Shared Stories: One breath, one step

One fall morning in 2004 was marked by a life-changing event for Mary Nieraeth – she lost consciousness while driving.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns.

By Mary Nieraeth
“Don, what happened!?” I screamed.  I am in my van alone.  Don is at work.  It is mid-morning on Friday September 10, 2004.  My van is sitting off the main street, partly on the sidewalk and lawn right outside my medical group.  

My left arm and shoulder are pinned into the smashed-in driver’s side door. I have no clue about what just happened.  My body is aching all over and I cannot move without feeling pain.
I look down at my left shin and see a big gash.  Blood is running down my lower leg and staining my white sock.  What’s going on? Why are my coupons scattered all over the carpet? Why is milk all over the front seat?  When is someone going to help me? All I want to do is drive my van home but I am stuck on the lawn.

I look out the front van window, positioned on an angle towards my medical group office.  I see many people staring out the window down at my car.  Then, I hear a tapping on my driver’s side window and see a police officer, which startles me.  He tries to open the door but it is stuck.  

He asks me, “Are you all right? Do you know what happened?” 

I mumble, “No.” I am still not sure why he is there or asking me questions. 

“M'aam, you have been in an accident.  I need to ask you some questions.”

I do not believe him! I remember driving to my children’s school to drop off items for the festival that starts tonight.  

How did I miss the turn into the school?  I have been there hundreds of times and could do this in my sleep.  I am feeling stressed about taking care of many tasks before the festival.  I just want to get this situation over so I can continue with my day as I had planned it.

The officer takes out his clipboard with an Accident Report form attached. He asks me one question after another which feels like a long interrogation. I feel so drained and tired.  

I ask him, “Why can’t I drive my van home?” Little did I know the dire condition of my van and the dangerous proximity to the busy intersection and traffic signal just 20 feet ahead in the direction I was heading.   

The officer asks me to sign the Accident Report form.  He tells me he will submit the form to the DMV because I had loss of consciousness while driving.  

Suddenly, a wave of alarming energy moves through my body as I realize that my driver’s license will be confiscated! Thoughts of gloom and doom are rushing through my mind.  I just want to escape and drive my van home, hoping I have woken up to a nightmare that will vanish.

The paramedics arrive, pry open my van door, transfer me to a stretcher and into the ambulance. They drive less than one block to the Emergency Room. This day is the beginning of a long and winding medical journey in search of treatment options for seizures.  

I learn how to take one breath and one step at a time.