Spinning lights, lights sparkling spinning turning burning crashing wooshing, feel like falling, twisting weightless windless in a vacuum, blinding streaking blurring breaking
It was a clear day. I had finished my last exam of the semester a few days prior and was enjoying the luxury of sleeping in after many sleepless nights. But not this morning – I awoke early to drive the 40 minutes to Calder Park raceway. The anticipation was making me giddy, something about speed had always given me a rush, and today I was going to go fast. Several months prior, I had completed the first part of an advanced driving course. A course in which we learned to drive formula ford racing cars on a race track under racing conditions. Despite having a perfectly good university education to look forward to completing, I harboured secret ambitions to be a Formula 1 driver.
Turning burning whipping stopping, sounds whirl and wax and wane, lights fly by, twisting spinning drawing closer, then farther. Darkness turns in silence, swimming in the twisting ether, constantly flowing swishing crushing foaming.
I arrived at the race track early. The sky had grayed over slightly but it was still quite bright, so I kept my sunglasses on after leaving the car. Slight drizzle. Damn. Hopefully it will clear up. There were only two at the briefing today, and we would share the track with one other car – a Porsche 911 turbo, no slouch. Formula fords are open-wheeler racecars which are basically large cigars with four wheels. It might be tempting to laugh at the 1600cc engine, but at 400kg, the resulting power-to-weight ratio means that it can leave all but the most stratospherically expensive supercars in the dust.
blinded, disoriented, still spinning twisting turning churning, my stomach, swinging in a hammock? I look out, reaching yearning craving, feeling nothing. Lights blur, sparkling blurring spinning. Try to focus, turning twisting falling, nothing. I feel nothing, no wind, no sensation, but movement, I sense. Shaking sensing moving soaring flying falling, but not down.
The briefing went over basic safety protocol, and more advanced driving techniques. Double-clutching, heel-toeing, and how to get the most out of the non-abs brakes. My regular car was a boat on wheels, a heavy, underpowered, automatic old Merc. The formula ford I was about to drive would be quite different. Starting from naught in one of those things is like being kicked in the back. The air rushes towards your helmet then struggles to get out of the way as your cigar-with-wheels accelerates from 0-100Ks in under five seconds. At that weight, even without downforce, it corners like it’s on rails. That Porsche never stood a chance.
Sounds banging clanging getting louder and louder. Still spinning flying diving dizzying focusing on nothing. Is it something, is it nothing, anything, I feel a wind. Reaching, losing direction, shaking curling twisting. Lights get brighter, flashing blinking whizzing past, taking colour. Still falling, but up, to the side, to the back, nothing to hold. Holding, feeling swinging, hearing listening – a rustling, crunching, beating, grating. I hear randomness yet silence all in one. Flickering darkness changing, confusing.
First few laps, warm the tires up a bit. Still getting used to the way that a helmet feels. The car feels great, the engine is right behind me and I’m literally sitting three inches above the ground. The sounds and smells are incredible – petrol, burning rubber, even the brake pads have a distinctive burnt-rubbery smell. Fly past the Porsche a few times, that was fun. It takes a little getting used to, being thrown from side to side in the s-bends. I get a little excited and spin the car 180 degrees coming out of a chicane, but I recover and come into the pits. I get some advice about late-braking at the end of the straight and also learn that these cars get up to 240km/h at the end of the finishing straight. Wow. I set off again and start building up my laps, the car feels incredible, the tires feel so sticky, the first few laps I brake so well at the end of the home stretch that I have to drive up to the corner sheepishly because I’ve taken off too much speed too quickly – brake later next time.
Standing sitting lying down, so disoriented. Listening looking tasting smelling, SMELLING. Smelling burning rubbing breaking creaking, smoking? Still spinning feeling holding, coldness itching stiffness, around my neck? Lights flashing waxing waning, getting brighter. The ether, coldness numbness wraps my body, unwrapping. Spinning slowing churning braking, bumping rattling listening – voices. Whispers? No, quiet but shouting, sound spinning whirring whizzing, getting louder and louder. Feeling, touching grabbing holding pulling breathing. Shouting. Spinning stops. Lights flashing, sirens wailing, tires bumping. Sitting? Standing? Lying? Yes! Lying down. Jostling, side to side. Listening, shouting, wriggling, breathing. Deep breath now. Bright lights!
“Excuse me, but why on earth am I in an ambulance?”
This was not good. I don’t think I’d ever been in an ambulance before. But WHY the hell was I in an ambulance? Come to think of it, who the hell was I? Daniel… that sounds familiar… YES! My name is Daniel. Something that sounds like a cat, meow? YEOW! My name is Daniel Yeow, brilliant! It all started to flood back.
“Can you hear me? What is the date today?”
Shit. They’re going to think I’ve completely lost it, then attach electrodes to my head. Oh that’s going to suck. Why are they asking me the date? I don’t normally know what the date is even when I’m not concussed. Concussion! I have a concussion! Good thing they’re not asking me who the prime minister is, I’d be too much of a smart arse and say George W. Bush instead of John Howard, I mean dubya is the “acting” prime minister of Australia these days. Days, days, day… umm… metric spaces! The metric spaces exam was on the 21st which was four days ago, which makes this the 25th. Phew.
“It’s the 25th of July 2003”
“oh good, he seems alright. Listen, can you feel your toes?”
