GUEST BLOG BY PAULA OBLEN
Life can change in an instant.
I learned the true meaning of that phrase a few years ago. Without warning, that February day in 2011 would become The Day that changed the course of my life.
It was a Monday, President’s Day. We were just returning home from a holiday weekend visiting our close friends in Northern California. We had spent three blissful days catching up, hanging out, talking, laughing, drinking and solving the world’s problems into the wee hours of every night. Our hearts and tummies were full.
The last two hours of the drive home was filled with a yearning to exercise- to work off a weekend of bad food and drink choices. I couldn’t wait to go for a jog. I remember literally running into the house to grab my tennis shoes. This was a pace I knew all too well. Always multi-tasking on the go. Rush, rush, and rush. Perhaps this was the warning?
My son Chase, then 11, had gone to play in the driveway with the neighbor kids. I warned them that I would be back out and said goodbye. As I put the vehicle into gear, I suddenly realized I had forgotten my I-pod. Quickly shifting into Park (or so I thought), I jumped out. That’s when, out of the corner of my eye, I sensed the 6,000 lb. SUV rolling backward. Where were the kids? Without thought, I ran alongside the SUV as it rolled out of the garage, reaching in with my right arm in an attempt to pull the emergency brake. In a moment, I found myself pinned between the garage door and my truck. I was stuck.
It’s true that something ‘out of body’ occurs when you experience trauma. I remember a sudden ‘quiet’ came over me like a warm blanket. Noise softened, and all I could hear were my thoughts and my body. Everything was moving in slow motion. My driver‘s door was closed but I could see my crushed arm through the window. One by one, I could feel and hear my ribs cracking. I became aware that this was beginning to inhibit my breath. I couldn’t scream. It was at this moment I started to fight. As the truck continued to move, I pushed the opposite way to avoid being crushed. My left ear caught in the side mirror and the tire caught my leg. Strangely, I never lost consciousness. I had a keen sense of awareness through the entire experience that I will never quite understand.
Miraculously, my son appeared. I remember looking down at him, calmly asking: “Please get Daddy and call 911.” I stared at him, locking eyes and said: ‘I love you buddy. I’m proud of you and I’ll always be with you”. I knew at this moment that I could die. Maybe I was dying. How do I say goodbye?
That’s when the voices in my head kicked in. I may never see this boy grow up, get married, have kids. I won’t be able to grow old with my husband, my soul mate. I thought of my family; my parents, my sister, my dear friends, and was hopeful they knew how much I loved them. I was terrified, yet I felt safe. A deep sense of gratitude came over me like never before. I remember thinking: ‘I’ve had a wonderful life and I’ve been a lucky girl’. It was almost as if I was accepting the inevitable. And then… it was as if I woke up. I felt a boost of adrenaline. Not now. This can’t be it. I fought harder and harder.
My husband, Steve appeared and was able to jump in the opposite side of the truck to pull forward. I was released. I collapsed. Paramedics arrived. My injuries were severe. The moment I will never forget was lying on the garage floor, conscious. What if this was it? Maybe I’d only been given these last few minutes to say my goodbyes. So I did. Luckily, those goodbyes were not necessary.
It felt like a miracle that my life was spared, Although I was left with many serious injuries – the most severe being a crushed arm – I was alive. I endured multiple surgeries and a year of physical therapy, but I was blessed with strong will, determination, a loving husband and son with me every step of the way, and an amazing team of trauma surgeons, doctors and nurses. I knew that recovery was my priority. I was on a ‘mission’ to be healthy again, whatever it took.
The day before I was to be released from the hospital, I was thrown another curve ball: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Trust me when I say; this is a very real thing. No matter how strong or confident one may be, this disorder is larger than life and can’t be ignored. Knowing this was only another step on my journey to recovery, I decided to seek help. This was the best decision I had ever made. The process of working through the entire experience that day, although extremely difficult, was absolutely necessary if I wanted to truly heal.
When I reflect back on that day, more than anything I am overwhelmed with a renewed sense and understanding of gratitude. As odd as it sounds, I don’t avoid thinking about it. It’s as if I feel a certain commitment to honor that day. The day I was given a second chance. I had a near-death experience. I felt something that day most people will never feel.
The question I am most asked is: ‘Did I change?’ or ‘Do you have a renewed sense of life?’. My answer is a most definite yes. And while I always felt I appreciated life and lived in the moment, I feel now it’s more about being present in the moment. There is a difference. For me, being present means to be aware- and when you are aware, you see and appreciate life differently than just ‘living’ in it.
In case you are wondering if I saw the light that day, I’ve never described it that way exactly. But I felt someone with me. I didn’t feel alone. I felt a warmth. And that warmth took the pain and fear away, allowing me to focus clearly on what was in front of me. Not just the ‘fight’, but to be grateful for the life I had already been given while in the midst of facing death. It has always struck me as odd and unusual, yet beautiful. I never felt angry or sad. And I have never asked ‘why’. I feel I agreed to something that day… A kind of unspoken commitment made with myself.
If I were to be given a second chance, I would pay it forward. I would give more, love more and laugh more. Allow my passion to fuel everything I love. Inspire others. And I do. My appreciation for life lies deep in my heart. Only I will ever truly know what happened that day. The why doesn’t matter, what does matter is the ‘now’.
Paula Oblen is Chief Experience Officer of her company, Hotelements, Inc. based in Southern California where she lives with her husband and son. Passionate (and slightly obsessive) about all things creative, Paula splits her time between styling spaces for her residential clients and consulting with boutique hotels to enhance guest experience. Giving is a priority, so she partners with a non-profit to transform spaces into dream bedrooms for children facing life-threatening illnesses. A fan of spontaneous weekend getaways, vintage home stores and anything that tells a story, Paula believes whether at work or play; ‘fun’ should be injected into each and everything we do. A believer that laughter is life’s best medicine, she’s been known to collect embarrassingly funny cocktail napkins; and it’s likely you will even find one framed on a wall in her home.