I’ve been a little slack with the posting lately, but there’s a reason. During a recent routine prostate check and blood test, I found out my PSA was inordinately high. This required the doctor to take 12 (count ’em, 12) samples from my prostate for biopsy. If you’ve never had the pleasure of enduring that procedure, let’s just say you’re fortunate.
Anyway, after a little sweating, I got the results yesterday and they were all negative. I’m sure they could hear me exhale out on North Roosevelt Boulevard. Last night, I hosted the weekly meeting of our writers group, after which I tipped a couple of adult beverages in celebration. As I was sipping my drink, I was reminded of another time I had cheated death.
It was September, 1978. I was living in Magnolia, Texas, a tiny rural community about 40 miles from Houston. I made the trip into the Big Town every night to play music, usually returning home well after 3 AM. One day, I saw a commercial for Ford on TV. It featured a closeup of Leslie Nielsen, the actor, who was the company’s spokesman in those days, and it played more like a public service announcement.
He talked about the National Safety Council and how they study thousands of accidents every year. Remember, these were the days when 50,000 people were killed every year in auto accidents. Then Nielsen revealed this startling statistic. During the previous year, 1977, of all the accidents which met the following qualifications:
1. Took place at speeds under 50 miles an hour
2. Occurred less than 30 miles from home
3. No drugs or alcohol involved…and…
4. All occupants were wearing seat belts…
There were NO fatalities.
I sat transfixed. No fatalities. As in “zero”. As in “everyone survived”. That stat swept over me like a warm breeze. I knew that, from that moment on, I would never be in a car without wearing a seat belt.
So, one week later, I’m driving home in the middle of the night. Now, as you might imagine, Magnolia, Texas does not exactly sit at the confluence of great highways and byways. The route from Houston was then largely two-lane country roads, and it was these country roads that would take me home (wait, do I hear song possibilities there? … Â No, I guess not).
Anyway, on this night, I was driving my standard-issue musician van. I came around a bend doing about 65 mph and what do I see but three horses standing abreast of one another in the middle of the road. I never even had time to hit the brakes.
The front of my van crashed broadside into the first horse, killing him and the one immediately abreast of him. The force of the impact flung me toward the windshield, but I felt myself yanked back from the jaws of death by the seat belt. It was all over in about two or three seconds.
Stunned, I sat there for a moment in the rural silence, trying to process what had just occurred. At first, I didn’t realize how bad it was. I tried to get out of the van but the door wouldn’t open. It was jammed tight from the crash. Then I saw the entire dashboard lying on the floor, having been knocked out of its frame. I stumbled toward the back doors and made my way out. I looked toward the front of the van and saw the two dead horses in the road. The third one staggered away.
Soon, another car came by, slowing way down as it approached the carnage. The driver rolled his window down, asked if I was all right (I said I was, but I was still woozy), then said he would call the Highway Patrol on his CB radio (remember those?). In about 10 minutes, the flashing lights appeared and the Highway Patrolman took all my info and arranged for the van to be towed and for the horses to be cleared from the road.
The next day, I went to the junkyard where they had towed the van. I was to meet the claims adjuster for the insurance company. Under the hazy Texas sun, the sight of my van sent a chill up my spine. It was the worst wreck in the yard. The front was completely smashed in, accordion-style, and blood was everywhere. It was the kind of wreck you look at and say, “I wonder how many people got killed in this.”
Needless to say, now I wear seat belts every single time I get into a car, even if I’m just putt-putting around a parking lot.
I never got to meet Leslie Nielsen. I wanted to tell him what a major impact he had on my life, in fact, on extending my life.
My number wasn’t up that night in 1978, nor was it up this week after my prostate check, but I can easily say that when it does roll around, I will have been thankful for the extra time I’ve been given, and for the reminders of how precious life really is.