Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crash, Bang, Wallop

There's no amusing preamble to this anecdote I'm afraid readers. Two days ago I was involved in a horrific car crash and I'm very lucky to be alive.

Living in Dubai, I've been well aware of the dangers of driving here. I've lost count of the amount of wrecks that I've seen at the side of the road, and thought: there but for the grace of god go I. And on Tuesday, it was only by the grace of something that I am still alive.

My head is still all over the place and as I write this I'm bandaged, bruised, and covered in scratches, so forgive me if it isn't the most lucid account. But I need to write it down, if only to stop it whirring around in front of my eyes for a few minutes.

Let's start in the car. A typical journey back from Abu Dhabi. A colleague is driving. I'm in the passenger seat. Three colleagues are in the back - it's a large SUV. No-one in the back is wearing a seatbelt (Why bother?? No-one else in the Middle east does....and it's not law to wear one.)

We're weaving in and out of lanes, as is the style of driving here. Mainly in the fast lane. We're doing about 130-140 km an hour. Hard to tell as I can't see the speedometer but I know we're going faster than 120 (the speed limit) as cars here have a built-in system where the car beeps loudly when you hit the speed limit. And the car has been beeping merrily for most of the journey.

We're in the fast lane. The driver reaches for their Blackberry and starts to scroll through it. Something that I'm very uncomfortable with and which has earned me the nickname of 'Granny Driver' as I always tell people off for doing it. On this occasion I say nothing. The driver continues to glance down at their BB, and glance up at the road intermittently. We're in the fast lane, folks. Doing 140 k an hour.

The road bends to the right. The driver is still looking at the BB. We're veering towards the central reservation. We call out to her to straighten the car up. She looks up, tries to straighten the car...and then it's utter mayhem.

The car rocks from side to side, violently. We're swerving. We hit the central reservation, hard. The car rolls, twice. My laptop hits me in the face as it flies out of the passenger window. The same with my handbag. I brace myself on the dashboard as if we're in a crashing plane. The crashing, grinding noise eventually fades away as we skid to a halt. Glass, dust, tarmac are in my face, eyes, ears, hair. We've stopped. We're at the side of a six lane highway.

"Are we all ok?" we shriek. We're all ok. But we have to get out of the car. It's lying on its side. I try to climb out of the window but the world is upside down and I'm shaking so violently I can barely stand, let alone haul myself through a shoulder-height window that's covered in shards of glass.

There's hundreds (and I mean, literally, hundreds) of people who have stopped to help us. Looking back on this now, I well up. They risked their lives to help us. Some don't speak English, but still they try to help us. My overwhelming thought (possibly brought on by one too many Hollywood movies) is that the car might explode. I suppress the panic which is building inside me. The only routes out are through the front or rear windows. A huge group of people kick in the back window. I unhook the driver from her seat-belt and help her to stand. We take the hands of strangers who half guide/half carry us to safety.

It's only then that I realise that I have no shoes on. The force of the crash and the rolling car tore them from my feet. Which isn't ideal when you're standing in a sea of broken glass. And I'm bleeding, a lot, from my arm. It's badly grazed from where I'd braced myself and then been dragged along the road. My hands are covered in blood and badly scratched. I'm missing most of my fingernails on my right hand, again, from where I'd braced against the window frame.

We instinctively huddle together as a group and hug. We're alive and it's a miracle. One man brings me tissues to wipe the tears, blood and dust from my face and arms. Bizarrely all of our bags are lined up next to the car - people have been retrieving our belongings from the road as we scrambled to safety.

The police and ambulance are on the scene in minutes - amazing. It's a bit of a blur from this point onwards as it's a whirl of people checking us over, police asking questions. I call the office and tell them not to expect us back that day. After about an hour, we're done, and the police take us to the nearest mall where we take a taxi home. We're all still shell-shocked and don't speak much.

There were some moments of real hilarity - black humour - during the ordeal. When the ambulance man asked my age and I told him, I was encouraged when he responded with a surprised "really?". I also loved the moment when I realised that the force of the impact had ripped my shirt open to the naval. This was a good half hour after the accident, and my partly explain why so many young men were trying to help me..

The next day I was determined to make it into work but a night of zero sleep rendered me useless and I stayed at home. My body also felt, and still does, like I'd been run over by a truck. Which I suppose, in a way, it has.

I came back into work today, starting with a client meeting. I hadn't expected to feel so emotional but when I reached into my handbag for business cards and pulled out a handful of glass, it all came flooding back to me and I was a bit overwhelmed. Every time anyone is nice to me I wobble a little, but I'm glad I came into work. Re-living the accident over and over and over on the sofa was wearing a little thin.

So that's it. One giant trauma over. My life didn't flash before me, I didn't have any regrets. Which I think is a good indication of a person content with their lot and happy with how their life is going. My lovely friends near and far rallied round at high-speed with love, support, wine and ice-cream. I'm alive, and I'm very grateful for that. If you spot a blonde spending vast amounts of dirhams in Dubai Mall this weekend, it might just be me. Well you can't take it with you....


Alice said...

Kelly - I'm so sorry to hear of your ordeal. So glad that everyone managed to get out, but quite how I'm not sure. Hopefully, this will teach your friend to leave her BB in her handbag and hopefully those in the back to strap up - had you had a head on crash, I'm afraid that you would have been dead in the front, with the force of those behind you in the back seat (not strapped in), slamming into your front seat (remember the UK advert with the teenager killing his mother that way?) . . . . this country needs more laws and more implementation of the law when it comes to driving. I'm happy you're here to continue your life and your blog. Regards, Alice, the Hillmans in Dubai x

Dubai Jazz said... sorry to hear about this, and I'm glad you're fine.

Texting and driving isn't a good idea at all.