How To Survive a Car Accident

Each year, 1 in 37 drivers gets in a car accident. Last year I was in the worst car accident of my life. Driving home at night I waited for the light at the intersection to turn green. As I drove into the middle of the Milwaukie and SE Powell intersection, my driver side was all of a sudden smashed in. In an instant, my car was totaled. A distracted driver blazed through a red light, hitting me plus a third car before landing on the sidewalk another 20 yards up the street. They were speeding in excess of 40 miles per hour right up until about 5 feet from impacting me. I was lucky. There were multiple witnesses including someone’s dashboard camera footage. The scene in the video replays in my mind as often as the actual incident. After the driver’s side overhead airbags shot out I screamed as my car was thrown nearly 180 degrees. For a moment I was disoriented and in complete shock. Witnesses threw open the front passenger side door to check in on me. As soon as I knew I was safe, a release of fearful and frustrated tears spilled out. I was in pain. As I tried to assess my body in that moment, the loudest sensation was a surging elixir of adrenaline and other neurochemicals.

When we suffer from a traumatic incident, our bodies flood with as much cortisol (the stress hormone) and beta endorphins (the pain blockers) as we our bodies can produce for us. This flood of neuropeptides helps us to deal with any danger in our environment as well as fight off the resultant pain. Endorphins act like a natural opioid in your body allowing the signals of pain to be interrupted before they are perceived by your brain. At that moment, I had no idea how extensive the physical, emotional, and psychological damage from this one momentary impact might be. This is all tied into shock which can last anywhere from the first few minutes to several days or more. Not to mention the lingering emotional upset. Studies show that after a life-threatening incident you are much more likely to experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which may include recurring thoughts of your mortality.

Some of you reading this will be able to relate in one way or another. Maybe you have been in a motor vehicle accident or a few accidents. Maybe you know someone who has experienced one that won’t easily be forgotten. In the US alone, we have an average of 6 million car accidents per year, about half of those resulting in injury. Of the 6 million accidents, about 2 million will cause permanent injuries. Those statistics are just on an annual basis. That means each year our odds of being in a car accident increase. Of course there are other factors besides the passing years. Where you live matters. What you drive matters (motorcycles are dangerous). Your car’s crash safety statistics are important. Wearing a seatbelt is important. Not being distracted by a cell phone or otherwise definitely matters. Sometimes drunk or reckless driving is to blame. Unfortunately, being a smart driver isn't the only part of the equation. We can’t control how others drive. In any event, having been in a few accidents, I have learned so much. Also, in my profession as an acupuncturist, treating pain from car accidents is a large part of what I do, so I understand it from both sides. I have the perspective of having been injured and the perspective of having facilitated the healing process.

If you live in Oregon, it doesn't matter too much if you were the one who was at fault or not. All insurance plans sold in Oregon have a 'no-fault' provision in their their personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This essentially means that your car insurance company will cover payments for the medical expenses. Any injuries that may occur as a result of driving your vehicle are covered, no matter what the circumstance. The bare minimum that is provided by law in your insurance plan is $15,000 in medical expenses. You can expect to have that money available if you need it for medical expenses post-accident. About all that you need is your insurance claim number and the name of your insurance company to get started with any medical treatments you seek out in Oregon.

Often when we have just been in an accident people are quick to say, “I'm fine.” It's also the case that immediately following an accident, the sheer adrenaline coursing through the human body can mask the full extent of one’s injuries. I have learned that human bodies are tricky, and things shift over time. What felt like a shoulder injury and rib injury the first few days after my accident felt more like a screaming neck injury in a day or two.

Know your state laws. Always be insured. Mainly, insurance companies are national, and laws governing PIP insurance are done by state. In Oregon, you have up to two full years to have your PIP (personal injury protection) insurance cover medical expenses. That can be doctor's visits, X-rays, MRIs, acupuncture, chiropractic, mental-emotional counseling, physical therapy, or even massage. Some of these modalities you might need to get a referral for first, but as a licensed acupuncturist, I know that acupuncture does not require a referral after being in an accident. If you need advice on what your rights are in your unique situation or in your particular state, you can always consult over the phone with a personal injury attorney at no cost to you. These types of lawyers only require any money once they have helped you close your case. They get paid primarily by your insurance and will not require you to pay them to assess the circumstances of your case.

Fully recovering back to your prior health is an important goal post-injury. Caring for yourself is important. Be proactive and get the proper medical attention that you need after being injured in a car accident. Not only do I advocate for this as a practitioner, but as a patient. Personally, after I took a short two-week break from work to heal full-time, I continued to see healing practitioners on a weekly basis, spending 2-7 hours a week in my sessions. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been capable of going back to life as normal, without an intense physical and emotional pain. As mother to a three year old, a business owner and student in a doctoral program, I don't have time to waste feeling like I was hit by a large vehicle. No one does. I am thankful for knowing that I don't have to suffer and I am grateful for a career in helping others to overcome their suffering as well.

As far as accidents go, in this recent one I was lucky for so many reasons. I was able to walk away from it, first and foremost. While I did suffer multiple injuries to soft tissue and even to some bone, nothing was so severe that I needed immediate medical attention. Further, some accident victims are not so lucky as to have any witnesses. Sometimes the at fault party is in denial. Then what do you do? Well, there are plenty of good reasons to have a lawyer help you if you have been in a car accident, and that is a good example of a reason to consult with one.

It’s okay to feel upset when you have been injured in a car accident. It’s a natural response to feel fear and anger as a result of a stressor like this. Recognizing your injuries, emotions, and limitations that resulted from being in a car accident are the most important starting place. Give yourself some space to assess how you are feeling before you decide that everything is fine. Contact the professionals who have built careers around helping you to recover. Time does heal most things, but there are also things we can do to get better faster. Certainly, using your car insurance as it was intended is one of the most important things you can do to advocate for yourself. Please pass this along and make sure that your loved ones who have gone through this are aware that they can find support after being injured in a car accident.

Kevi Keenom