Concussion: How a Fender-Bender Become a Major Headache

The foliage had peaked, and it was a pleasant autumn evening. The sun was setting, and we were discussing the upcoming Halloween activities. We were at a typical cloverleaf highway interchange in Boston’s rush-hour Thursday traffic. I was in a line of vehicles inching up toward an exit ramp. Suddenly, I heard a bang, and instantly the Lincoln Corsair I was driving was shoved forward and to the right. Then, I heard another bang and watched in dismay as a vehicle passed me, sliding on its side with its beefy frame toward me.

We got hit pretty hard. That was all I knew. At some point, perhaps even before the impact, I instinctively pressed the brake pedal as hard as I could and held it there. I somehow managed to avoid the vehicle in front of me and the jersey barrier on the right by what must have been fractions of an inch. On the other side of the jersey barrier was a twenty-foot drop to a highway underpass.

A dozen seasons of crap-can racing may have had something to do with my ability to avoid the other objects. Or maybe it was just luck. Probably just luck. We came to a halt in what I thought was a safe spot. I checked on my passengers, my twelve-year-old daughter, and her friend, who I was taking to lacrosse practice. They were fine and seemingly safe in the now immobilized but overall intact Lincoln. I told her where we were and to call the police.

I carefully got out to check on the people in the other vehicles as I was expecting this to be a multi-car pileup. To my dismay, there were not any other vehicles involved, just the Toyota Tundra that hit me. I, along with some Good Samaritans, helped the somewhat disoriented young man out of the cab of the Tundra (now on its side) by opening the passenger side door and literally pulling him out.

The Tundra driver seemed fine. His disorientation was probably due to shock and undoubtedly a hit to his head. However, with clear concern in his voice, he asked, “How are the people in the other car?” I answered that I was “the other people” and that “my kids and I are fine.”

Eventually, three State Police cruisers, two ambulances, and two fire trucks showed up within a few long minutes. Those few minutes were as uncomfortable as they were long. It was basically the guy who hit me and I on a side of a very busy highway overpass with two wrecked vehicles dramatically blocking two lanes. We did not talk. I was too frustrated to talk to this guy, but I was surprisingly not angry at him. I always thought that if someone carelessly put my kids in danger, I would rage, but I didn’t. I was watching him sit on the jersey barrier, rubbing his head. I asked him to move away from the edge, as dealing with him going over it backward would have made a bad situation significantly worse. I occupied myself by taking the pictures you see here and checking on the kids.

There was no fire, but there was broken glass. The Tundra leaked something, probably coolant, perhaps oil. I noticed the Tundra’s very worn tires as I was walking around taking pictures. It was getting dark, and the temperature was quickly dropping, adding shivers to my already tense body.

I estimate that the speed differential was about 30 mph. The Tundra was accelerating onto the highway from an on-ramp and switching lanes, from the merge/acceleration lane to the right lane. But the driver misjudged. He misjudged his speed and his ability to switch lanes simultaneously. He clipped the Lincoln’s left rear with his truck’s front right. The impact with the lower Corsair sent the Tundra up and over it, causing the truck to go airborne and twist along its longitudinal axis, and land on its side. It went by me on the driver’s side, sliding along in sparked-filled drama, to a stop on its side. Engine off, its halogen highlights started to dim with time.

The paramedics and the firefighters checked if we were okay. Everyone was good. They offered to take us to the hospital for a check-up, but I declined. I didn’t want to cause more drama for two girls who were already experiencing something dramatic. The three of us were placed in a police cruiser. The Lincoln, with its bent rear axle and damaged hatch, was loaded onto a flatbed. A bigger wrecker set the Tundra upright. Once the police, fire department, and tow companies did their thing, a state trooper took us to a nearby Chipotle, where we waited for a friend to pick us up.

