Saturday, April 12, 2014
The day began early as my father and I headed south on the freeway towards Long Beach in the family Cadillac Coupe de Ville. There, we would board a U.S. Navy minesweeper on which we would spend the day as guests of the Navy watching it performing maneuvers and demonstrating how a minesweeper would snag and reel in enemy mines. Somewhere along the way, a rock flew up and hit the Cadillac's windshield leaving a large, spiderweb crack obscuring much of the view. I remember thinking it was a lucky thing the windshield didn't break open.
The minesweeper was a pretty big craft and a navy boat has to be quite substantial in size before it's called a ship. I'm not sure I understood all that was happening but I was fascinated by how the boat carried out its tasks. The crew members were friendly but business-like. At a certain point, we--the guests--were summoned to the mess where we were served lunch. I seem to recall it consisted of sandwiches and soup; tomato soup that was spicier than I was accustomed to.
After lunch, we returned to observing maneuvers and it wasn't too long before I began feeling ill. I don't know if it was a case of seasickness or a reaction to the rich soup, but I suddenly found myself unable to maintain interest in the demonstration that would continue for at least another couple of hours. One of the crewmen lead me to a bunk where I could close my eyes and hope to recover. Eventually, I began to feel somewhat better but the boat was returning to port.
That evening on the way home, my father and I stopped in Westwood at the home of family friends. She was a friend of my step-mother (who was visiting her parents in Oklahoma) and he was a cameraman for KTLA-TV. While they had dinner and talked, I watched television in the den eating ice cream still not feeling as I should. When it grew late, my father and I said goodbye to Connie and Jim and started on our way home to Woodland Hills.
It had been a long day in the sun and sea air and I was quite tired. Riding home, I fell asleep in the front seat.
I don't know what woke me but, at one point, I opened my eyes and looked up to see a pair of lights coming at us. My initial impression was that they reminded me of a bird of prey swooping down on us. Immediately, the lights disappeared, obscured by a glimpse of something white. Later, I would realize it was the Cadillac's hood as it crumpled from the impact of a head-on collision with another car which had been on the wrong side of the freeway. Before I could grasp what was happening, I was unconscious.
Some time later, I regained consciousness. My father and I were slouched down in the front seat of the Cadillac. Most of the windshield had disappeared. The steering wheel had broken its spokes and was hanging from the steering column down near the dashboard. I couldn't move my left leg --it was dislocated--and I could only move my right leg down to about mid-thigh--it was literally broken in two. My right elbow hurt like hell; broken. As I sat there taking it all in, I realized what had happened. Outside, I could hear people walking around on the freeway. "These two are dead," someone said. I hope he's not talking about us, I thought to myself.
I looked at my father and saw that he was conscious. "I think I broke my leg," I told him. "Good," he said meaning he was glad if that was all I had suffered. At that point, the right side of my face got very warm as blood began to flow from a head laceration. It would require 150 stitches but before anyone could worry about that, they had to get me out of the car. The passenger door was too crumpled to open. They were able to open the driver's side and, after putting my father in the ambulance, the paramedics were able to get me out that side by pushing a board under me and pulling me out.
The ride to the hospital was memorable. The only pain I could feel was in my elbow. The paramedic later told me that he couldn't stop the bleeding because when he put pressure on one area of the cut with his fingers, blood would start spurting from another area. He told me it was like playing a piccolo.
When we arrived at West Park Community Hospital, they wheeled me straight into an emergency room and, after strapping me down, they elevated the foot of the operating table. I was later told that I had little or no pulse and they were trying to get the flow going. The last thing I remember seeing before I went unconscious again was a very large, curved needle coming towards my forehead as a doctor (Dr. Justin Brandt, who later became my GP) was about to stitch up my wound.
That was Friday night, Good Friday. I regained consciousness on Sunday, Easter Sunday.
My father suffered lacerations, some cracked ribs and a bad gash on his knee. Apart from nearly bleeding to death, I suffered a dislocated hip, a broken leg, a broken elbow and a jaw that was broken in three places. For all of that, my father and I were incredibly lucky as head-on collisions at freeway speeds aren't considered survivable.
One of the factors in the outcome was the car we were in; it was a large Cadillac impacting a small Opel Kadett with a closing speed of about 140 miles per hour. At impact, we pushed the other car backwards more than a hundred yards. The two occupants of the Opel died instantly and a posthumous blood test revealed that they were so inebriated that they should not have been able to walk much less drive.
Decades later, I would speak to the widow of a man who also survived this accident. He had been behind us and rolled his car to avoid becoming directly involved in our collision. The story of my conversation with her is here:
All in all, April 12 was a memorable day.