Oh dear. That’s a pretty scary question to be asked. THAT’s what the itchy sensation around my neck is – I am wearing a neck brace. SHIT! Fingers, check; toes… wiggle, wiggle, check. I nod, and the paramedic looks relieved and continues to shout out my blood pressure and heart rate every few seconds. As far as I can tell, I am alright, except for the fact that I still have no idea how I came to be in an ambulance. Interesting, one of my teeth is sharper than I remember it being, I must have chipped the tip of it. I try to speak, but am told not to.
We stop. I look around. Of course, I can only do this with my eyes because I’m in a neck brace. Clunk! They wheel me out of the Ambulance, oh look, it’s the Royal Melbourne Hospital, how nice, I had some x-rays done here once. I wonder if I’ll bump into the same radiologist who did those x-rays, she was hot.
This is so clichéd. I feel like I am in a hospital drama. Every few seconds I feel a bump on the stretcher, and a set of swinging double-doors part. Long rectangular fluorescent lighting whizz by straight above me. I suppose it makes sense; I am in a hospital, and this whole situation is somehow quite dramatic. I just really wish someone would tell me how the hell I ended up in an ambulance.
We’ve stopped. There are hands all over me, taking blood pressure, pulse, ouch! Checking my cuts, ok, apparently I have cuts. Who’s this? Mark! Hello Mark… hmm… why is he here? Mark is the manager of the formula ford driving school at Calder Park Raceway, why would he be… OH SHIT! I think I was in a car crash. Someone is touching my feet, I flinch a little because I’m very ticklish. Someone tells me to point my toes and push against his hand. Ok done. I guess that means I’m not a paraplegic, that’s good.
Bit by bit the pieces come together. Lost control braking, end of finishing straight, spinning car, 170km/h impact with wall. Oh dear, that doesn’t sound very good at all. They’re still not letting me move my spine, but someone hands me my phone. Funny, I thought mobile telephones were supposed to be switched off in hospitals. “Hi dad, I’m alright, I think I was in a car crash, but I really don’t rememb- ” it’s not my dad. Oops, wrong number, wrong phone, what the? Try again. I explain what I know of the situation to my dad, but I don’t really know much so the conversation is quite short.
I’m moving again. They take me to another room and put me on a tray and slide me into a machine – I was getting a CT scan. This is all very exciting really. I seem ok, and all I am being told to do is basically “lie very very still” which is something that I am quite good at. They move me back to the original room where they first put me; I recognize the ceiling lights. Finally someone explains everything to me.
Apparently I was in a car crash, and it was pretty bad. As far as they can tell, I am showing symptoms of being concussed but apart from that, and a few relatively small cuts around my body, I am pretty much ok. I do a few little calculations in my head, and come to the (obvious) conclusion that a 170km/h crash with an immovable object is a pretty big deal. I mean, people die in much less severe crashes, and this probably explains why Mark looks like he’s just seen a ghost. After being given the all-clear, a lot of the people watching and prodding me leave and I’m told that I’m going to get some stitches, then spend a night here for monitoring before being released.
Hmm… stitches. I finally get to see the extent of my cuts. Things look surprisingly good, just a little graze here, a small cut there. Where am I getting stitches, I wonder? Ohhhh… owww. My left Achilles tendon is cut. It’s just superficial damage, I’m told, but it looks pretty bad and it hurts! I’m instructed to lie down on my belly while they put some anesthetic into my heel. OWWW – needle. Everything starts to go numb, at least, everything south of my left ankle. The doctor starts to stitch up my heel.
“you’re pretty lucky actually, a few millimeters more, and it’s nine months of rehab and learning how to walk again”
I’m woken up every three hours for them to check my vital signs. It’s slightly annoying, but luckily I managed to catch up on a lot of sleep-deprivation between the time of my last exam and the time of the crash. What’s more annoying is having to pee. I have a bottle that thankfully has quite a wide opening (and a cap, thank god). The ward has curtain dividers, so there’s adequate privacy, but being forced to keep my spine absolutely still for so long has made me very stiff, not to mention the inevitable soreness resulting from the jarring of the crash itself.
I can’t hold it any longer. I slowly roll over onto my side. Keeping my head upright proves painful so I give up and rest it awkwardly on the pillow. Grab plastic bottle, hmm… having a bit of extra length would be really handy right about now. Although, thinking about it a bit more, there’s a point where the additional utility gained from being able to extend it halfway across a hospital bed just to be able to more easily pee into a plastic bottle is outweighed by the obvious inconveniences resulting in it being longer than your forearm. Ok, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be (pun intended), and there is minimum spillage. I would hate to be “that guy” who stank up the whole ward by spilling all my pee.
Morning took a long time to come. But it eventually did, and despite not noticing any windows in the ward, the light of sunrise is significant and perceptible. A friend came to pick me up and give me a lift home. Not that I really needed one, since I lived a 10-minute walk from the hospital (if they had taken me to St. Vincent’s, I would have only had to cross two roads). I think the hospital just wanted to make sure that I left with someone.
As the weeks went by, my memory slowly came back. Waking up in the morning, driving to the raceway. Even the laps leading up to the crash, but never the crash itself. My shoulder actually had a minor fracture that wasn’t identified until three weeks later, by which time it had almost healed. My neck was sore for years afterwards, and I still have a large scar on my left Achilles heel. I also eventually came around to view the wreckage, and that’s when I really realized how bad the crash was. Everything behind the cockpit was obliterated. Everything that was between me and the wall was destroyed and took the force of impact instead of me. If the angle of the crash had been just a few degrees either way, I would have almost certainly perished – the side component of the forces alone would have snapped my neck, but as luck would have it, the main impact was directly backwards. 170km/h is close to the speed of a free-falling skydiver, and that was the speed at which I had hit the concrete wall. I was very lucky.