It had been a special weekend, my Mom’s sister and her husband, my Aunt and Uncle, were in town visiting. We planned on spending Saturday out treasure hunting at old Civil War locations and we did. I remember going to a family friend’s house down south, pacing their yard, waving the metal detector back and forth hoping to hear the glorious beep. When we finally did stumble upon some buried treasure, we were let down by building materials left behind and buried beneath the ground. It was never anything noteworthy; some old screws, brackets, washers – all dirty and disappointing.
Prepared to go home empty handed after all, we decided to explore a Civil War museum before throwing in the towel and heading out to dinner with my Dad.
I remember leaving the museum, heading out to the parking lot and arguing with my brother over who was going to ride in which vehicle. Our Aunt and Uncle would only take one of us, which meant the “I called it first” battle was on.
Short lived, the battle ended when out Aunt told us that if we wanted to eat our cracker sandwich snacks, that we were not allowed to ride in her car. With lunch long gone and growling stomachs, we grabbed our snack pack of crackers, climbed into our Mom’s Jeep.
I climbed into the back passenger seat, pulled my seat belt, complete with a sparkling pink shoulder pad, across my body and buckled in for the drive back home. My brother climbed in the backseat behind my Mom, buckled up and then we were off.
The last thing I remember is my Mom looking back over the driver seat as she backed out of the parking spot.
“Three people were injured yesterday, including two children, when their car was struck by another vehicle…”
My little brother and I were the two children; our Mom was the third person.
According to the article, written by Jim Hall, around 4:30 pm our 2001 Jeep Cherokee was struck in the rear by a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am, driven by a 19-year-old male near the museum we had just left.
“State police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said last night that Gioia’s car was struck so hard that the rear axle and wheels separated from the chassis and ended up back in the eastbound lanes.”
To this day, I don’t remember the accident its self. I have an image in my head of what I imagine the scene looked like from the stories I have been told, pictures I have seen and images portrayed in the media, but in the end, I don’t really know.
My Mom had pulled out and into the median to turn heading back north to home. My Aunt and Uncle were behind us and had not pulled out to cross the lanes of traffic behind us yet.
Witnesses say that two cars took off at a green light in the distance, traveling at speeds clearly above the speed limit. They say that the cars were racing. They say that they went up and over the hill, and that is when one driver clearly lost the race, barreling into my Mom’s Jeep.
The Trooper who investigated the accident believed the race was “impromptu,” per the article, and stated that they were looking for the driver of the other car, a red Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a silver racing design which witnesses described to be driven by a “middle-aged” woman. The other car and drive were never found.
My Aunt and Uncle said they ran over to us, that everything on the car was destroyed.
You know how in cars, Jeeps and SUVs the seat part of the back seats fold forward and the back falls down into it, giving you more trunk space?
They say the opposite happened in the accident. They say the back of the bench seat my brother and I were on, fell back into the trunk of the car and the bench seat folded up and back with it.
My Uncle said that he came over to me and my brother and keep telling us “it will all be okay.”
They said that my brother, the tiny boy that he was, fell through the seats. They said that I, though, bigger then my little brother, ended up sandwiched in-between them. They said that I had made a perfect V, that my legs ran straight up and parallel alongside of my ears.
Everyone told me later that the Trooper who arrived at the scene had pronounced me brain-dead.
“Gioia’s two children – a 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son – were airlifted to Inova Fairfax hospital. The girl is in critical condition, Caldwell said. Caldwell did not know the boy’s condition.”
My Mom was taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital. My Aunt and Uncle, visiting from out of town, unfamiliar with the area and far from our home fallowed the ambulance. Worried about getting lost on the way, they were pulled over for following too closely along the way.
My brother came-to before or during the flight, that part was never really clear and I am not sure he even remembers, but he was able to tell the paramedics who we were, though I continued to be referred to as “Jane Doe.”
I believe while we were in the air, Inova Fairfax hospital made that fateful call to my Dad.
I can just imagine him sitting at home, at his computer desk, with some sweats and the t-shirt my brother and I made him for father’s day when we were too young to remember. I can imagine the phone, sitting above his head, ringing and him assuming it was a call from my Mom saying we were finally on the way home for dinner.
Instead, the voice on the other end of the hospital told him his family had been in an accident. That his kids had been airlifted to Inova Fairfax hospital and that his wife was elsewhere being treated. He answered the phone to find out his life had just taken a critical blow, as the condition of his children was unknown.
My Mom was released from the hospital and rushed with my Aunt and Uncle to see my brother and I.
She told me she arrived and there I was, a mess with a breathing tube down my throat and as the nurses pushed papers to her and my father stating they needed to rush me into surgery.
My little brother was okay, he suffered bruising and bumps, but all of his bones were intact.
I remember him telling me how when they took his X-Rays that the nurses and doctors all freaked out about the straight line across his chest. That they kept trying to figure out what had caused it. I remember being told that they thought my brother moved his arm during the X-Ray, and they had captured it going across his chest.
