Real Life

The best year of my life began the day I was hit by a car

In the latest from our One Day series, we speak to Elizabeth Rowena, a young woman who can pinpoint the day she changed her approach to life.

The best year of my life was sandwiched between the summers of 2009 and 2010.

I didn’t meet the love of my life, travel the world or get my dream job – in fact, you could say a lot of crap things happened. But that was the point.

Living in London with my three best friends, I was a typical twenty-something. I worried about my appearance, about what others thought of me – the usual growing up, awkward stuff.

One day, the four of us went to watch a rugby game before celebrating a birthday with rounds of beers, which quickly turned into tequila shots, which then turned into dancing on the banks of the Thames at midnight.

But hours later we realised our last train was just minutes away, and as we ran through the night in a desperate attempt NOT to pay for a black cab (these were pre-Uber days), we started racing to see who could reach Waterloo train station first. My competitive spirit took over, and I remember laughing as I ran past my friend to be in the lead.

I didn’t see or hear the car that hit me. But I remember the fear in my friend’s voice as she called out for me to stop.

I remember feeling like something had gone really, really wrong, I just didn’t know what it was.

When I woke up, I was several metres down the road, with my friend Morgan crouched over me, pinning my shoulders to the tarmac.

All I could think at the time was that I had – in my usual clumsy fashion – fallen over. I told Morgan he was overreacting as he forced me to stay perfectly still, loosening the necklaces around my throat. His birthday cards were strewn all across the street where he’d thrown them.

An ambulance arrived, and paramedics tried to assess the damage while my two female friends hunted for my shoes that had flown off in the impact.

Slipping in and out of consciousness, I couldn’t remember anything anyone told me for more than a minute. It was, as they recounted later, like having a conversation with a goldfish.

As we travelled to hospital I looked down for the first time to see my clothing ripped and blood covering my legs and feet. I was frightened and convinced I’d have some horrific injury and life would be changed forever. But that will teach me for watching so many medical dramas.

In actual fact, after CAT scans and MRIs, very undignified tests for internal bleeding, and having the wounds on my face, head and legs picked clean of tarmac and dressed, I was given the news that I’d be OK; that my brain was injured but that it would heal.

The physical scars of the accident.

The back of my head had gone through the windscreen of the car (which was a black cab, ironically), shattering the glass and pulling out chunks of my hair with it. When the driver slammed on the brakes, I was flung from the car onto the street. The expression ‘feels like I’ve been hit by a bus’ took on new meaning.

But despite the obvious physical effects of the incident, what happened to me psychologically was more interesting.

The taxi driver, who phoned me several times during my recovery, was doing just under 50km/h when he came round the corner – a speed which according to statistics in England usually results in serious injury.

I however had escaped unscathed.

Feeling like you’ve been given another go at things is unlike any other. All I could think for weeks afterwards was how lucky I was not to have sustained some lasting damage, to have hurt my brain irrevocably or been disfigured as my head went through glass.

Despite the black eyes, smashed up nose, missing patches of hair and a brain that was a bit mixed up, I felt invincible.

When I eventually made it back to normal life, things were different.

Gone was the feeling of insecurity I had carried with me since my teens, the worry when meeting new people. I no longer stressed about my appearance, or fretted about whether my outfit was cool enough. Nothing apart from having fun and enjoying life seemed to register on my agenda. And that felt amazing.

It was the best year, not because of what happened but because I appreciated how precious time is and how stupid it was to waste on being unhappy and anxious. It sounds cliché, but that’s the truth.

Of course that feeling does subside over time. And sadness is a natural part of life. But if I ever find myself getting bogged down in things that don’t matter – that one day is what pulls me out of it.

If you’d like your story to be included in our #OneDay series, drop us a line at [email protected].

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