According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three traffic deaths in the United States involve a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
Why do people go out and drink to excess and then get behind the wheel? For those that visit an establishment for alcohol consumption, why are they not stopped before they leave and get into their cars? Why are the laws too weak or inappropriate in dealing with DUI violations? Are schools educating young adults before they leave high school on the dangers of alcohol abuse and driving? Should parents be responsible for minors drinking actions?
Most people don’t think about these types of questions until they are personally affected. This is why I want to share my personal story:
My father sent me a text early in the day to say Happy Thanksgiving. It was just another day in his life. He had dinner with my mom and was relaxing when the phone rang, and he was asked by his employer to cover a shift for another worker who happened to be “sick.”
Even though he refused the request numerous times (at the request of my mom)…he finally gave in to help out his employer. My father was a very hard worker and dedicated. I worked with him for ten years, and I saw how hard he worked…even when he was sick he went to work for his family. My parents were both older, and Social Security was just not enough to live on…so he kept working.
It was 10:30 p.m. and my father was driving like he always did, carefully, and following the laws. As he entered the intersection, another vehicle drove through the red light, and my father rammed into the front part of the other vehicle. It’s not hard to imagine the instance where you are driving along peacefully, and suddenly the airbags go off in your face as you are thrown violently forward, loud sounds of glass breaking, and metal crushing…
I was not at the scene, but my experience as a volunteer fireman, I knew what was happening next. The police came, ambulances came, and fire trucks came. Two vehicles were smashed, and at least two people involved were either dead or severely injured.
My father suffered severe injuries and was taken to a local hospital. The other driver was intoxicated and walked away in cuffs, unscathed, denying he was driving the other vehicle.
This was only the beginning of trauma for our whole family and friends.
My father had a bruised lung, cuts, and bruises. The other driver sobered up and went home. The next month for my father was not good. He deteriorated to the point that he had to go to another hospital for treatment. We were told he had a superinfection which most likely started from the bruised lung. By the end of the first day, he was put on a ventilator to help him breathe. This is a life-threatening issue that claims over 60% of elderly patients who were exposed to trauma to the lungs.
Now that he was on a ventilator, his body continued to fail, however, his brain was still sharp. When he was in lighter sedation he responded physically to questions by blinking his eyes or one time moving his head with a “no’ answer when asked if he was in pain. He even opened his eyes partly when I said my sons were there.
His birthday came and the nurse took him out of deep sedation for all the nurses on duty to sing Happy Birthday to him. His glassed-over eyes watered. It was the first time in 58 years that I saw my father cry. Everyone wished him a happy birthday, but me. It was not a happy birthday. My father was dying, and he knew it.
Christmas came and I sat with my father for most of the night into early in the morning. I did not want him to be alone on Christmas, even though we were Jewish. I remembered that my father loved medical stuff. He wasn’t a doctor, but loved to read related information. I talked to him about what the doctor said, that his kidneys were failing, that he was on a high oxygen level, that the machine was doing most of his breathing, that a tracheotomy was being suggested, but only to hook up the ventilator to get the tubes out of his throat, and that dialysis was mentioned as part of treatment. There was no guarantee he would live through that.
I asked him if he wanted to live like that..with a ventilator farm where bodies lie around hooked up to machines. I said “blink if you do not want to live like this” he blinked. I told him that I knew he worked hard for us, and wanted him to know that I would always remember him and felt proud to share my birthday with the end of his life. He blinked again. I could see tears again. I wondered what it was like to be trapped in a dying body with a healthy brain. I just sat by him and quietly said some Jewish prayers so he could hear.
Two days later we had a family meeting to decide my father’s fate. We were told the damage to his lungs was too severe, and with all the other systems failing the prognosis was not good. We were all stunned by how fast he deteriorated. It was unbelievable that we had to decide to take my father off a ventilator to die. My mom did not want to. They had been together for over 63 years. She did not want him to suffer either. I asked her, should I tell the nurse to turn off the ventilator? She said yes.
We all went to say our goodbyes to my father. My mom did not want to watch the ventilator being turned off. She wanted to remember him as he was. The room was full of people and I stood watching my father with my hands clasped in front of me. I instructed the nurse to turn it off. My younger brother read a Jewish prayer during the moments his life passed to death. My father’s chest rose and fell. The machine was off and he kept breathing. I thought…Oh God he is going to survive and fight this?
Over the next 15 minutes, my father took deep breaths. It was not something you see on TV where people die peacefully. He was struggling to breathe. I asked the nurse to turn up the sedation. She did. He continued to struggle. The sound was so heartbreaking, but I did not cry. I could not. I placed my hand on my father’s head and his chest while he struggled. He took one last breath. He was gone at 3:15 and 20 seconds p.m. on December 27th…my 59th birthday.
15 or 20 seconds went by and we were all lost in our thoughts. My father suddenly took two more breaths. Was it the body letting out the last air, or was it his soul leaving his body. We will never know, but I prefer to believe the latter.
Everyone left the room but me. I stayed with my father, because as a past certified nursing assistant, I saw many people pass and the staff just turned the lights out and left the body alone. My father was not going to be alone. I stayed and help them prepare his body for transfer to the morgue.
My father was now another drunk driving statistic.
Our family is yet another statistic that does not get counted. My mother lost her life time companion. The father of her children. The person who stood by her in sickness and health. It was a drunk driver who separated them. The drunk driver who acted irresponsibly was enjoying his holiday season with his family. The next year or so will be extremely hard trying to deal with all that comes with this type of violent crime.
While people are out protesting because they didn’t get their way, and are whining about how unfair life is to them, I will be fighting to bring awareness to real issues such as drunk driving. One thing is for sure, I am determined that my family will not just be a statistic.