A little over two months ago, I got in a really bad car crash.
I didn’t talk about it much publicly at the time because I mostly just wanted to be around family and didn’t want (or need) an outpouring of public support. It’s still hard for me to talk about, and I still get flashbacks at times thinking about what we all went through. But it’s been long enough now that I feel it’s the right time to share what happened, since it forever changed my outlook on staying fit and healthy.
First, you should know exactly what happened.
How it Happened
It was a beautiful day in San Francisco where we lived at the time, and both my husband and I decided to stop working a little early and take Rocket, our adorable and total troublemaker of a beagle to a new dog park I’d recently found. I offered to pick him up in our red Mini Cooper, and the three of us were on our way.
The park was pretty close to where we were, so we hadn’t been driving for very long before we started to look for a parking spot. There weren’t any on the main street by the dog park so I turned into a quiet side street, saw a spot, and started to parallel park, something that after living in cities for so long I’m very comfortable doing.
At that moment, I glanced in the rear view mirror and for a split second saw a car going at a breakneck speed barreling towards us from behind.
There was no time to think or react. I felt the first impact as our car swerved to the right towards a parked car. Then I felt a second impact, and everything went black.
When I came to, our car was laying on its side and there was glass everywhere. My head hurt and I couldn’t move. Slowly, I realized people whose voices I didn’t recognize were yelling at me to get out of the car. My feet were stuck. I groggily looked down and saw it was just my bag lying on top of them, and was able to grab it and move it out of the way.
I started to try to get out of the car through the sunroof, but soon found myself stuck. It was too small, and the people I didn’t know kept yelling at me to avoid the glass. I didn’t care about the glass. My head hurt, and I just wanted out.
Before too long, Brian came to the car and ripped the sunroof off the car so I could get out. He seemed ok and I was relieved. I climbed out, feeling drunk from my head pain. I couldn’t walk straight. I couldn’t find Rocket anywhere.
As soon as I was out of the car, I started screaming for Rocket. None of the people standing by us had seen where she went. An ambulance came, and the police showed up. They told me I needed to go on a stretcher and into the ambulance. I said I wouldn’t leave without my dog.
Two men, one an EMT and one a firefighter, told me they’d promise to find her as long as I went into the ambulance.
I tried to walk, but soon realized there was no way I was going to chase her down in the state I was in. So I finally gave in and trusted them.
Before long, Brian and I were both put on stretchers and into the ambulance. At first I was hyperventilating and couldn’t get my breath. I was scared for Rocket and didn’t want Brian or I to be hurt long-term. But a few months before the accident I’d started meditating a little, and realized since I had no control over the situation I needed to calm myself down and just breathe. So I started to take deep, deliberate breaths, and felt much calmer.
The ride was bumpy over the San Francisco hills but we finally made it to the ER and were put in a room together. We both felt insanely lucky to be alive but didn’t know the extent of our injuries. The doctors came in and out of the room and did a lot of tests on us.
In between waiting for the doctors, we pieced together what happened. Brian was awake the entire time, and said our car was hit crazy hard from behind and flipped two and a half times before landing on its side. He said I landed on my head early on during one of the flips and was completely out for a short amount of time. He had braced himself during the rolling. We were both completely covered in glass.
We later learned that a woman had lost control of her car while driving down a steep hill, and instead of putting her foot on the break, pressed down on the gas pedal as hard as she could. She hit us and then proceeded to hit eight other parked cars.
We were extremely lucky to be alive.
We made it out of the hospital 8+ hours later non-life threatening injuries, but in incredible shock and pain. While we were in the hospital, the two guys that had promised to find our dog came to see us and told us that they had in fact found her after a crazy car chase.
Apparently, Rocket had sprinted 12+ blocks through one of the busiest streets in the city, narrowly missing being hit by cars and only finally was caught when, completely exhausted, she ran up the stairs of someone’s front porch. Her paws were raw and bloody but she had no internal injuries.
We still don’t know how she made it out of the car.
The car crash happened on a Wednesday night, but we didn’t see our doctor until a few days later because he was out of town. We went camping that weekend with Rocket to try and feel normal. We were all still in shock, and in pain. My head and neck constantly hurt, Brian’s shoulder and opposite elbow were hurt, and we were both covered in cuts from all the glass. Rocket was much more anxious than she’d ever been and got scared at loud noises and people in hats.
When we finally got to see our doctor, he heard the entire story and was amazed we weren’t worse off. After a bunch more tests, he determined I had a mild concussion (from when I landed on my head during the flipping) and whiplash, but that overall I looked much better than someone who had gone through what I’d gone through should have. Brian had an injured rotator cuff and had limited shoulder mobility, but would be OK in time.
He told me that being as fit and healthy as I was probably saved my life.
Lessons From the Crash
Before I got in the car accident, I had learned to put a huge value on staying fit and healthy. I knew it made me feel strong, and confident, and so much happier than I was when I didn’t exercise at all. I knew that good nutrition gave me energy, fueled my workouts, and made me feel good after eating. I knew I liked the side effect of feeling good in my own body from working out.
But I didn’t know that in a life or death situation, being fit and healthy could save my life, or save myself from long-term devastating injuries.
If my body hadn’t been as strong as it was, so much more could have gone wrong.
This became quickly apparent to me after just days after the accident, I felt good enough to work out. Trust me, I didn’t push it—but I knew having energy and wanting to work out was a good thing.
My doctor told me that all the healthy eating I’d been doing, all the exercise and taking care of my body could have led up to that very moment.
I have no doubt he was right.
It’s now been just about two months since the crash, and I feel 99% back to normal.
Physically, I got back to where I was pre-crash within just a couple of weeks. It’s taken a little longer for my mental state to return to normal. But I’ve tried to be patient with myself.
Unsurprisingly, my perspective has changed on a lot of things. I’m now more grateful than ever to be alive and healthy and going after my dreams. More than ever, I refuse to settle and give up on my big goals because I know that life is precious and every moment should be taken advantage of.
When it comes to health, I’m more convinced than ever of the value of health and fitness. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t been in as good of shape as I was, I would have suffered much worse, both short-term and long-term.
I now think of eating healthy and staying fit and strong as a way to bulletproof my body.
Because the stronger I feel, the less likely it is that an accident of any sort will have any long-term negative effects. If I can bounce back from a near-death car crash, I can bounce back from anything.
So next time you wonder whether it’s really worth it to eat that kale salad, or whether you really need to work out, or sleep, or whatever it is you’re doing to take care of your health, remember it’s not all just superficial.
It’s not about how good you look from staying fit, or even how you can brag to your friends about being able to do a pistol squat, or a handstand, or a pull up, or whatever it is you’re working on.
Taking care of yourself now makes you strong for life. It ensures that if you’re put in harms way, you’re that much more likely to recover. It means you’ll be that much more likely to live a long, healthy life doing all the things you love to do.
And if that isn’t motivation to stay fit, I don’t know what is.