It was an hour or so after the impact, once the immediate adrenaline wore off, that I realized that I had a headache. And with each minute, that headache was getting worse. But it was the weirdest headache I’ve ever had. It was the top of my head, slightly on the left, as if someone outlined a crookedly worn French beret on my head.

I began to think of the accident and if perhaps the headache was connected to it. Interestingly, I could not help but notice that my thinking, my thought process, was slower than typical. Even that observation was slow in itself. I felt as if I was buzzed, sort of like drinking too much pinot noir with a ravioli dinner. Noticing that I was thinking about my thinking while thinking, to this day, is one of the strangest things I have experienced.

It took me a while, but I concluded that I hit the inside roof of the Lincoln. In the forward and right impact, my head went up and left, hitting the roof right where it curves toward the door frame, behind where the “oh-shit” handle would typically be. The pain kept getting significantly worse as the night went on. I took ibuprofen. I was considering going to the emergency room, but I knew that would be a disaster. Despite what Google told me, I ended up going to bed with a plan to call my primary doctor in the morning.

The next day, my doctor diagnosed me with a “mild concussion.” She said to take painkillers, sit in a dark room, and avoid screens for two weeks. While that sounds absolutely lovely, it wasn’t an option. With a job and two kids, it’s hard enough to find a free hour of peace, never mind two weeks.

The bad headache persisted for the next six days. Two days after the impact, the pain was so bad that I vomited. A constant headache lasted for three weeks. For two months after that, I developed intermittent headaches during the night. I went to a few doctors for second options and had an MRI. The concussion was real, and certainly, nothing felt mild about it.

Proper driving position is essential to control of a vehicle. I am slightly obsessed with it and fine-tune the seat position until it suits me just so perfectly. Each new Lincoln comes with excellent seats, including the entry-level Corsair. They offer a multitude of settings so that anyone, no matter the size, can be comfortable and achieve their perfect driving position. In adjusting the sitting position for my six-foot-two self, I always tend to set my seat high in order to maximize my front visibility. 

Ironically, it was the carefully chosen sitting position that caused my injury. There was probably an inch or an inch-and-a-half between the top of my head and the roof lining. Even with fastened seatbelts, with their modern pretensioners, that was not enough to keep me from hitting the roof in an impact. The hard lesson here was to adjust my seat in a way such that there is a hand width of space between the top of my head and the roof. Those of us who are taller may not find this possible in all vehicles. Since this accident, I have purchased two new vehicles, and both of those vehicles allow this space for me. 

Another interesting aspect of this crash was my mild PTSD. For some time, I have gone out of my way to avoid the very cloverleaf where the accident happened. I have also been checking my mirrors more often for potential inattentive or careless drivers. Irresponsible tailgaters and aggressive drivers have irritated me more than ever since this accident. I am fine now, but this little fender-bender was quite a headache. Hopefully, my pain will help others prevent similar circumstances on your next drive. 

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4 responses to “Concussion: How a Fender-Bender Become a Major Headache”

  1. TiberiusWise Avatar

    Life is precious, fragile, and can change in a millisecond of poor judgement. Thanks for your story.

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    I’m sorry to hear that someone else’s split second of poor judgement has caused so much headache for you. Literally and figuratively. Did all the insurance stuff work out well? The Corsair was a tester or yours?

  3. outback_ute Avatar

    It goes to show how complex crash forces are, given that ultimately there was a large upward force that flipped the Tundra on its side, which would have on opposing downward force on your Lincoln – perhaps the rebound from that is what made you hit your head on the roof.

    When I drive automatic cars with airbags I sit my seat a little further back (wouldn’t be able to press a clutch pedal fully down) for the same reason you describe at the end, but I see so many people right on top of the wheel which wouldn’t be enjoyable…

  4. Salguod Avatar

    Glad to hear that you are recovered and no one else was hurt.

    As a first generation Tundra owner I can say they are fantastic trucks but nimble handling is not their strong suit. To try to aggressively thread the needle on a busy highway is a risky move anyway, but in a Tundra? Not good.

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