Weather it was my brother or our parents I am not sure, but finally, someone explained to them that my brother had surgery a few years prior, when they inserted a metal rod into his chest, and THAT was what they were seeing across his chest.
I, on the other hand, had been rushed into surgery, in desperate need of a blood transfusion and to have the internal bleeding cauterized.
I was out for days, not in a coma but just not “there.”
My parents say I recognized voices. They laughed, after words, telling me that when my grandmother, Nan, leaned over me to tell me she was there that I reacted, swung and almost punched her in the face.
They told me that there were times they thought I was “coming to,” that I would try and say things and get upset that I couldn’t because of the breathing tube.
I remember dreaming the whole time. I had this elaborate dream I had gone to New Jersey to visit my best friend and family, just like I had a summer or two before.
When I finally came to, my Nan, Auntie Jane and Uncle Danny, all who lived in Jersey at the time, were there around my bed. They were the first people I saw.
The breathing tube must have been taken out and my parents must have briefly left the room. I remember asking if I was in Jersey and had gotten hurt at my best friend Caitlin’s house.
I don’t recall who told me what happened or where I was, I just remember being told I was hurt really bad and I some point, that I couldn’t walk and then, being told I would need to learn how to walk again. In complete disbelief, I remember trying and failing.
I had lost three pints of blood and broken five bones– my inner pubic bone, my outer pubic bone, my right pelvic bone, my left pelvic bone and my tail bone.
I don’t remember how long I was in the hospital; it is all just a blur of crummy food, Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality. I know I slept, a lot. I would always have on Legally Blond or Miss Congeniality and fall asleep, when I would wake up to something else, I remember being upset, telling whoever was in the room that I was “watching that,” insisting they put my movie back on and falling right back to sleep.
I know when Monday finally arrived and I was still in the hospital, early in the morning my neighborhood friend walked down to our house and rang the doorbell, looking for me to walk to school. My Dad answered, told her I had been hurt in a car accident and wouldn’t be at school. She didn’t take the news well, and apparently took off up the street, screaming.
Then, one day, I remember finally being able to pick out my meals, being handed the menu and asked what I wanted for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The day I got to pick my meal was the same day the doctor walked in and told me I could go home.
It was all I wanted to hear the whole time I was there, every moment, up until that one, I wanted to go nowhere but home to my things and good food.
But in that moment, it was the last thing I wanted to hear. I was terrified and told my Dad I wasn’t ready to go home yet because I still wasn’t better. I remember telling him that I couldn’t leave until I was all better.
I mean, that is how it works right? You get sick, go to the hospital and come home all better…
I couldn’t leave, I still couldn’t walk… or even stand for that matter. AND, since they had cut all my clothes off after the accident, including my sneakers, I had no clothes, so surely I couldn’t leave the hospital.
A pair of scrubs and a good family friend who brought me a t-shirt later and they sat me in a wheelchair, collected my things and I made the journey out.
I remember it being gloomy, but that just may be because I was so upset. I remember still being terrified and my Dad asking me if I was scared to get back into the car. I answered “Yes.”
He promised to drive extra slow and careful, both of which he did.
I was on bed rest for a long time. I watched a lot of talk shows, Monsters Inc, more Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality and slept. Since I couldn’t go upstairs, the family room downstairs became my new home. The only time I got off my futon bed was to have someone help me climb onto the toilet seat next to it or sit me in the shower to get clean.
Friends tried to come and visit after school, but it while I was home, recovering, the area was facing terror as the DC Sniper roamed the streets, terrorizing the area.
Eventually a physical therapist started coming to the house, I was taken off bed rest, able to use a wheelchair and learned how to scoot my way up and down the stairs.
I was out of school for a while; I want to say about a month before they were finally able to get me into the homebound program. I remember being given a “pass” on my The Giver assignment because of everything that had happened.
When I finally did go back to school, I was in a wheelchair. I remember, I was supposed to take the “short bus” to and from school when I went back, but because my wheelchair was not equipped with a seat-belt, they would not let me ride.
I remember getting out of class early with one other class mate to head to the next one. I remember having the “okay” to not only leave each class early to avoid the crowds, but also show up a few minutes late. I remember having to roll to history class, outside, up the ramp and in the trailer.
I remember my Dad, pushing me around in my wheelchair as I was dressed like a clown to trick-or-treat. He was the best, pushing me up the big hills and making sure I didn’t take off down the other side. My little brother would go to the doors and trick-or-treat for the both of us, pointing back at me for each door.
All these years, I have been telling everyone that I was in the wheelchair through till Thanksgiving. But looking back on it now, I think it might have been longer.
I remember going to court for the accident and having to sit in the back, because my wheelchair couldn’t get any closer. I remember the other driver, who walked away from the accident, being sentenced to minimal time in prison. I remember his Mom in tears about how this accident had really taken a toll on their family, then my Mom to then take the stand, pointing to me in the back of the room and explaining the toll this has taken on her family.
At some point, I began using a combination of my wheelchair and walker, then just the walker and then I was walking again. By the end of it all, almost everyone in my middle school knew me as “the girl that was in the wheelchair.”