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I just want things to work: The Cement Truck Episode

This week I found myself in the most unpopulated region of New Mexico that I believe to exist. I was only there for work, as entertaining as it all was. The universe likes to throw these little bonuses my way, you know. Some people travel for work and they go to places like London, Prague, or Sydney (you know who you are), but when I travel for work, I end up in some kind of movie scene - a depressing one, with no sound track and lots of grainy subculture. Thanks, universe! This time John suggested I bring the Garmin along, having heard several times how many ridiculous miles I end up traveling by car, inevitably getting lost and hearing banjo music, wondering if this ill-fated business trip will be my last, and finally heaving a sigh of relief upon pulling up to whatever the highest priced hotel is in the region - a Holiday Inn Express, or a Hampton Inn, if I'm lucky. The team I was traveling with this week couldn't stop endorsing the Garmin, and wanted to know all the details: price, reliability, setup information. "I don't know," I said, eyes darting back and forth between the desert shrubs out the window and the lone pink line on the Garmin screen that stretched for miles, confirming that what my eyes saw was accurate (e.g., there is nothing around here so you better hope nothing bad happens to this rental car), "John takes care of that. I just want the thing to work. I don't want to have to 'download' anything or 'set up' anything or 'read' any 'manuals'. It just needs to do what I need it to do."

People who know me well are all too familiar with this personality trait. It spills over into every aspect of my life, explaining quirks like my near refusal to take medication of any kind. It's like it's just too much trouble for me. Who wants to go to the cabinet, open a child-proof container (after checking the expiration date of course, which takes at least another 30 seconds), walk all the way to the kitchen, get a glass of water, swallow disgusting pills, and then, THEN, after all that, wait and see if relief comes? Nah. I'll just suffer while my body self-regulates. The same applies to buying any new technology. It never works properly the first time, and I don't have the patience to work through it, read and re-read manuals, call help desks, re-boot seven times. I'd rather keep using my typewriter, thanks anyway.

You know what has the potential to change OR confirm your perspective on lots of things? A phone call like this, from your non-chalant spouse:

You: This is Kristen.
Him: Hey, it's me. I was just in a pretty bad wreck. This ASSHOLE cut me off, and then a cement truck rear-ended me on the highway? And, anyway, I'm not sure how bad it is, but I think my head is cut because I know blood is gushing everywhere. And the paramedics just walked up, so I better go. I'll call you when I find out which hospital they're taking me to. *click*
You, at work with no working car, because your new economical vehicle was recently recalled for a fuel pump issue, and although it's been "fixed" would not actually start this morning, leading to an hour of frustrated sighing and stomping while you griped at your husband for convincing you to buy two identical vehicles and griped at your kids for not hurrying up because you had lots of meetings set up all day long at work, COME ON!: .... ..... ..... OHMYGOD! A cement truck?! I don't have a way to get to a hospital! Hello? Hello??

After getting another call from the paramedics telling me where they were taking John, and subsequently borrowing a friend's car and making my way to the ER, I watched as the system broke down before my eyes. "This is really bad," a doctor said, after looking at John's head, or the bloody mass that was his head at the time, having soaked through mounds of gauze and other cotton items, like sheets and his shirt and even his jeans, and had made its way to the floor of the ER and was eliciting lots of shocked comments from the ER staff despite their assumed experience with this type of thing, "he'll need a CAT scan." And then I waited, with John's nervous mother hovering over us and summoning her priest and nun friends to come pray with us, which only made the whole thing more nerve-wracking and surreal, since I wasn't thinking I should actually be in a near death situation right about then. John was conscious and looking around the whole time, and when the sheriff came in to discuss the wreck, re-told it with all the detail anyone without a scalped and spurting head would be able to do, including street names, the color of the truck, the color and actions of the SUV that caused the entire thing.

The ER botched the whole thing. I had to ask multiple times what they were going to do about his pain, when they were going to attempt putting his scalp back together, what in god's name was going on. When they finally started, they didn't communicate anything to me, and ended up stapling the top of his head back together with 30 frankenstein-like staples. When they were finished, even though I was muddling through the fog of shock and emotional fatigue, I was cognizant enough to know he looked horrible, and I asked the ER doctor about scarring, what needs to be done about this? He looked at me, looked at John's grotesque, pathetically-patched wound still literally actively dripping between the staples only moments before applied by an intern who had never done stapling before and was coached by a Physician's Assistant who appeared to be 25 years old and said, "we'll just have to watch it." They sent him out of the ER on foot, with no bandage over his massive head wound, with blood and tissue still clinging to his hair from the original 60-mph impact of the cement truck on his tiny, supposedly safe vehicle that thankfully did not contain our five- and seven-year-olds only because they'd been dropped off at school moments before.

The next day we drove to the wrecking yard where the car was towed, and although the paramedics, fire fighters, and police had been unable to determine what caused John's head to be so horribly cut, I saw immediately that his driver's seat was broken, and had sent him flying back to hit the headrest over the back seat - where Quinn would have been crushed from two directions had he been in the car. The lawyer tells us fighting something like this is a costly exercise in futility, that car companies hedge their bets on exactly this situation -- the driver didn't die, no passengers were in the vehicle, the cement truck company's insurance will be liable for damages, and the car company responsible for a defective driver's seat (and no deployment of ANY of the multiple air bags in the car, a minor detail I haven't yet mentioned) will continue manufacturing this car in exactly the same fashion, assuming that any "fix" to these defects will cost them more than defending the occasional cases like John's, or even the even less occasional cases involving death or persistent vegetative states brought on by similar accidents. We are okay - we now have a bigger, safer car that the kids will be in anytime we're taking them anywhere. John, by some miracle, walked away from the accident with "only" a terrible V-shaped scar and associated lumps traversing the top of his head - but he did walk away. The kids thankfully weren't in the (what I now consider to be) death trap of the car we bought on the pretense of economy, safety, and reliability. And we will have the expenses of this ordeal covered in one way or another by the cement truck company ultimately responsible for the damages. Of course, the unsolved problem for us now is that we still have another identical car in this household, that neither of us trusts. Note to self: don't buy two identical cars EVER. AGAIN.

I went on my work trip this week only after making sure John's energy levels were back to normal and his pain was minimal. During one of the trips with the rest of the team banished to the middle of nowhere, the Garmin got confused. "Recalculating," she said, in her consistently patient and calm voice (and therefore a voice not approaching human to my ears) . My team laughed, entertained by the limitations of the technology. I snatched it from the dashboard and pulled the power source out of the car's cigarette lighter. "This is the part I don't like about the Garmin," I said, voice tight. "It doesn't always work the way it's supposed to." Nothing ever does.