Sunday, March 30, 2014


I have used the word "crash" in the past, both here on my blog and in real life, to mean an experience that any of us with ME will be familiar with.

A crash, in ME-World, is a period of time when we have done too much, or have had an overload of stress, or when we have been hit by allergy or infection. It is a shutting down of our normally functioning systems, and results in exhaustion, pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, illness.

A crash is a period of time when things come to a halt, when normal life is stopped. Many of us experience ME/CFS, at the outset, as a crash or series of crashes, where we move from functioning to malfunctioning. It can often be a quick process for many people, a real 'crash'.

Last week I had a 'crash' in two senses of the word. I was driving down a country road, somewhere that was not too narrow or rough, at about the speed limit, or a little above, when I turned a corner and realised that the road surface was covered in hail. There hadn't been any hailstones where I had just come from, but obviously in this section of the road there had been a localised hail shower.

It took me by surprise, I braked to slow down, skidded, lost control and flew into the ditch at one hundred kilometres (sixty miles) an hour. My car ploughed through a wire fence and turned on its side.

Inside it, I was dazed and shocked. I remember thinking, "is this really happening?" Kind of a stupid question, but it was a very surreal experience, to have lost control and turned on my side in my car, to have ended up in a field in the Irish countryside.

I cursed, and groaned, and cursed some more. I didn't realise at the time how lucky I had been, I was just angry at the bizarre turn of events. I had been driving for sixteen years, and had never had a real accident. I didn't know how to react.

I am very short-sighted and need glasses to see any thing well, and these flew off in the crash. I scrabbled around for them in the tilted car, without success, and finally decided to try and get out. I managed to open the driver's door vertically and get out that way, as if it were a hatch on a submarine.

By this time other cars had stopped. People helped me, I was dazed and didn't really know what was happening. I sat in someone's car, still trying to understand what had happened. An ambulance was called, and the fire brigade, and the police.

The police arrived, I described the accident, I was taken to the ambulance, and a fireman found my glasses for me, which was an enormous relief, and in fact was the thing that caused me most discomfort in those minutes after the accident. The glasses were mud caked, but in fact almost intact, amazingly. I was just glad I could see again.

In the ambulance, the paramedic gave me the choice of going to hospital or not. He said that the procedure was, if the car turned over, to take occupants to the hospital and to strap them into a spinal board that immobilises the back and neck. Though he said that the fact that I had gotten out of the car by myself suggested that I was probably alright, and may not need to.

I chose to play it safe, so they strapped me into a board and put a collar on my neck. I was taken to hospital, and in fact was seen within thirty or so minutes. They tested my spine, which seemed to be fine, took an x-ray, and discharged me before midnight. The accident happened at about nine pm.

In fact, the whole procedure was immensely impressive, looking back on it. This was all new territory for me, and so I didn't know what was normal. But the emergency services were incredibly efficient, helpful, professional and caring. I had a life-threatening car crash at 9.15, thirty minutes from my house, and was back home about 12.30, with the all clear.

Here in Ireland there is a lot of talk in the media, in the wake of the economic difficulties, of the poor state of our public services, about things not working properly, but my experience from last Saturday night could not have been better. I also still haven't received a bill for anything.

The next day I was fragile, a bit anxious, and aching around my neck and back. I quickly realised that I wasn't able for anything, and really haven't been up to much all week. My activity levels have increased in the last few months, in the wake of improvements in my condition, but this was all wiped out this week as everything was a struggle.

So the accident has caused a second type of crash, though it is a mini one in ME terms. I had to cancel most of my classes this week, though at the beginning of the week I tried to teach some of them and quickly realised that I wasn't able to. Today, Sunday, I feel very slightly better, but still a little shaky and fragile. My back is still sore, though it is, according to my GP, probably muscular and will clear up.

The fact is, I could have died. Multiple people afterwards told me how lucky I had been. It was pointed out to me that I flew off the road exactly half way between two telephone poles. The ambulance man - I suppose to make conversation as we travelled to the hospital - told me that he had seen quite a few accidents where a car had hit a tree or pole and the driver died instantly.

