The naming of
Our near death (maybe death)
experience- April of 1991.
by Michael Seewald
Written in Sept. of 2003
After celebrating friend and artist Michael Gaszynski's 80'th something
birthday party at the San Dieguito Art Guild here in northern San Diego
county we started to make our way
over to friends Arnold and Lonnie Gibb's house in Village Park. Valerie
had plans to make everyone some of her famous egg plant parmesan.
But on this Sunday, different
plans were being arranged for us and others.
It's been over 10 years, but I remember it
as if it were yesterday.
This is our story.
For years I had thought the bottom of the hill at the
end of Encinitas Blvd., at the El Camino Real intersection here in
Encinitas, was one of those places that
was just waiting for an accident to happen. It is a very, very long steep
downhill grade. Many cars, being that it's a wide five lane highway
counting the large middle turn lane down most of it, (six lanes at the
light counting the two left turn lanes) feel comfortable
going down it at speeds of about 50 m.p.h.. I think it's
We arrived at that intersection at about 3 p.m. on a
beautiful sunny day. I pulled into one of the two left turn lanes, as I had
done hundreds of times over the years, but this time in the far right one,
next to the traffic that sometimes speeds by. (I'm cognizant of the
fact that is the dangerous side of the two, I usually don't get into that
Valerie was with me and we pulled up behind two or three other cars. We
were waiting to turn left onto El Camino Real. A moment later a
Volvo driven by a young man pulled up behind us to wait also (I had
not noticed this and later found out he had to drop off a video around the
corner, only a one block drive from his home. He did not have his seat belts
fastened; after all, it's only one block).
That would be the last 'normal'
moment for quite a few of us that were waiting that day. Destiny,
unknown to us, was in motion just behind us.
"That was almost the last thing I
ever saw. "
Now here is the interesting part. It had been a week to the day that Valerie had given
her life to the Lord at a
North Coast Calvary Chapel's alter call. Now that she was a committed
Christian, I was asking a sign from the Lord if I should marry her; if it
was OK. We had been dating for a while now, but as I had become a
Christian a couple of years earlier I had learned to pray for God's will,
forgoing my own. (He says in the bible not to get 'un-equally yoked', usually
interpreted to mean not to marry or start a business with someone without
your belief system- sounds like good/wise advice doesn't it?) So I had not really been able to contemplate
marrying her until she had become a Christian.
While sitting there at that light, contemplating life
and future possibilities, I saw two young ladies chatting to each other
and crossing the street towards us on our right, just reaching the curb
That was almost the last thing I ever saw...
for at that same
moment I turned and noticed them
crossing the street I went into a 'what's happening here' situation.
For at that moment, and a very long moment it was, some sort of
'altered state of mind' was engaged!! And as it was coming to what
I thought was an end then
it felt that the 'it' started all over again. Another, almost
eternal 'moment' was born, and once again all I contemplated was 'what's
is it, what's
happening'? It was kinda like I was forced into a slow-motion dance in the
dark! Can not exactly explain the feeling.
She wasn't moving at
all...eyes and mouth wide open... Valerie reminded me of a dead
When all settled
down (somewhere between eternity and five seconds later) I started to
realize what had happened. The car, I then realized, had been
spinning or moving, but at such a speed that I could see nothing. My
brains had been pin-balled around at a tremendous speed. We had been in
some sort of an accident or explosion. As I did not hear any warning
noises, such as a cars breaks squealing, I at first thought that maybe a
plane had just hit us!? I focused. My eyes were found to be looking
to my left and outside my drivers side window. I had last seen
young ladies walking, now I saw old ladies dying. Touching my car, and
facing the opposite direction, was a station wagon filled with older folks
that I was now focusing on. None of them were moving. The
driver, an old lady of about 80 was close enough to touch if both of our
windows were down. She was not looking well at all; her head was
drooped forward in an unconscious state, and blood was dripping out of her
face down into her lap. This cant' be real, could it?
occupants in her car looked no better. I tried to move my arms to
maybe start trying to help them when I realized I could not. My legs and
arms were paralyzed. I could move nothing from my neck down. I
slowly turned my head to the other direction. There was Valerie.
