A lesson in acceptance of the things we cannot change

“Have you ever had whiplash?” asked the chiropractor as I’m splayed out on his table while he adjusts my neck. He distracts me before the jarring crack as he manipulates my neck with a short sharp twist. Even fourteen years after my car accident, the tell-tale signs of whiplash are still evident.

I was a student at the University of Cape Town, driving home one night after coffee with a friend. I had stopped my car at a red light when I heard the screeching of tyres applied far too late and felt the force of a car slamming into my stationery vehicle from behind. My car seat went fully backwards and broke, my glasses were thrown off my head, and the impact left me with a serious whiplash injury. But the worst thing about the car accident was being hit by a drunk driver. Some-one’s irresponsible actions had caused this unnecessary accident. The driver was so drunk that when she got out the car she was slurring her words and speaking incomprehensible sentences. Because the accident was on a main road, the police were almost immediately on the scene and they arrested the driver. I never knew whether she was convicted of drunk driving but I suspect that because she came from an extremely privileged background she was able to get off the charges.

I have dealt and overcome some significant emotional trauma in my life and it is something we all have to face. Through my blog, I have shared the importance of speaking your truth and reframing the narrative so that the emotional trauma does not continue to haunt you. But permanent physical trauma is different. You cannot just reframe it because your body has been altered and the damage will always be there. I have suffered from bad neck pain since that accident and I have to continually go at least once a month to a physio, osteopath or chiropractor to treat my neck. When a new chiropractor recently asked me about whiplash because he can feel the damage on my neck, I realise it’s something I can’t escape. You cannot just “let it go” or move on. It brings back the accident, the drunk driver, and the fact that my neck is permanently damaged. The drunk driver, a young woman, was a year or two older than me and ironically, we had one or two friends in common, but never met until the accident and I have never seen her since. She has never apologised to me.

As I complain about my own permanent physical trauma, I know it is relatively minor. I know a number of people who were left paralysed after car accidents and some of my relatives were killed in a car accident. So, it is important to keep things in perspective. I can be grateful that it was not worse and that I have the financial means to treat it. I also cannot fight the pain of my neck injury. There is a lesson in the grace of accepting the things we cannot change. I am still able to swim and hike. Even though sometimes I have to take a break from all my activities while my neck is in pain, it is usually only a temporary break.

I feel pity for the drunk driver who hit me and doesn’t have the strength of character to apologise. In a car accident, I would much rather be the victim then the perpetrator because I would not want to cause that kind of harm to anyone. Despite being a permanent injury, my body is only a temporary vessel and one day I will be free from all the aches and pains. And, with my usual flair for the dramatics, it is the drunk driver whose soul is tarnished and has to live with the consequences in this life and in the after-life. Or perhaps she will just come back as a cockroach.

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