October 3, 2003

Over the Edge: The Search for Perspective on Tragedy

by Melissa Ericksen

In August of 1986 I was in an accident. I was 25 years old at the time. I was 4 and 1/2 months pregnant and I had an ideal pregnancy up until that day. I didn't eat breakfast before I left for work, since I usually ate when I arrived at work. I went to commute on the Long Island Rail Road and was in a good position on the platform to get a seat, which meant I was on the edge of the platform, so I would have been one of the first people to board the train. That morning I felt an odd chill which was really strange since it was 101 degrees out. I remember thinking, “should I stay where I am, or go to the back of the crowd and sit down?” I looked at my watch and saw the train was due in only 2 minutes, so I decided to stay where I was. That was my last memory until I awoke in the emergency room with a team of doctors and nurses all busy about me, preparing to cut off the rest of my clothes. During my Naikan retreat in 2003 I reflected on this event. Here is a statement of my reflection as I looked back on my accident and the period just after it occurred:

What Did I Receive?
The train conductor to made an emergency stop * I heard that someone had jumped into the tracks, to be with me * The emergency workers assisted at the scene, then made a good decision to see I went to a decent hospital, out of their jurisdiction * The emergency room staff evaluated my condition and determined the care I needed * The oral surgeon who replanted my teeth and set my broken jaw bone * The plastic surgeon who closed a big wound on my chin * The Orthopedic people who helped reset my arm broken in six places * The people who cared for my fractured ribs * The people who monitored my concussion * My cousin who arrived first and was allowed to come to me and stay for awhile. * The person who called my husband to let him know, and provide the information he needed * My family members calling other family members * My mother who came down from Vermont to Long Island * My loved ones decided that even though I was in the critical care unit in the maternity area, I should have round the clock care, so they hired a private duty Nurse to be at my side for at least 2 nights that I remember (It made me feel better knowing I wasn’t alone) * I received some visitors, although I don’t remember much * When I was out of the Critical Care Unit, I had a roommate so I had some company * during my eleven days in the hospital, I received the nurses daily care, and the specialists who repaired me to monitor my progress * People who washed my bedding, administered my medicines * Heat in the building, electricity for all the monitoring devices used and lighting * A bed to lie in * food given through an intravenous feeding unit * My OB/GYN monitored my expected baby, and the sonogram person checked on my baby * The ambulance and it’s technology provided assistance en route to the hospital * Blankets to keep me warm * gowns to wear, as my clothes were cut off me and unable to be worn * My mother comforted me and reassured me that I would be okay, but she recommended I don’t look in a mirror yet. * On the fourth day I asked again “can I look in the mirror yet?” Mom said now she thought I could. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize me at all. Still, the fact that my mother conveyed her unconditional love when I was that scary looking is pure Love.

* My husband Jerry knew what would cheer me up and make me feel better during my long recovery -- my sister. As a surprise he arranged to fly her in from California. She arrived with a nurse’s hat she had made from a Chinese food container. It said MASH 4077, because she was here to help me mash my food, as my jaw was going to be wired shut for over a months time, and was restricted to bed rest for one month * Others did my laundry, grocery shopping, helped to care for Jerry emotionally, and probably helped also with his food, laundry and cleaning * My sister and others shuttled me to many follow up doctor appointments * It was months before it was determined that I fainted due to my pregnancy, so for that period of time I was driven anywhere I was able to, or needed to go. * I received a call from my uncle that he missed me, but he didn’t feel up to coming to get me, and would I come to him if he sent a cab? I said yes. He took me to a fancy shopping area that I could not really afford, and when we passed a fancy maternity shop he said “do you have an outfit for the upcoming holidays?” I said “no” and he asked if I liked the one in the window. I said it was very nice and he said lets go in. The salesperson asked if they could help, he said we’d like the outfit on display for my niece. She gathered the items and he bought them. We then proceeded to a lovely lunch in a fancy restaurant. It was a beautiful, intimate time with my uncle, which had never happened before. My uncle Jerome died unexpectedly 2 days later. * I received many flower arrangements and get well cards * My 2 bosses came out to Queens from their homes in Manhattan (half hours travel) to tell me in person on behalf of the company and the job I’ve done, we don’t want you to even think of money. We will pay you your full salary until the baby is born (which was another 4 1/2 months time) * My husband did not think of himself at all during this time, everything was geared to me and the expected baby’s well being * Sometimes when I was lonely my aunt and sister in-law would come and pick me up to visit with them and then return me home later * I received calls about how was I recovering?

