Nearing the Rowan Street railway line underpass in Wangaratta, I was returning to work after a late afternoon tea break at nearby Aroma Deli prior to teaching a night class at GOTAFE. It was perhaps 5.45 or so in the late afternoon and a steady stream of cars were leaving the city precinct for home at the end of the day. In a heavy line of traffic, I moved my wheel to turn left into the side street leading to GOTAFE just before the railway underpass.
Suddenly blinded by the setting sun, I registered that my best option was to follow the kerb line. Barely a second into doing this I remember a sudden jolt, a loudly resonating thud and shudder as my gold badged Honda Accord compressed like an accordion into the concrete wall fencing separating the side street from the road under the railway overpass.
I remember pressure on my chest accompanying the thud as I lurched forward, a feeling that a balloon had burst; a whitish mist in the car. Looking down, the oddly splayed outline of released and now collapsed milky white air bags presented to me, part of a series of freeze frame moments of heightened sense of time and awareness as fear – that perhaps the car might catch fire, that I needed to take off my seat belt and get out of the car—set in. Still shocked at the suddenness and chilling sound of the impact, feeling pressure on my chest affecting my breathing, I managed to leave the car to sit on the fence of a house on the side road, just next to the Women’s Health building I often visited to support students on field placements.
A minute or two later the kindly occupants of a car which had been following me pulled into the side road – they had been able to get out of the traffic and return to the scene and wanted to provide witness statements to the fact that at the moment of the crash the setting sun was blinding. They kindly called the ambulance and stayed with me as the police, ambulance paramedics, and also a journalist from the close by Wangaratta Chronicle, ‘arrived on the scene’. My breathing was laboured, and I felt pressure in my chest – fear of internal injuries was layered somewhere in my consciousness as I tried to cope with what was being required of me.
Being taken to Wangaratta Base Hospital nearby and the eventual arrival of my supportive sister provided a sense of relief, as did the eventual assessment that I could go home. I was told to expect considerable bruising where the seatbelt had impacted on my breasts and reminded to make an appointment to see my GP in the next few days.
Practicalities then took over – my car, almost certainly a write off, had been taken to a car wrecking yard. Belongings in it needed to be collected. I needed to find a replacement car ‘post haste’. TAC forms arrived to be filled out to cover health and other eventualities. The visit to the GP eventuated and the saying that I was ‘black and blue’ where the seat belt had impacted is particularly apt. I was, however, back at work the next day. Apart from checking out the undamaged wall and occasional ‘flashback’ memories whenever I drove into the side street near the overpass, my busy, overcommitted life went on.
The story is not over, however. Just after I retired in 2013 I noticed a lump in my left breast. It did not seem to be going away, so I told my GP, setting in seemingly continuous scary moments, fears about mortality and future health and wellbeing. Thus began a round of mammagrams and ultra sounds and the finding that I have many cysts, small and large, in my left breast resulting from the bruising caused by the accident. While the lump I found was one of these cysts, amongst the cysts was a lump which follow up biopsy (another scary moment) found was an early stage breast cancer. The world of breast cancer treatment opened before me, with decisions needing to be made which could have life threatening or lifesaving consequences. A lumpectomy and radiation treatment followed –the tumour was in the early stages and appeared to have been removed by the lumpectomy, so I did not require chemotherapy.
Five years later I am well, though with have annual reminders of the accident whenever I have mammograms and ultrasounds. Each time the ‘black holes’ evident in the imaging of the cysts caused by the accident are discussed. Just recently however, on finding a referral from my surgeon for my five year follow up visit to medical imaging, I noticed it had written on it a query ‘Neoplasia ?’. Ever curious, I Googled ‘Neoplasia’ with mixed results… with words ‘cyst’ ‘trauma’ ‘injury’ ‘tumour development’ somewhat troubling and warranting further investigation.
So, memories of that scary moment, when the sun blinded me, memories of the grating, mechanical, loud, sudden thud and of the pressure on my chest, are still never that far away.
Post script – I recently came across the newspaper article headed ‘Blinded by the Sun’ which appeared in Wangaratta’s ‘Chronicle’ not long after the accident. It concluded with a salutary warning, a warning which often comes back to me in ‘flashback’ moments when the sun becomes blinding.
“With the onset of spring, and more sun glare, drivers are being encouraged to keep their windscreens clean and wear sunglasses”.