I’ve been on an involuntary break from my duties at Community Partners for the last several weeks. Another driver ran a stop sign at high speed on May 30, totaling my car and breaking three bones in my rib cage and shoulder, one of which required major surgery to repair. As I surrender to the reality that complete recovery will be much slower than the pace of my expectations, I’ve found time to reflect. But for the tick of a fractional second, my car just a few more feet into the intersection, and things could have been much, much worse. Needless to say, I am grateful to be alive.
The interior of my car stayed reasonably intact because it’s built to high manufacturer and federal safety standards. Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics attended to me calmly and skillfully at the crash* scene. Doctors and a host of other well-trained professionals at the UCLA Trauma Center treated my incipient post-collision shock and supplied pharmaceutical pain relief while searching me inside and out for less visible injuries.
A social worker who assured me she was the “master of stealth” when I asked her to please not frighten my wife, made sure Mary wasn’t spun into panic upon getting the call that I was presently lying injured in an emergency room on the opposite side of town. The health insurance provided through Community Partners has so far covered all but a small bit of the costs of treatment, surgery and follow-up care. My private auto insurer (mandatory auto insurance for every driver being a legal requirement in California) has been instantly responsive. Friends and family have been golden in their visits, their generosity, their caring and concern. My work colleagues and members of my board of directors have graciously, without hesitation, insisted: “Rest. Get better. Come back healed and whole.”
I’m not just grateful that I’m alive. I’m also grateful for the presence in my life and my community of so many other factors that make a quality life possible – from excellent publicly supported services, to private insurance, to a good employer offering adequate benefits, to pro-consumer advocacy and legislation that assures safe cars, medications and adequate auto insurance coverage, to a teaching university that’s built one of the best trauma centers in the world, to the family and social network I’ve cobbled together over time.
These factors form a large part of what makes up any complex society that’s built on an interest in advancing the welfare of individuals and communities. Often, we don’t see and appreciate these resources until we really, really need them, just as I needed immediate medical aid after the crash. In that moment, I would have taken help from any source that offered it. The LAFD’s crack emergency medical service providers and UCLA’s trauma center team happened to be the help that showed up.
There needs to be a song, or perhaps just a silent, simple petition of gratitude oft repeated, that celebrates the kinds of dedicated people and caring services otherwise so easy to take for granted, especially in an age rife with denigration of government and constant clamoring for deregulation. Maybe it goes something like this: Blessed be those present by chance and by design who stand ready to lend me care when the going gets rough and I urgently need their helping hands.
Editor's Note: Paul's message dovetails with the missions of at least two Community Partners projects, the leaders of which reached out to share some additional information and insights:
*Note (and learning opportunity): The word 'accident' in this piece has been replaced by 'crash' and 'collision' thanks to our friends at Los Angeles Walks. A group they organize, SoCal Families for Safe Streets, is launching a campaign called Crash Not Accident (#crashnotaccident). The aim is to ask people to stop using the word "accident" when referring to traffic collisions, but to use the word "crash" or "collision" instead. By calling traffic collisions "crashes," we acknowledge that they are preventable through better street design, slower speeds, and safer behavior -- that they are not "accidents" at all...
...and In One Instant founder Gail Schenbaum, who started the project to reduce the high rate of crashes among young drivers, will be speaking in Sacramento this week to county employees around the state who work with youth through the Office of Traffic Safety's Friday Night Live program. In One Instant was recently chosen as the safe driving project to be presented this year at the traffic office's annual statewide conference.
"Life" photo by Franck CC by 2.0