It was a picture-perfect day just before Christmas, 2001; not a cloud in the sky. My husband Bill and I were returning from a two-night stay at Foxwoods, a casino located in Ledyard, Connecticut. It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive and we were enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. We fared well at the tables and were in good spirits, listening to the radio and discussing where we should stop for lunch. It was a fun get-away before the rush of Christmas.
The ride was smooth – clear sailing as far as we could see. I was driving at a fairly decent clip in the middle lane of a three-lane highway. As we rounded a slight bend in the road, we were startled to find the traffic had come to a stand-still. My vantage point had been cut off and I was completely caught off guard. Bill yelled “Watch out!” and I slammed on the brakes of my RAV4 hoping to avoid hitting any cars in front of me. In doing so, I swerved wildly and the rear end of my car fish-tailed out to the right. The car was now at a 45º angle. I was able to avoid crashing into any cars in front of me and I struggled to straighten out my car but the guy behind me came barrelling down the highway, slamming full force into the driver’s side rear quarter panel of my car.
Unless you’ve experienced a crash of that magnitude, it’s impossible to describe the impact; I never felt pressure like that before and it’s easy to see how the force could result in someone sustaining severe whiplash, a broken neck or worse. At that moment everything switched to slow motion, like we were floating in space. Acting on reflex, Bill raised his right arm above his head to protect himself.
We glanced at each other quizzically with that WTF look in our eyes as my car rolled over once, twice, three times then landed upright with a mighty thud like a miniature Sherman Tank on the right shoulder of the highway. It’s miraculous that no other cars hit us as we rolled over to the side of the road. How the hell did my car manage to land on its tires? Thank God it did; I can’t imagine what it would have been like landing upside down, the roof smashed in, dangling from our seat belts. What seemed like an eternity probably took all of five seconds. The guy who hit us was stranded in the middle of the highway, the front end of his car smashed in. We learned later that his car was a rental and the driver had no insurance.
Immediately upon settling, there was a tremendous whooshing sound as the sunroof caved in on us; we were showered with fragments of glass, dirt and gravel which the car must have scooped up as it rolled over. The safety glass of the windshield was totally shattered but did not fall apart or crumble into the car, seemingly held together by some sort of invisible industrial-strength tape. My only injury was a whacked left knee, probably because I had a death grip on the steering wheel the entire time. Bill wasn’t so lucky; his raised hand did little to protect him. His head was cut and bleeding and the index finger of his raised hand had a deep gash. His hand had also been badly jammed as we rolled over, sending shock waves of intense pain from his fingers all the way up his arm, into his shoulder and neck.
To say we were stunned would be a huge understatement. This was something we saw on TV; it didn’t happen to us. We became aware of the high-pitched “beep beep” of a tractor trailer truck approaching us in reverse. The truck driver witnessed the accident, pulled off the road and backed up to see if we were alright. Of all the vehicles on the road at that moment, only one person stopped to check on us. Jumping out of the cab of his rig, the trucker told us not to move while he called for help.
Within minutes we were surrounded by police cars, fire engines and ambulances. The doors of my RAV had to be pried open so we could be extricated safely; I was able to walk to the ambulance but Bill was strapped onto a gurney. He was covered with a blanket, still unable to lower his arm. It was a surreal sight watching him being lifted into the ambulance and I heard him yell out in pain as his fingers brushed against the roof of the vehicle. I didn’t even look back at my car as we were whisked away to a local hospital.
After being examined, I was told I had no serious injuries but Bill needed X-rays and an MRI. The cut on his head was stapled and bandaged; his lacerated finger was sutured and placed in a finger splint. The MRI revealed a pinched nerve which was preventing him from lowering his arm. The poor guy was in agony and the doctors talked about keeping him overnight. The last thing Bill wanted was to be admitted to an unfamiliar hospital and he made that perfectly clear to me and the doctors. They insisted he stay for at least a few hours for observation but after that, if they thought he was stable enough for the ride back to New York, they would not keep him against his will. Bill was worried about me but I assured him I was fine. He asked me where my car was and I feebly replied that I didn’t know. That’s when I realized I needed to take action; first on the list was to track down my wrecked car and all our belongings.
