‘What if they can’t find me?’ I was pressed into a deep ditch, the toes of my boots barely touching the driver’s seat.’: Woman vows to ‘pay it forward’ after strangers’ acts of kindness during car accident

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“I knew the split second before it happened that I’d wind up in the ditch. I felt the car lose traction against the snow-slush-ice mix on the road, I heard the thumps of the Christmas gifts I’d gotten the day prior that I had in the back seat hit the side of the car and then suddenly, I was out of my seat.

The car was on its side. The driver’s side was pressed into the ditch. It was a deep ditch, with tons of mud and gravel underneath the snow. The underside of the car was facing the road. I took these facts in very quickly, the same way I noticed how dark it suddenly was in the car. Not pitch black or anything, but the sun was on my right, which I couldn’t see. Half my windows were pressed against the ground and my only source of real light was the windshield.

I can’t remember unbuckling my seatbelt but I must have, because next thing I knew, I was sitting on the driver’s side window, reaching to turn off the engine and radio. It was cold, sitting on the windshield pressed against the snow. I looked up at the passenger side door right above me. I didn’t even attempt to climb the seats to try to get out of the car that way. I was too short to get it open all the way, I was sure of it. The car door would just fall back in my face and I’d get anxious or claustrophobic.

I have prior problems with anxiety, but I know how to handle them. I let all my rational thinking kick in and suppressed everything else I was feeling. Just logic. Anything else wouldn’t help.

I wasn’t hurt. I knew that with certainty. And nothing in the car smelled bad or burning. The airbag hadn’t deployed. I was fine. It was fine. I just needed help.

Courtesy of Linda Saltin

I called the emergency number, curling up, leaning back against the ceiling of the car, the toes of my boots only barely touching the driver’s seat. ‘911, what’s your emergency?’

‘Hi,’ I said. My voice was steady. It was fine. It’d be fine. ‘I just drove off the road. The car is on its side, I’m stuck in the car. I’m not hurt but I need help.’ A series of questions followed: Why had I driven off the road? Was it just me involved in the accident? What could I see from the car? And then, ‘Which road are you on?’

I couldn’t remember. I started crying. Not sobbing, not the hard-to-breathe type crying, but I was crying. There were a lot of tears suddenly and my voice broke. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Where were you going?’

‘Towards Hagfors.’

‘We’re going to get you help,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry.’

‘What if they can’t find me?’ I thought at first, but then I dismissed it. I didn’t have time for that. I didn’t. It was going to be fine. I just had to be rational. But I was shaking at that point. I realized it from the way I was holding my phone to my ear. I’d started shaking. ‘Thanks,’ I said weakly. And then the light in the car got even duller. I sobbed, looked up, and there was a person there. I could see him through the windshield.

‘Are you okay?’ His voice was muffled through the glass. I stood up. I stood on my window. It took me more strength than I thought it would to stand up. My knees felt weak. ‘I’m on the phone with 911,’ I called to him. He looked over my car to people I couldn’t see and said, ‘She’s called 911.’ The 911 guy asked what was happening, and I sobbed again. ‘There are people here,’ I said. ‘Hang on.’

I expected them to leave, knowing I was talking to 911. I didn’t think they’d stick around. But the man outside (he had a blue jacket) leaned down to talk to me again. ‘Can you get out of the car?’ he asked. I shook my head, still crying. ‘Do you need help?’

I just stared at him. I didn’t really know what to think or say. But then he gestured for someone, and a woman came around. They leaned over my car, opened the door, and held it open for me. The man leaned down to help me out, and I gave my phone to the woman. Then the man in the blue jacket pulled me up and out of the car and put me down gently. My knees almost buckled.

Courtesy of Linda Saltin

Sobbing, I took my phone back. I put the 911 guy on speaker. He asked the others what my location was and they could give him a bit of a better answer. I let them talk to him while I just looked around, taking in the light and the presence of another man, one with tattoos. I hadn’t realized how much it had messed me up to be in the car. I felt better already but was still crying. I thought that I wouldn’t stop crying, probably. Not for ages.

‘I’m sending police and ambulance,’ the 911 guy told me after things had been mostly sorted out. ‘And towers. The ambulance will be maybe twenty minutes.’

‘I don’t think I need one,’ I said.

