coped, and amazed that you got a photo for your blog!
    I hope you will be able to get a new van soon, and that you will love it too.

  30. OK, I know I’m totally behind the times (I thought I’d added you to my Google reader a while back, but apparently I hadn’t). Anyway, just wanted to say how relieved I am you and the baby are okay. How scary.

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