What did I Give?
My thanks verbally to those assisting me * I wrote thank you notes to the Police officers who responded, the train conductor and his supervisors, the Ambulance crew that made the decision to take me out of their jurisdiction to see that I received better care * We also dropped off large boxes of Godiva chocolates to the Police and Ambulance people. * I also wrote to the person who I was told jumped onto the train tracks to be with me

What Troubles & Difficulties Did I Cause Others?
I caused all the commuters on the Long Island Rail Road to be late to where they were going, and perhaps to explain their lateness to their bosses. I delayed and disrupted the schedule for the day. * Maybe the Ambulance crew took some heat for their decision to take me to the better hospital and not where they were supposed to * I also knew from others who were on the train that the conductor announced “there’s something ahead on the tracks, I’m going to make an emergency stop”, so everyone had a strong jolt due to the stopping. * I happened to run into a man, months later, that recognized me, and he asked me how I was. During that conversation I asked him what happened, and he said, “I never screamed so loud.” So I apparently caused fear in him and probably others * I guess I was bloody and scary looking too, which may have upset others. * The Ambulance crew probably got worked up knowing someone needed their help.

* The Emergency Room staff had to work quickly and efficiently to see I would be cared for, also they had to adjust the care they normally would have provided because of my pregnancy * Since I could not receive any pain medicines they probably were more considerate of the repair work they gave. * My husband left his job to be at my side * My mom left her job for days to be with me.* My sister left her job for days to be with me. * Those who left their jobs for hours, or days, may have lost wages too * The hospital staff cared for me. * My husband did not have me there to cook his meals or do his laundry * Others prepared my drinks and blended my foods * Others cleaned my house, my bedding and did my shopping for months * Others drove me to doctors appointments and waited for me, then drove me home. * My visual condition probably disturbed some people when I went out to the doctor visits * My family and friends were probably upset to see me look like that

After the accident, when I had recovered enough, I asked myself the question “Why did this happen?” I didn’t think it was fair. I did take away a sense that there is a time for each of us. I realized that it just wasn’t my time. I no longer live with a fear of death -- when it is time, it is time.

My Naikan reflection on this accident has allowed me to see, in detail, all the thoughtful acts that were done on my behalf by others -- many efforts by my family and people I had never even spoken with. At a time when I was wounded, weak and unable to care for myself, they were there for me, watching over me, offering their love and support to help me get well. It renews my faith in the world that we are intrinsically good, and it awakens my deep gratitude. I am more clearly aware now of my obligation to do for others.

I am now 41 years old. I live a relatively normal life. I am in some type of back or neck discomfort everyday, although I continue to seek new medical avenues and have also learned and developed skills to live fully while in some discomfort. My son was born healthy and uninjured by the accident. I named him Jeremy after my Uncle Jerry, who had died during my pregnancy. He is now 16 years old.

Melissa Ericksen reflected on her accident during her Naikan retreat in Spring, 2003. She lives in Southington, Connecticut and is co-owner of A Balanced Life, a company which coordinates Health & Wellness Expos. She is presently completing her certification program in Japanese Psychology at the ToDo Institute.

Posted on October 3, 2003 5:52 PM

I can't imagine The suffering you went threw. I wish there were someway to have known. The most important thing is that there were good people around you at the time. Your personal angels. This world is a better place since your in it. Billy.

Posted by: William R. Haynes on December 17, 2003 11:37 PM
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