Every minute, one person is injured from an alcohol-related crash. This is one of their stories.
Nine years ago, my baby brother made a decision that would irreparably alter the course of his life.
Nick* was with a group of friends who went to the pub in town notorious for serving minors. They started out drinking beer at 7pm; he called home to arrange a ride at 7:30, but our little sister had a friend staying the night who didn't know that the beep she heard was call waiting. Since he got no answer upstairs, he called my line downstairs. Unfortunately, this one of the very rare nights that I was not home. He left a message saying that he didn't get an answer upstairs, asking me to get our parents to call him when I got the message.
Around 8pm, a shooter bar was set up next to their table.
Yes, he'd been drinking underage for a few years - that is not something I'm going to discuss or debate at this point in time. Fact of the matter is that the kid had a scary tolerance for beer and could drink a case and still walk a straight line. However, he could not hold his (hard) liquor. The last thing he remembers of that night is leaving a message for me.
They drank. And drank. And drank. For five hours straight. They were never ID'd. They were never cut off. When everyone decided to leave, Luke (one of his friends) entered his PIN number as the tip amount on his tab and tipped the waitress something ridiculous like $1,200. He was so drunk, the bartender had to support him out the door, yet no one asked how they were getting home - we have "Serving it Right" programs in Canada that require drinking establishments to watch for signs of intoxication, cut people off when they've had too much, and ensure that they have a safe means of transportation: none of this was done that night.
Someone asked Nick how he was getting home. "My parents are picking me up," he replied. He didn't remember that he hadn't actually spoken to anyone - he was convinced someone was on the way to the pub. As he and his two friends stood around waiting for my (oblivious) parents, someone started egging him on to drive them home. Luke climbed into the front seat even though Matt had already called shotgun. Nick then navigated a difficult course on dark country roads, likely to avoid the police.
I had gotten home shortly after midnight. While I waited for my answering machine to rewind the message left earlier by Nick, I could hear sirens in the distance; it turned out that I was hearing the sirens of the ambulance on the way to the scene of my brother's accident. Since the house was dark and quiet when I got home and Nick didn't sound frantic in his message, I assumed he'd locked his keys in the trunk of his car. Again.
As I prepared for bed, the phone upstairs rang. All of a sudden I could hear my mom pacing while talking frantically. I went upstairs as she got off the phone; "Your brother's been in a car accident."
So very, very close to Matt's house, we think Nick passed out, foot on the gas pedal. He careened through a residential area - near a corner store, a school, and a skate park - and through a four-way stop before glancing off a brick wall and almost head-on into a tree. The impact pushed the engine back into the car, trapping Nick's foot and compacting Luke's seat. Matt was able to crawl out the side window from the backseat. It was a friend of theirs who happened upon the car and called 911. When the ambulance arrived, they called the coroner because they didn't think anyone could have survived the accident.
They had to use the jaws of life to cut both boys out of the car. They said if Luke and Nick's positions had been reversed, both boys would have been dead: Nick's bulk saved him from more damage from the steering wheel, and Luke's slight frame made him small enough to survive the engine pushing into the front seat. We also learned later that somehow all three boys had the presence of mind to put their seatbelts on. Someone was looking out for them that night.
Luke was technically dead at the scene for almost ten minutes; a broken rib had punctured a lung (after a couple of weeks in hospital, he walked away from his injuries - or so we thought). Matt suffered a concussion and bruising on his knees. Nick had a compound fracture on his left shin, shattered his right ankle, broke his right femur right above his knee and right below his hip, shattered his left elbow, and had a compound fracture of his right forearm.
His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
When they let us into the emergency room to see him, he was so drunk they couldn't give him anything for the pain; he was also waiting on emergency surgery for the compound fractures (he ended up having something like 16 hours of surgery). He looked at me with accusation in his eyes and said, "I called you for a ride." I was already beating myself up for "failing" him; hearing it from his lips absolutely gutted me.
He was in ICU for a week before moving to the surgical ward for another two weeks. Because he had broken all four limbs and couldn't put weight on anything, they didn't bother casting his breaks. He was absolutely petrified of anyone touching him or bumping him for fear of the pain. He was absolutely heartbroken when he realized what he had done and how much worse it could have been. He spiralled into a deep depression (that would have worried us had he been able to DO anything about it).
We spent all day at the hospital; we were there before visiting hours began and didn't go home until we absolutely had to (as much as he tried to fight it and hide it, he'd break down when we left because the nights were the hardest for him - too much time alone to think). I think we pretty much all ran on adrenaline for those three weeks.
He came home to our parents' room renovated into a hospital room: the door was taken off the frame so the wheel chair would fit through the doorway; a hospital bed sat in the middle of the room; a tray table was prepared with his bed pan and pee jug - at 18 years old, the kid couldn't even scratch his own nose, never mind take care of everyday bodily functions. I can't imagine how claustrophobic it must have felt to be trapped in his own body. Mom and I had to transfer his 6-foot, 200-lb frame from the bed to the wheelchair and back.
That first day, I had a university class to attend out of town; I rushed home, helped Mom with Nick, and changed so I could rush back out the door to work; when I came home that night, I finally broke down. The enormity of the situation was daunting; the realization that, unlike at the hospital where we got to leave him to come home for an hour before going to bed, we were on call 24/7 was overwhelming. After he went to bed, I dissolved into a puddle of guilty tears.
He had a long road of recovery complete with physical therapists and home care workers who came in daily to dress his wounds. The depression morphed into anger and hostility, often resulting in him refusing to do anything to help himself get better or make progress.
Ridiculoulsy long story (sorry!) short, he was ultimately charged with driving under the influence, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and something else I can't recall at this time. The judge was literally thisclose to sending him to jail; we all sobbed openly in the courtroom. He ended up getting a driving ban, house arrest, and probation.
However, that wasn't the end of it. Luke's parents pressured him to sue the bar, the owner, the supervisor on duty that night, the bartender, the waitress, and... Nick - they claimed he suffered a closed-head injury. Nick's portion of the civil case was a quarter of a million dollars. The insurance company has been taking payments from him, but they're so small that he won't have this debt paid off until he's 108.
He has angry, red scars all over his body. He's full of metal rods, pins, and bolts. He has no range of motion in his right ankle and couldn't run to save his life - as the judge put it, he is now permanently disabled. He can't leave the country because of his record. He lost his job. He won't ever be able to get a car loan or buy a house.
THIS is why you don't drink and drive, folks.
*Names changed to protect privacy.14 Comments