Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Doctor--Lessons Learned from Being Half Prepared

I was almost too embarassed to post what happened to me yesterday, but not quite, because it's actually kind of funny and there are some fantastic lessons to be learned which hopefully you will be able to learn from my experience and not your own. Let me give you a little background.

I had a back surgery 9 years ago to correct a herniated disk, and have felt fine until the last couple of months when my back has really been hurting in the same place as before, so I've been going back to my doctor to figure out what's wrong. No big deal, except to get to a back specialist (and I DID prefer the one that did the original surgery) I have to drive 2 1/2 hours one way part of which is on "the most dangerous stretch of highway in the state". I'm still in the middle of figuring out what is wrong with my back, so I had an MRI done a little over a week ago and had to go yesterday for the results.

More background: Before I got married, I did some work on my own car. I took an auto mechanics class in college. I owned my own socket set and combination end wrenches. I CAN change a tire and also a fuel filter and the oil if I have to, but haven't done much since I married my sweet husband, because hey, why should I if he's so good at it? And I drive an 89 Suburban we affectionately call the Beast.

Even more background: We pray every morning as a family, and yesterday morning my son prayed that I'd get to the doctor and back safely.

So yesterday I was on my way to the doctor's office alone in the Beast and had made it out of our desolate county, past the dangerous stretch of highway, and about 5 miles from my exit on the interstate when the Beast started shaking. Thinking it might be the road, and knowing my exit was coming up before too long, I moved from the center lane to the right lane and when I did, the shaking got worse. Now here's where about 50 things go through my head at the same time--I realize it is NOT the road, but rather something wrong with my vehicle. I look ahead and see an exit I can take, and I pray real hard that I will get off the road safe when BANG!!! I am jerked back half way into the center lane by a blown front driver's side tire and as I'm muscling the Beast back to the right side of the road I see one very wide piece of shoulder right about where I can get to it, and amazingly I was able to limp the vehicle to that spot and stop WAY off the road without losing control or hitting any of the 700 other cars on the interstate. Whew.

I took a deep breath and thought, "where's my spare tire?" Hmmmm. Well it's obviously not in the front, so I got out and walked around to the back and voila--there it was in the back all covered with a piece of carpet and I remembered having to pack things around it every time we go camping--duh. Now, how do I get it out?

About this time, a sweet young mother had stopped and came to see if I was okay, so I used her cel phone (I'm a holdout here and don't have my own) to call my husband and ask him where the jack is because it is not with the tire. A Samoan looking guy also stopped and I'm thinking maybe he can get the spare tire out--I am on the way to see a back doctor after all.

He had a 6 ton jack which was still new in the box and he was so excited to get it out and use it, but my Beast has been "jacked up" and had extra large tires put on it, and his jack wouldn't reach any place on the axle or frame, much less be able to lift it high enough to put the spare tire on. I found my jack under the front hood (weird, I know) but it was just as short as his and was also missing a part to be able to raise and lower it.

He kept telling me how lucky I was, and then said, "You must have said your prayers." Well, yes. Actually I did. And so did my family.

Now in all my rummaging around finding the tire and jack, I was unable to locate a tire iron to loosen the lug nuts. And here I start laughing at myself. I WRITE FOR TWO PREPAREDNESS BLOGS and I don't have a tire iron or a jack that will lift my vehicle!!!

As I'm standing there shaking my head at the irony of my situation, the Highway Patrolman arrived. He had been called out to an "accident" which must have been how bad it looked to the other drivers, but it turned out it was only my flat tire. He had a tire iron that would work, but no jack, so he called in the Incident Management Team who arrived shortly with their truck full of goodies. They had a hydraulic jack, an impact wrench with sockets to get the lug nuts off in a hurry, a big hammer to bend the metal part of the fender back out that had been banged up by the blown tire AND an air compressor to fill my spare tire so I didn't have to drive to a gas station and top it off. I want their truck.

I arrived at my doctor appointment a half hour late, but alive and well, and after waiting another hour and a half got to see the doctor for a whole 3 minutes. I won't be needing surgery again and he referred me to his partner who specializes in non surgical back treatments. Seriously? Could we not have done that over the phone???

After the appointment I went looking for a tire since my spare was not the same size as my other tires and I knew I had a 2 1/2 hour drive home. Turns out that tires for 16 1/2 inch rims are hard to come by these days but the BigO guy called around until he found one at a competitor's store used but like new. Got it installed, hit the store for a couple other things, and headed home.

Total cost for a 3 minute appointment with a back specialist including copay, gas, new tire: $203.45, 11 1/2 hours, and at least 5 years off my life for that experience on the interstate.

