Resilience: My Car Accident Story

By Laura Finley

On July 21, 2020, just after dropping off some books at the public library, a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street plowed into me. T-boned on the driver’s side, my car flew off the street, into a parking lot, hit the back of a gentleman’s car and a light post before finally coming to a stop. I had no idea what had happened, as I never saw her coming. Today, I look for drivers who may be going the wrong way on one-way streets but at that time I did not think to do so. My driver’s side door was smashed in and could not be opened. There was glass all over me. And then I looked down at my right leg, which was facing all the wrong direction. Something was very messed up. A witness came to my car and told me what had happened and asked if I was OK. I said “I think my leg is messed up.” Bit of an understatement. He tried to lift me out over the console but was afraid of hurting me more. He and several others called 911. I had him grab my phone, which had fallen to the floor, and I called my husband, who works less than a mile from where it happened. The person who hit me came over, saying “I’m sorry” over and over and that’s the last I saw of her. The ambulance arrived and they used the jaws of life to pry me from the car and gave me a mask for the ride to the hospital, as this was all in the early months of the pandemic. My husband ran there, literally, and collected my purse from the car. In the ambulance, they asked me questions to make sure I wasn’t in shock. I recall being asked who the President was and responding “Donald Trump, unfortunately,” which made them laugh. 

My husband took an uber and met us at the emergency room, as he was not allowed to ride with us. At first they were not going to permit him to stay with me, as no visitors were being allowed due to pandemic protocols. They decided to make an exception once they took me back to an area to await x-rays to see what was broken, as that area was not very full. While we waited, we watched footage on the local news of the jaws of life removal and my car being hauled onto a tow truck. A few hours later, a surgeon came and told me I had broken my right clavicle and pelvis in two places when the car hit my door and that my right femur was broken from my leg slamming into the console. I would definitely need surgery on the femur. The other fractures may or may not require surgery, he needed to examine them further. My first question, as a lifelong runner, was when would I be able to run again. He said it might be a year or two. That was devastating. They also said that they were getting me a room and the surgery was set for the following morning. My husband had to leave because absolutely no visitors were allowed on those floors. 

That was a painful night. It was also challenging as I was given a roommate who was super pleasant during the day but at night, when she was in pain, she bellowed. All night. I don’t remember the surgery, as I was anesthetized, of course. In the next few days, I had several more x-rays to see if the other injuries were going to require surgery and to see if the rod was successfully implemented in my femur.  I was told I did not need additional surgeries, that the clavicle and pelvis can often heal without it but that it was possible in future things could change and that I would likely have arthritis in these areas later in life. The surgeon and physical therapist said I would be able to go home once I could walk using a walker. So that was my mission. I managed that two days do after the surgery and was elated, although nearly passed out. Only to be told that my hemoglobin was quite low, and they had to get it up to normal range before I was released. I was pissed. My husband had planned to drop off some books and clothes and I asked him to smuggle in some alcohol. Probably not wise, but definitely needed! Finally, I got the OK to go home after four nights hospitalized. 

Initially, I could barely walk using the walker. My husband and daughter did everything around our apartment and pushed me in a wheelchair to the pool area so I could be outside some. Many friends called, texted, posted on social media and even sent flowers and other gifts, but because of the pandemic few were able to visit. My husband and daughter had work, so there were some pretty lonely days. I started physical therapy three weeks after the accident and worked my ass off. In a short time, I was able to move from the walker to a cane. COVID did bring me the lucky opportunity to keep teaching remotely, as I could not drive and otherwise would have had to take leave from my teaching job.

While I was healing, we were advised to look into legal action against the girl who hit me. It turns out she was only 19, and she was overheard telling the police that “she takes that way to work every day,” meaning she drives the wrong way on a one-way street often. She was clearly culpable, and my injuries were clearly the result of her actions. It seemed a slam dunk. We were not interested in getting rich off this young woman but having been informed that my bills would not be fully covered by my auto or health insurance and that I will likely never be “completely” healed, it seemed like some kind of compensation might be due. However, Florida law does not require drivers with cars that are paid for to hold bodily injury liability coverage and since this driver did not carry any, there was no legal action we could take, and she paid nothing towards my bills. I am not sure whether she receive any traffic citations, although it would be hard to imagine that she did not. Suing her could have been an option but seemed silly, as the attorney found that she lived with her mother, worked in a low wage job, and they had no assets. Nothing to recover, and it would have been another pain in the ass. 

I am a very positive person, I believe, but this was a tough period. I tell this story in this issue about resilience, however, to acknowledge the moments when I struggled but also to give myself some credit for when I remained strong. I sobbed a few times, thinking of the bills, the things I could no longer do and might never do again in the same way, coupled with all the other things that got cancelled during COVID. In all, to date I have paid about $8.000 out of pocket for this accident. Could have been worse, but it is hard to think that way sometimes. I was angry that someone could do something that resulted in this kind of harm and pay nothing to cover damages. Yet I also did not want to live in anger. I was sad because I was homebound and lonely and couldn’t even take my dogs out to walk. 

But, I am still standing. I can run, although it might never feel quite the same. I can and do other forms of exercise, though. My physical therapist called me a “poster child for recovery” because I walked unassisted only a few months after the accident, and I can honestly say that is because I worked really hard. I ran less than six months later, albeit SUPER slowly and awkwardly. When I was able to drive, the first route I drove was the one I was on when the accident happened, because I needed to overcome that fear. I have thought about writing a letter to the driver sharing my thoughts but thought better of it—I want to believe that day was a wake up call for her and that she is a better driver today. 

I still am a nervous driver and car rider. The sound of metal on metal kills me. I look several times when crossing a one-way street to make sure no one else is going to hit me. And when I am cold, the metal in my leg starts aching. As noted, I’m several thousand dollars down for something I should never have had to pay for. 

Yet I am resilient. And I am forever thankful to my husband, my daughter, my family, my neighbors and my friends who helped however they could. This shitty experience definitely showed that I have a lot of love in my life and for that I am forever grateful.

Resilience takes so many forms.  I may not be a lot of things, but I do think I am resilient and for that I feel proud. 



Laura Finley, PhD, is Professor of Sociology & Criminology at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. She is the author, co-author or editor of 32 books and has two to be released in 2023. Finley is also author of 44 peer-reviewed journal articles and numerous book chapters. In addition, she is a syndicated columnist with PeaceVoice. Dr. Finley is also actively involved in a number of peace, justice and human rights movements and was the 2022 recipient of PJSA’s Peace Scholar Award. She served as Board Co-Chair for many years.