Note: The following is a letter from car crash victim Diane Hardy to students who were gathered for a school assembly on safe driving.
I wish I could be there in person to speak with you today.
My name is Diane Hardy and I am a teacher at Rufus King High School. On May 2, 2004, my life changed from being normal to being forever physically and emotionally scarred by a serious accident.
I have always worn a seatbelt, even when some people don’t, like when in a taxi or in the backseat of a car. While on a longer trip home to Milwaukee with family, I decided I didn’t feel well and clicked off my seatbelt to lie across the backseat of the car.
A short time later I heard a grinding sound, then felt my body flying around inside the car. I felt hits on my shoulder, neck, and back. Before I knew it, I was landing on the grass in the median of the interstate. I later would learn my leg had been shattered as it broke through a window and I had been sucked through.
As I lay there on the ground, an absurd thought went through my head, “I guess I’m not going to school tomorrow.”
I wouldn’t go back to work for four more months. When I did it was in a wheelchair. Then on a walker. Then crutches. And finally a cane.
I had broken five vertebrae in my spine, my leg was badly broken and my spleen lacerated. There were other injuries that I learned about later.
My life was never in doubt but the spinal and leg damage led to uncertainty about my future. I was fortunate to be at Froedtert, a Level I Trauma Center for my recovery. About thirteen months after my accident I was finally able to walk without assistance.
I joked with the hospital staff that my dignity also flew out the window when I did. Not only did my injuries cause horrific physical pain and challenges, but I had also lost all independence.
I had traveled all over the world and suddenly my world was a small hospital room with tubes sticking out of me and completely reliant on others to eat, dress, roll over, or go to the bathroom.
All of this because I took off a seatbelt.
Since my accident I’ve met many other trauma victims. Some had been drinking, others distracted. I kept saying to myself, “What if I hadn’t taken off my belt?”
I’ve learned to take each day as it comes and no longer ask myself that question. I hope to educate people about the importance of wearing a seatbelt and being an attentive driver. I no longer drive while tired either. The person driving the car I was in had fallen asleep.
One of the counselors who worked with me in the months of nightmares that followed told me that most people walk around with the idea of “deniability.” “That will never happen to me,” they say. Those of us who have survived a car crash, disease or other serious injury know that it CAN happen to anyone.
I now work with patients and their families at Froedtert. I see a lot of young people who have been involved in car or motorcycle crashes. Many of the crashes had distracted driving or alcohol as part of the cause. I’ve seen the heartbreak of people who had been behind the wheel which caused serious harm or death to a passenger. It is often these emotional wounds that never heal even if physical wounds do.
I could gross you out with details of the pain of cleaning out inches deep wounds and the agony of having a shattered limb being moved back into place. I could tell you about pain so severe that I actually tore out the stitches in my face just to distract me from pain elsewhere. I could tell you about my friend who lost half of his face or another friend who lost a leg. I could tell you about the horror of putting weight on a leg after five months of no weight.
You’ve heard statistics today, you’ve heard people exhort you to drive carefully and wear your seatbelt. I’m begging you to. I do not want you to join this community of survivors I am a part of. I don’t want you to see your family and friends weep at your bedside like I did. I don’t want you to endure pain that makes you wish that crash had finished you off. I also don’t want you to know the humiliation of not being able to go to the bathroom alone.
I could’ve prevented much of this if I had only kept my seatbelt on. I cannot change my reality but I can help it from becoming yours.
Diane M. Hardy