When cooler heads prevail

My former college housemate and eternal friend recently survived a 50-car pileup on a busy Wisconsin highway.

A former PICU nurse and lifelong pediatric nurse, she has seen and dealt with many traumatic situations in her life. Her training and unflappability came in handy in the aftermath of that crash…that and a cooler I gave her as a wedding present 31 years ago.

“When I was heading toward the pile up and I could not stop (about 50 yards away) I thought I was going to die,” she said. “It was such a sudden white out and flash freeze. Then, after I crashed, my seat belt came undone. I thought I was going to die again if someone crashed into the back of me. And, my car was smoking. I called 911…Busy. I called (my husband)…in surgery. Then I called my co-worker to say I would not be at work the next day, all the while saying a prayer to live! 

“A random kind man showed up at my passenger window while the police officer was trying to break my windshield to get me out.  He told me that a semi flipped and that it protected me from getting hit in the back of my car. The kind man had EMT training.. so he helped get me out.”

Once freed, my friend helped a baby, mother and grandmother in another car. Then, after a 3½ hour wait while authorities cleared the accident scene, that three-generation family gave her ride to Children’s Hospital where she met up with her husband.

My friend had been on her way to her hometown to visit her dad in the hospital and, in one of life’s great small-world moments, the family she met during the accident is moving soon and will be her father’s new neighbors.

“I feel very blessed and lucky to be alive,” she said. “Thankfully, the baby only had a reactive airway to the airbag dust. So, I only had to be available in case anything progressed. They really helped me out too! They were so kind and I was so cold from standing outside for 3 1/2 hours before a school bus took all of the less injured to a McDonald’s in Germantown at the Pioneer Plaza. They were so kind there. They opened up their lobby for us to come in and get warm. I shook I think until 11 p.m. that night from the cold and extra adrenaline in my body.”

Although she is still banged up and waiting for results from an MRI on her knee, my friend does not have any broken bones and is thrilled to be alive.

I love how often the word “kind” appears in my friend’s story and I bet it appears in other retellings as well. I also love that my wedding gift to her played a small role in comforting her.

“I want you to know that I still use the igloo cooler you gave us for our wedding 31 years ago,” she said. “It was in the accident and survived it! I grabbed an ice pack out of it to put on my knee right after I crashed. I had carrot cake in it to take to my dad at the hospital.”

My friend sent a few shots of the accident’s aftermath. The dramatic accident happened during a whiteout on April 21.
Several people, including my friend, had to be extracted from their vehicles. As they waited, they knew they and their cars remained vulnerable to more life-threatening damage as cars and trucks continued to slide toward them.
My poor friend’s legs. She is still suffering from some knee, sternum and hip pain, but she is thrilled to be alive. She said she is “so lucky to have legs to walk on!”

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