I was running on nothing but shock and adrenaline; the only reason I didn’t collapse from the trauma was because I knew I had to get things done. I must have looked a mess with ripped clothes and my hair full of road debris but I didn’t care. It’s amazing what’s important and what isn’t when your back is against the wall; it’s called survival.
The first thing I did was call the police station to find out where my car had been towed; all our luggage, including the money we won at the casino, was in the car along with the usual stuff people keep in their vehicles – everything from important car documents to extra packets of ketchup. Once I found out where my car was impounded, I asked someone at the nurse’s station for the phone number of a taxi company to take me to the salvage yard. When the taxi showed up, I was more than a little surprised to see it was a stretch limo. The driver told me he had a lot of upcoming jobs transporting people to and from Christmas events and he had just picked up the limousine.
When we arrived at the junk yard, I explained to the people in the tiny cubicle of an office who I was and why I was there; I was greeted with shocked silence and slack-jawed expressions. Finally the hush was broken when the manager pointed out the window to my RAV4 and said “You mean to tell me that’s your car? We didn’t think anyone walked away from that accident!”
We walked over to what was once my beautiful car. What I saw before me was a heap of mangled metal and broken glass. Had it not been for my ‘vanity plates’, I would not have believed that was my car. I stared at the wreckage in bewilderment; how were we alive?
Once the reality hit me, my knees buckled and I held onto the car to steady myself. The people from the junk yard gathered several boxes for me and the taxi driver helped me get everything out of the car. He removed my license plates and checked all the compartments to make sure we got everything. I don’t know how much I could have done without him. Satisfied that the car was empty, the driver loaded the boxes into the trunk of the limo and we returned to the hospital.
On the ride back I told the driver, whose name I found out was Yosef, about the accident and that Bill was hurt, unable to lower his arm. Yosef asked me where we lived and how I planned to get home. When I told him I hadn’t thought about that yet, he offered to drive us home. What?! It was almost three hours to New York and another three hours back, but he didn’t balk. He said it was the perfect solution; all our stuff from my car was already in the limo and there was plenty of room for Bill to lie down comfortably on the spacious sofa-like seat in the back.
This man, a total stranger, was willing to wait as long as it took to get us safely home. I accepted his kind offer and slumped down onto a chair in the hospital waiting room. I had to call our sons at home to tell them what happened. They were understandably concerned and wanted to drive up to Connecticut to bring us home but I told them it was all arranged; I just wanted them to stay put and be safe. I didn’t even realize Yosef had disappeared until he returned with a bagel and a cup of coffee for me. I couldn’t believe how kind that man was and I thanked him saying the food would help with my pounding headache. As if by magic, Yosef produced a couple of Advil. I looked up at him and he was smiling, one gold tooth sparkling in the bright hospital lights. At that moment he looked just like a guardian angel.
I must have dozed off in the waiting room. When I woke up I was under a warm blanket, my head resting on a soft pillow – definitely not hospital issue. A bit dazed, I glanced around the room; there was Yosef sitting in the corner, talking on his cell phone. He saw me and gave a little wave. I ran my hand over the blanket, my eyes asking if he had provided it; Yosef smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I silently mouthed the words “thank you” and held my clenched fist against my heart.
I checked my phone, surprised to see that two hours had gone by. A nurse came into the waiting room; I recognized her as one of the nurses who had been taking care of Bill. She asked me to go with her and I followed her to one of the many curtained-off beds in the ER. Bill was lying on his back, his arm still up but bent at the elbow with his bandaged hand behind his head. The doctor explained to me that he gave Bill a strong shot of Demerol and a muscle relaxant. He was able to gently manipulate Bill’s arm into a more comfortable position but he would need physical therapy to gain full range of motion. By the look on Bill’s face, it was obvious the meds were doing their job; he was pretty out of it. The doctor gave me two prescriptions to have filled when we returned home and said that Bill was free to go. He also advised me to get the prescriptions filled as soon as possible; Bill would definitely be needing them once the initial dose began to wear off.
With some assistance Bill was able to get into a wheelchair and escorted to the ER waiting room where Yosef greeted us. It wasn’t easy but we managed to make Bill comfortable in the spacious rear section of the limo; even in his drugged condition he was impressed with the car. There were bottles of water in the mini-fridge and more of Yosef’s blankets and pillows to make the ride home as cushioned as possible. Once we knew Bill was secure, we began our journey back.