And here's my new tire on the scraped up rim:

Here's what I did right:

I prayed.
I got as far off the road as I could.
I had a spare tire with air in it.
I had the knowledge and ability to change my tire myself if I had a jack and a tire iron.

Here's what I learned (some of these I already knew, they just got pounded in again yesterday):

When a tire blows, your vehicle pulls really hard in the direction of the blown tire.
Never assume you have a jack and a tire iron in your vehicle.
Just because you have a jack doesn't mean it will work.
Know where your spare tire, jack, and tire iron are (and how to use them).
A full size spare is better than a donut spare (unfortunately mine was somewhere in between).
There are some very good people out there willing to do a lot to help others.
A cell phone is sometimes a good thing.
Prayer is always a good thing.

Your assignment is to go to your vehicle (take your husband or someone with you if you need to), find your spare tire and make sure it has air in it. Find your jack and make sure it will lift your vehicle. Find out where to put it on your vehicle. Find your tire iron and figure out how to use it. Heck, for extra credit you could take your tire off and put it back on.

And next time you're buying tires, hunt down a used rim the same size as the ones on your vehicle and have the tire guys mount your best old tire on it. You now have a full size spare instead of a ridiculous donut spare.

Hope you learned as much as I did . . . :)


Joanna said...

Wow! Glad you're ok! When we got our new van we got AWD, and they come with run flat tires. I need to figure out how far they can run though, and the kicker is the van is made to use those tires, and you're not "supposed" to put regular tires on them. We're taking off for the weekend, and I just put our car kit in the van. I still need to print out jumper cable instructions, I'm scared to death to use them, I'm quite sure I'll screw up and electrocute myself...

HermitJim said...

Glad to hear that you had an angel on your shoulder on the trip!

Some lessons are best learned the hard way...and sometimes a gentle reminder is needed to keep us on our toes. I'm glad you're ok!

Mo said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing. Glad it had a happy ending. A good lesson we should all heed.

Bitmap said...

Glad you're ok.

When you have a blown tire don't hit the brakes. It will make your vehicle pull even harder towards the blown tire.

I always keep a piece of 2x10 lumber about 3 or 4 feet long in my vehicles. It keeps the jack from sinking into the ground if you have to change a tire when you are not on a hard surface.

Paladin said...

This made me smile.

Not because of your difficulties, obviously, but because you described a set of circumstances that I am very familiar with. Sometimes I think that Irony is an actual person that stalks me :)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you didn't crash, and glad people stopped to help you. While folks are good about helping stranded motorists here in Georgia, we don't have anything like the truck that rescued you. At best, the Highway patrol can call a wrecker.

All of my vehicles are kept in tip top condition for exactly this reason. A blown tire out in the middle of the national forest, on a road that you may be the only one using that whole day, where cell phones won't work, is no fun. So I keep the maintenance and equipment on the vehicles up to speed. However, just as you experienced, my wife had a blow out in the pitch black on the way to work one morning. No cell service. A Deputy Sheriff came along, and since they have VHF radios with repeaters on the mountains, he was able to reach me via his dispatcher. I hate having my wife out on the road alone, as I'm sure your husband does, but there's no help for it sometimes.

You should get a cell phone!

Sharla said...

See, you should have taken my van! ;) I am so glad you're okay!

Angela's Mom said...

Yep, last Christmas I was going to get you a pay-as-you-go phone cuz you live in the boonies and are miles between point A and B... But you got a cool camp shower instead. Guess what you'll be getting for the 4th of July. I'm not waiting for Christmas!

Melonie said...

So glad everything turned out for the best... especially that you were safe and that you were referred for a non-surgical treatment.

And I am totally chuckling at your mom's comment. Love it! :-)

Mary @ Annie's Goat Hill said...

Good reminders. Glad you are safe!

Angela said...

Thanks all for stopping by and your comments. Some real good ideas here. The beast is now equipped with a proper jack (which I received instruction on how to use) and tire iron so if this ever happens again it won't be such an ordeal--I can just change my tire and be on my way. And doing a little cell phone research. I'm not thrilled about getting one, but like my mom says, I DO live in the boonies and it well could be the difference between help coming to me and me hiking out of somewhere for help which I guess is reason enough to have one especially since I usually have a carload of kids with me.

Anna said...

One time I had moved my jack from the truck to the horse trailer while we were hauling the trailer. I forgot to put it back in and had a blowout on the truck. I had to Call Keith and have him bring me the jack so we could fix the tire. Good thing it wasn't very far away from the house, but it was on the interstate. So Now we have two jacks one for the truck and one for the horse trailer. No more swapping out.