He said, ‘It’s standard procedure. They’re just going to check you out. Do you want me to stay on the line until they get there?’ I looked at all these strangers that were still standing there, looking at me. Concerned and attentive. ‘No, it’s okay,’ I said. I ended the call. The strangers started talking amongst themselves. Without my prompting, they were already discussing who was going to wait with me. The man with the tattoos volunteered.

The man with the blue jacket stepped up to me and gave me a hug. I’d never asked for one. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I might need one. But he hugged me tightly and I hugged him back, sobbing against his chest still because I still hadn’t stopped crying. ‘Take care,’ he said when he let me go, giving me a smile. ‘It’ll be okay, just take care of yourself.’ I watched them get into their car and drive off.

The man with the tattoos looked at me with concern but kindness. ‘Do you want to come sit in my car?’ he asked, and I said, ‘No, it’s okay,’ on instinct. I didn’t want to trouble him. He smiled at me and shook his head. ‘Come sit,’ he said. ‘Let’s get out of the cold.’

I nodded and walked to his car. My legs felt shaky. Walking felt a bit like pins and needles. He opened the passenger side door. ‘You’re not afraid of dogs, right?’ he said, and I shook my head. Sitting so obediently on the passenger seat was one of the biggest dogs I had ever seen. A Grand Danois, with incredibly kind eyes. ‘Go on, go in the back,’ the man told him, and the dog went into the back seat.

I sat down. The car was warm. The dog leaned forward to sniff at my hair, and even though I was still crying, that made me laugh a little. ‘What’s his name?’ I asked, reaching out to the dog, stroking his huge head. He moved closer and rested his head on my shoulder. He was warm and gentle and I wound an arm around his neck and kissed his sweet face. ‘Jeff,’ the man said.

‘Hi, Jeff,’ I told the huge dog softly, and he just stayed right there, head on my shoulder, letting me kiss and pet him as much as I wanted. His owner let me, didn’t tell me at all to stop, or even indicate that I should. He started talking to me about mundane things. He asked me where I’d been going to, and how my Christmas had been, and telling me how his had been. I talked to him, but I never stopped touching his dog. At that moment, I thought that Jeff was my best friend in the entire world. It’s hard to explain exactly how calming he was. But he just had this big comforting presence that finally let some of my nerves and anxiety settle. ‘You’re the best,’ I whispered to Jeff in a lull in the conversation. Jeff blinked slowly at me and I hugged him around the neck.

I don’t know how long it took until the ambulance got there, if it was twenty minutes or longer or shorter because I didn’t mind waiting when I was just sitting talking with a friendly guy and his even friendlier dog. But when they knocked on the car door and I stepped out, the man with the tattoos stepped out too, just to make sure I’d be okay when I was in new hands.

‘Thank you so much,’ I said to him, and I gave Jeff another few head pats to say goodbye to him. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘Take care.’

Everyone else was incredibly kind to me, too. The paramedic checked everything and told me I was fine but clearly in shock–I was still crying–and she talked to my mom on the phone for me and offered to drive me back there, so I’d be taken care of. When the cops came, the officer who talked to me was also very kind and explained exactly what he’d report: single-vehicle accident without crime.

I was hugged several times by my mom, who was so relieved I was okay. I stopped crying when I was on the way back, but I kept crying intermittently throughout the day. But the next day, after having slept for thirteen hours, I felt fine. And now writing this, maybe two weeks later, and having driven again and gotten my car back from the workshop, I can confirm that I had no lasting trauma from this at all.

Courtesy of Linda Saltin

I really do think it’s because of how well I was taken care of. Not just that I was physically safe but also emotionally safe. That these strangers not only stopped for me but really took care of me. They helped me out of the car, showed me affection, and were unflinchingly there for me, without me having to say a single word, and that honestly made all the difference. What I keep coming back to in this experience are the hug and the dog. I think those two helped me the most, in terms of grounding me and helping me settle down. We tend to forget how important touch is to us just as humans in general, but these touches and not having to be alone once I was found really helped.

We hear so many stories about people being horrible to each other, but it’s events like these that make me truly believe that at our core, people are good. More than that, I’m now absolutely set on paying this forward. When I see anyone needing help, I want to be there for them, the same way these people were there for me. I know first-hand how much that can help now. I would have been okay even without these people, most likely. But thankfully I don’t have to find out if I would have been because they were there.”

Courtesy of Linda Saltin

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Linda Saltin. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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