Yosef suggested we stop at the nearest CVS Pharmacy to get the prescriptions filled. Since the meds were “controlled substances”, the script would only be valid in the issuing state; I wouldn’t be able to get Bill’s meds in New York – something I didn’t think of. Once again Yosef came to my rescue and we stopped at CVS before continuing our trip.
We rode in silence for a little while, then I thanked Yosef for the blankets and pillows. He said “it was nothing”; he had gone home while I was napping in the ER, told his wife Zeynep what was going on and she insisted he take the pillows and blankets with him. That gave me an opening to find out a little more about this Good Samaritan who crossed my path that day.
Yosef and Zeynep were married for only a short time when the Iraqi Kurdish Civil war broke out in 1994. He talked quietly about the war and the horrors he witnessed. He swore that if he and his bride made it out safely he would strive to help anyone in need whenever he could. With the assistance of American forces, he and Zeynep were able to escape their town of Diyarbakir in Turkey. They made it to Greece, then on through Italy, France and finally to England where Zeynep had relatives in Birmingham. They stayed in England for several months, then decided to emigrate to The States, settling in Connecticut. The couple found work in a small Turkish restaurant and when Zeynep became pregnant and could no longer work, Yosef took on a second job as a taxi driver. He said they had two little girls – Aiyla and Esana – the treasures of his life.
Just then my stomach growled and I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat all day except a bagel and coffee. Yosef said there was a basket with some food in the back of the limo and I should help myself. Zeynep had prepared black olives, hummus, ekmek flatbread and a thermos of black tea. Yosef said it was the perfect food for travelers – something that was easy to carry and provided sustenance as well as comfort. I sat near Bill and ate my meal with gratitude for this stranger who found me at a time when I desperately needed help.
I asked Yosef what his name meant; he replied “God increases”. How very fitting. He went on to say that Zeynep meant “precious gem”, Esana meant “safeguard” and Aiyla meant “moonlight”. I scribbled everything Yosef told me on a paper napkin. Maybe it was my imagination working overtime or the fact that Christmas was just days away but those names made me think of the birth of Jesus and what Christmas was really all about.
Yosef asked me the meaning of our names; I explained that Bill was short for William which meant “strong-willed warrior” and my name, Nancy, meant “filled with grace”. Yosef thought they suited us; I thought that day they couldn’t have been more appropriate.
The ride was uneventful and time passed quickly. Before I knew it, Yosef had delivered us safely home. Together with the help of my sons, Yosef managed to get Bill from the car into the house. Bill was awake now but groggy and he reached for Yosef’s hand. With a voice heavy with emotion Bill whispered “Thank you for everything”. Smiling, Yosef nodded and wished Bill well.
My sons brought the boxes into our house and I walked with Yosef to his car. I took some money out of my coat pocket to pay him for everything he had done – if one could even put a price on all he did. He covered my hands with his saying “No, please. I did not do this for money. I truly believe there was a reason I received your call for help – to aid you in your time of distress. Seeing you safely home is all the reward I need.” I was overcome with emotion and humility and I impulsively hugged Yosef. I wasn’t at all embarrassed by my actions or that my face was streaked with tears of gratitude.
I croaked out a heartfelt “Thank you, Yosef. God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas”. He smiled and replied “God’s blessings on you, Nancy filled with grace”.
I stood outside my house as Yosef drove away, watching the taillights of the limo disappear down the street. I looked up at the pale moon; to the north was a dazzlingly bright star shining in the black sky.
It was a cold night but my heart was glowing. I truly felt like “Nancy filled with grace”.
This is a true account of a terrifying situation; we will never forget that accident 20 years ago today. God was watching over us.
A big shout-out to the caring trucker, whoever you are. Huge thanks to all the incredible emergency and medical personnel who cared for us.
Blessings upon blessings forever to Yosef, Zeynep, Ailya and Esana. Yosef – there are no adequate words to express our gratitude. You are a giant among men.
Sincere good wishes to all who read this. May you have a wondrous Christmas!
NAR © 2021