This has been on my mind this week, naturally. I got out and walked away, relatively unscathed, when others would not have been so fortunate. It has shaken me. The car is a write off, so badly damaged that it is not worth repairing, and yet I have a few aches in my back that will probably fade with time.

More than one person has said to me, "someone up there must be looking out for you," which is a natural thing to say in the situation. Though I don't see it that way, all I can think of - in a connection to my previous post actually - is that many others have not been so fortunate, many others have died in the same circumstances. Where was the "someone" for them? Why was no-one looking out for them?

The truth is that my fate in getting out alive from the crash has no greater significance, is not part of some plan, is not down to "someone" looking out for me. I am not special. It is simple, dumb luck, a random event that happened to work out for me. Many have not been so fortunate, not because "someone" wasn't looking out for them, but simply because they had rotten luck and crashed in the wrong place.

Still, it is important to recognise my good fortune, to be grateful for it, and to learn from the experience, I believe. To recognise the value of simply being able to walk around and continuing to be mobile and independent, something that would not have been true if I had been paralysed, as many other people in my situation have been.

It is also true that I need to learn to be more vigilant on the road. I have been driving for sixteen years, and that was my first accident, but it is true that there are times when I am not as careful as I should be, possibly with a false sense of security after so many years of accident free driving. I am not reckless, but I could do with being more patient.

It is also indicative, seeing how bad I felt this week, that the autonomic nervous system is key to my CFS/ME. During a trauma like the one that I experienced, the body goes into flight or fight mode, engages the sympathetic nervous system, floods the system with adrenaline. This happened on an extreme, intense scale in the space of a couple of seconds last Saturday, and so had a lasting effect for seven days now, as my body has attempted to get over the shock.

This is purely the ANS trying to regulate itself, and this takes time. It is a lesson in itself. Luckily, I know my body at this stage, and knew when to take time off work, and knew to reduce my activity. I have heard of people developing CFS after car crashes, and this is no surprise, a trauma can unbalance anyone in a situation like this and, if they don't give themselves time to get over it, the ANS can become chronically imbalanced, the sympathetic nervous system permanently engaged.

My anxiety, which was heavy and intense at the beginning of the week, has slowly dissipated as I have rested and tried to relax. I am unable to say yet if this near-death experience will change anything in my life or not. I do know, though, that it is not something I will forget in a hurry.


  1. I missed this post of yours, but what an awful thing to happen to you, I'm so glad you are OK though, the road can be a dangerous place. As this was posted almost a month ago, I hope you have been doing ok since, and your body has not suffered to much from the adrenaline and shock. I was involved in a minor crash a few years ago and it really shook me up, even though it wasn't that bad all things considered. Have you ever had to stop driving for a period of time due to ME/CFS? I've never learnt but at this stage I'm not fit enough to learn anyway, as I have seizures so I would be a danger, which is a shame as I'd love to learn.
    You take care and be safe on the roads.

    1. Thanks for you comment, Hayley-Eszti. At this stage I am mostly over the accident, but do still have some stiffness, aches and pains and tingling in my feet. Strange sensations from time to time. I can only hope they fade with time. I have given up driving for a number of periods over my sixteen years, they were when I was at my worst and was basically housebound for a number of months. In fact, I only learned and passed my test in the early stages of my illness, when I wasn´t too badly effected, so it's only when I have had ME that I have driven. So it can be done! Still, it is also quite tiring, and I do have to pace myself if doing a long drive.

  2. Accidents like that can be traumatizing and emotionally damaging. I know just how hard it is to recover from such an unfortunate incident, and I am in awe at how strongly you brushed that incident off and turned it into a lesson. Few people have great perspectives like you, and I admire you for that. Thank you so much for sharing that! I wish you all the best!

    Stephanie Waters

    1. Thanks Stephanie, that crash was about ten months ago now, and I am only really fully recovering from it now. I appreciate your comment.

  3. I know how painful and hard it is to recover from such a traumatizing accident. Everybody will feel the same if they experience the same ordeal. In any way, I'm glad that you have fully recovered and keeping up the positivity. Thanks for sharing that! All the best to you! :)

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney