Story by Kailee Coward | Photo Illustration by Ryan Barrett

I awoke to the sound of frantic voices whispering around the room, the hospital’s fluorescent lights illuminating the worried medical personnel as they cut my clothes in preparation for the MRI. In the next room my sister sobbed as she vomited, unaware that her bladder had burst and was releasing harmful waste into her frail 5-year-old body. 

Just a few hours earlier, we had been driving from my grandparents’ house in Arkansas to reunite with my parents in Branson, Missouri, when a drunk driver hit our car head-on, crumbling the entire front of the vehicle and sending it crashing into a ditch. Placed instantly into a state of complete shock, I am unable to recall the exact events that transpired, but was later told that my sister and my 8-year-old self were pulled out of the crumbled car as we waited for the ambulance to arrive and assess our condition. Once the medical personnel arrived at the scene, it was decided that my sister, grandmother, and I had all suffered from traumatic injuries and needed to be transported to a hospital immediately. 

Upon our arrival at a small-town hospital in rural Arkansas, an initial scan revealed fluid in my sister’s abdomen and a break in my collar-bone accompanied with many bumps and bruises. My sister and I were required to leave my grandmother behind and were airlifted to a children’s hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, for my sister to undergo emergency surgery. 

Transported in a helicopter with only each other to find comfort in, the reality of the horrible accident and the absence of our parents began to sink in. It had become obvious that we would be forced to trust in the plan God had for us. To this day, my mother and father can recall getting the phone message that there had been a horrible accident and their presence was required immediately at the hospital. They remember the panic and desperation that set in as they realized everything was out of their control. They, too, were alone.  

The night of my sister’s surgery, I was unable to sleep, constantly pulling at the IV in my arm and rubbing my stomach. The doctors knew something was not right. Although the first MRI had revealed nothing unusual in my system, it was apparent that something had been overlooked. Placing me immediately into a second MRI, it was discovered that I had a rip in my large intestine that was leaking waste into my body.  An emergency surgery was needed for me this time, and after only two days my parents, arriving at the hospital just as my sister went into her surgery, had witnessed their two little girls both being forced to undergo emergency operations. 

As we were healing from the surgeries, we discovered that my sister had a broken leg and was required to receive a cast and use a walker to navigate down the hallways. Just after she was bandaged up, my arm was proclaimed broken, resulting in my own matching cast. 

We were positive that everything had been taken care of and the worst was behind us, but a few short days later my sister and I were declared to have contracted a rare form of a bacterial infection that would place us into multiple days of quarantine. Perhaps the worst aspect of quarantine proved to be the absence of human interaction with anyone besides our nurses and doctors. 

We were restricted to a single small room, and any guest that wished to enter, including our parents, had to wear full bodysuits and masks to protect them from the infection. As if the separation from our home and absence in the comfort of our daily lives wasn’t enough, the only interaction we were allowed was with doctors we had never met or suited bodies we couldn’t even recognize.     

In the United States, there is one death every 51 minutes due to alcohol-impaired drivers, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that “20 percent of people dealing with an anxiety disorder suffer from some form of alcohol abuse or dependence.” People are often under the impression that alcohol can take away their anxiety, but in cases such as my accident, individuals can experience increased amounts of anxiety due to another person’s decision to abuse, and the consequences that result from this choice.  

As an 8-year-old child separated from her parents in the midst of a horrible accident, I was confronted with the difficult diagnosis of anxiety. Required to see a specialist once a week, I was enrolled in frequent counseling sessions. Within these sessions, I was asked to discuss my emotional responses concerning a variation of subjects, including my reactions to the accident, my feelings about my time in the hospital and my fears that I anticipated would haunt me. I soon learned that the anxiety I had developed was based upon the realization at such a young age that I couldn’t control the future, and I began to grow fearful of what fate held for me.  

The anxiety that proved to cause me so much strife in my childhood manifested itself throughout my teenage years, especially when faced with the reality of college. Having to move away from my parents reminded me of the separation that occurred during the accident. I was under the impression that without my parents, bad things such as the accident would continue to occur and I wouldn’t be equipped with the knowledge to solve these situations on my own.  

The drunk driver that may have been drinking to relieve his anxiety didn’t realize that he would pass it on to two young girls. From the time of the accident on, I was increasingly aware of my inability to control a negative situation, which resulted in me feeling fearful and apprehensive. 

However, I have come to the realization that I can’t live in an emotional environment that imprisons me. I am confident and strong enough to handle situations. The irrational fear that haunts my day has to be set aside. 

Part of my healing was realizing that in the midst of the bad, you have to choose to focus on the good. Anxiety is something that manifests itself in your emotions, and sometimes it can be difficult to cope. I had to learn to face the future with confidence and a faith that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to. There is too much life to live to be frozen in fear. I can’t control the professor that intimidates me. I can’t control what I’m invited to and what I’m not. I can’t control the number of tests and homework I’m given in a week. I can’t control the man who got behind the wheel of that car under the influence. But I can control who has influence over my opinions. I can control how I approach the activities I’m involved in. I can control how I manage my time. I can control my personal decisions on alcohol and substance abuse. I can choose to live my daily live with joyful anticipation. I can. I will.