Dispatches from the road, Part I
Vacation time. Yesterday, my wife and I hit the road to do a grand tour of the Midwest to visit both sets of parents and some old friends, hang out at a lake house for a couple of days and then Chicago for a few more, and generally try to chill out between bouts of driving. Fear not, Orac-philes, however. Although blogging will become somewhat sporadic and there will be at least a couple of days where I will have, in essence, no Internet access other than a dial-up connection through a number that is a toll call from that location (the horror, the horror), it will not cease altogether. I have a few already-written odds and ends I can post, and I probably will have some time to post the occasional brief piece. (Heck, I already have one idea for such a piece that shouldn't take more than 5 or 10 minutes to write and post.) Also, because I am on vacation, it's unlikely I'll be posting at my customary pre-work posting time of 6-7:30 AM. There's no way I'm getting up that early while on vacation. Any time of the day is fair game now (well, any time after about 9 AM or 10 AM, that is).
I even have a special treat for early next week: an article by a guest blogger who will discuss why certain attacks by activists on the Danish autism studies showing no decline in autism rates after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines are fallacious. I'm honored that anyone would take the time to compose something like that for me to post in my absence. As for my work, regular blogging will resume in a couple of weeks. As for the upcoming Skeptics' Circle this Thursday, I will definitely manage to get enough access to post a plug for it on Thursday or Friday, and I will be trying to check my e-mail at least once every couple of days.
In the meantime, I was just thinking (always a dangerous activity). My wife and I were cruising along the Ohio Turnpike yesterday. We had made fantastic time over several hundred miles and had just stopped at a rest stop to gas up the car, our final stop before our destination, my parents' house. My mother-in-law called my wife on her cell phone and asked us if we had encountered an accident. At that point, we hadn't, but she warned us that she had seen a news report of a huge accident on the Ohio Turnpike in the direction we were going. My wife and I both hoped that it was after our exit, so that we would miss it.
The collision was several miles west of our exit. Unfortunately, the traffic jam was more than large enough to extend well east of our exit.
About 8 or 9 miles before our exit, traffic abruptly came to a complete halt, and then crawled for the entire way. Via my mother-in-law, we learned that the collision had taken place nearly three hours earlier, although the news report shows that it had actually taken place nearly five hours earlier. Apparently, a semi truck had plowed into the back of a car stopped in traffic, causing a chain reaction set of collisions. The traffic was still backed up when we hit the area. As we crawled through traffic, seldom moving more than 10 MPH and hitting the brake every few seconds, I started to fume, as is my wont whenever in a traffic jam. We were losing at least 45 minutes to this.
Then I thought about it some more. What caused my inconvenience at the end of a 10+ hour drive had meant the abrupt and violent end of a woman's life and serious injuries to several others. The name of the woman who died was Michelle Williams, and she was only 56. No doubt, when setting out on whatever trip to whatever destination she and her husband were heading to from Pennsylvania, Mrs. Williams had had no idea that it would be the last trip she would ever make. She was probably doing what we all do, thinking about her plans for the day and the day-to-day tasks that needed to be done, with no thought at all that she wouldn't ever get to do them because she would be unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had no way of avoiding her fate as the semi truck barreled into the rear end of the car behind Mr. and Mrs. Williams' car, pushing it into their car and smashing the life out of Mrs. Williams in the process. Even now, based on my experience as a helicopter physician years ago, when I would occasionally land on the very same Ohio Turnpike a hundred miles east to tend to the victims of such accidents and transport them to a trauma center, I can picture the victims, bloody and in pain, trapped in the twisted pile of metal and plastic that was until moments ago their transportation, if still conscious crying out in pain and fear, wondering if they would live or die and why it had to be them. I didn't used to think about this much when I was actually dealing with trauma victims (there was too much to do to try to save their lives), but, now that I'm older and don't do trauma anymore, I can't help but ponder that it could just as easily been me and my wife stopped in that traffic waiting to exit the Ohio Turnpike onto I-75. Or, it could just as easily been you stopped in a traffic backup anywhere there are highways and cars and careless truckers who change lanes too rapidly and don't realize traffic has stopped until it is too late to stop. That's always one of my biggest fears when I'm stuck in traffic, because I'm utterly powerless to prevent some idiot from ramming into the back of my car. The only thing you can do in such a situation is, if you realize you're going to be hit, to take your foot off the brake and hope for the best.
When I thought of this, I realized that, although the traffic jam had made the end of my day into a rather bad one, the cause of the traffic jam had made Mrs. Williams' day into her last one on earth. Getting angry over a one-hour delay in reaching our destination just seemed so petty after that. Yes, it's a bit of a cliche, but after an incident like that, it's hard not to think about how random life (and death) can be, and how none of us can ever take it for granted that we will be here tomorrow, no matter how young and healthy we are. Unfortunately, most of us, myself included at times, act as though time and life are endless and that we will live forever, failing to make the most of the only lives we have.
What a downer of a thought so early on in my vacation.