Dick Tracy: Another ‘I survived 49’ story | TheUnion.com

Dick Tracy: Another ‘I survived 49’ story

Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy

I’m an expert on the perils of driving Highway 49.

It was August 11, 1996 when I attained the status. Lying on an ambulance gurney alongside my demolished Buick LeSabre. Records show it was 111 degrees Fahrenheit that day, and although I was only a few inches above simmering asphalt I was suddenly getting a chill.

“I think I’m going into shock,” I told the emergency medical technician securing me to the gurney.

“Not a problem,” he said, and immediately started an IV solution injected into my arm.

But we can do something to lessen the chance of accidents: As a man approaching 80, I hope other senior citizens try to pace themselves when it comes to driving.

In moments I was being hoisted into the ambulance, along with the white-haired gentleman who had been driving the other car.

A few minutes earlier I’d been cruising down 49 on my way to judge a tomato tasting in Newcastle. It was part of my role as garden editor for the Sacramento Bee.

Approaching Lorenson Road I noticed a white car not pausing for the stop sign. Instead it came onto the road and stopped in the slow lane! I hit my brakes and aimed for the fast lane. Then the car moved there and stopped again. Suddenly I was looking at my crumpled hood through a shattered windshield and a gray air bag had magically burst from the steering wheel. Although wearing a safety belt, both knees slammed into the dashboard.

“Fractured tibial plateau” was the x-ray diagnosis at the hospital. Two broken legs.

During my week in the old Roseville Hospital, where my loyal wife spent the first night sleeping on the tile floor at my bedside, I learned some details from our attorney behind the accident. The other driver was in his mid-80s and had just bought the car a few days before the accident. He met a friend at the Auburn Trap Club to shoot clays and show off the car. The friend was very concerned about his ability to make a left turn on busy 49, and witnessed the accident. The driver was cited by the Highway Patrol officer and had suffered a broken arm, fractured ribs, broken collarbone and shoulder.

Tragically, our attorney related, after being released from the hospital he went home to his little house trailer, turned on the stove gas jets and crawled into bed.

It was six months before I went back to work full time and the events of that day are undoubtedly linked to my being “cane enabled” today.

It might have been a lot worse.

Was there anything government might have done to prevent the accident? Probably not. The errant driver ignored a stop sign. But is it my imagination that there are far fewer California Highway Patrol cars on the road these days? The sight of those black-and-whites always brings speeds down to safe limits. The CHP was on the scene in less than five minutes for my accident.

But we can do something to lessen the chance of accidents: As a man approaching 80, I hope other senior citizens try to pace themselves when it comes to driving.

In the past I was almost always the pilot. Nowadays, when Felicia asks, “Would you like me to drive?” I usually nod my assent. A neuro-muscular disorder called Myasthenia Gravis has reduced the mobility of my neck, making it difficult to see cars coming from the side. Happily, there’s a backup camera on our Subaru.

To her credit, she’s a good driver. More cautious than I, but I’m learning not to offer advice from the passenger’s seat.

At first I kept my eyes glued to the road, the same as if I were behind the wheel. But then started looking to either side, seeing things I’d never noticed while traveling where I’d been hundreds of times before.

“Has that big home been there for a long time?” I ask. The reply is a soft smile and a nod.

It’s symbolic of growing old. And comfortably enjoyable.

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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