Oh yeah, she was with me. Her head was tilted way back, towards the
back of the car, and almost touching my right shoulder, as if she were
trying to look up at me. She had ended up facing the same as me, to
the left. She wasn't moving at all, and her eyes and mouth were wide
open... she was not focused on anything at all. I must say, she looked
like a dead fish. She not only looked dead, I felt she probably was.
I felt very, very sick, not so much physically, but emotionally- this was
a real nightmare.
I turned back to my left and looked a bit over my
shoulder to see what else was up and saw, just in front of the
station wagon, an older looking car with a rounded top that was on fire (I
found out later it was a Volvo). I saw someone pulling
unconscious, from that burning vehicle and dragging him to safety. I
quickly realized that the vehicle, as it was almost touching the station
wagon, would soon engulf it too, along with it's older occupants. I also slowly
realized another dismaying fact: as we were touching
the station wagon we too would soon be engulfed in flames.
looked as if we might all burn up in a matter of moments. And, even
though I knew I was probably going to die there, I was surprised at how
calm I felt. The calmness was un-explainable, except maybe to other
Christians in similar circumstances. And although I was quite surprised to
find out that I was not at all afraid to die, I also did not want
to be saved from the impending disaster as a paralyzed and somewhat burnt
up victim for life either.
"...and they actually ran up and DRAGGED
THE ENTIRE CAR, along with the elderly folks in it AWAY FROM THE BURNING VEHICLE. "
So, I prayed this silent, very heartfelt prayer,
looking straight ahead through our broken windshield at folks starting to
get out of their cars and run to the scene:
"Lord, please heal me or take me home." In that VERY same
moment the prayer was made I immediately felt my body get it's full
Also, at that very instant, Valerie came 'back to
life', starting to moan and slowly move. THANK YOU LORD! I
immediately asked her "Are you alright?" Later she recalled that as
it did not sound like my voice she thought it was God asking
her. (More like my voice was not quite my own after such a terrible
jar, as I could barely breath properly as the wind had been knocked out of
me too. This I realized more clearly later, as I had seat belt marks
branded completely across my chest in two places. Besides, as I told Valerie that He would not have
to ask her, He would know if she was ok or not.)
At the same time I prayed my prayer, a few noble citizens
had gone into action. They ran up and actually DRAGGED THE ENTIRE
CAR, along with the elderly folks in it, AWAY FROM THE BURNING VEHICLE! Thank you Lord for such an act
And, as I was no longer paralyzed, I slowly climbed out
over Valerie (my door would not open) and then noticed how blood covered
she was on the complete right side of her body. As I surveyed our
car I realized the extent of the damage to it for the first time.
Yeah, I'd noticed our front windshield had been cracked all over, but that
had been all. Now I noticed that the rear bumper of my car, on the
passenger side, was pushed all the way up to the rear of Valerie's front seat. The
back seat was basically gone.
I slowly realized that I would probably never drive this vehicle again- it
was totaled if ever a car was.
At that point I
also noticed both of our sunglasses were laying back by our rear tire
outside on the ground on Valerie's side. Having been on our faces
only moments earlier, now they where twisted up and intertwined together,
as if in some kind of final love-embrace, like a pretzel. (Years later I
realized the WAS MY SIGN!) I stood and tried to figure out how that
happened. Everything was still happening in slow motion. My
mind was not grasping things as fast as usual. They (the
sunglasses) were certainly history.
I then noticed all of my loose coins, kept in a space between the seats,
were now on Valerie's floorboard, mixed in with tons of broken window
shards. I started to pick them up, mostly pennies, as I was pretty
sure I would never see the car again and did not want to lose my money.
She screamed in disbelief,
"get that lady to safety and out of that car".
At this point, maybe two or three minutes into the surreal
events, I still had not moved Valerie, nor had anyone suggested to do so,
especially not knowing the extent of her injuries. A lady sheriff,
maybe the first on the scene, drove up and jumped out of her car not far
from in front of us. She surveyed the scene: wrecked cars were
strewn around helter-skelter facing in all directions; people were mulling
around, some pulling lifeless bodies from vehicles; a burning car with an
injured man laying nearby behind it; and then me, picking up pennies from
a destroyed car while talking to a blood covered lady- Valerie. The
sheriff screamed in disbelief as she exited her vehicle, "get that lady out of that car
and over to safety".
So I immediately realized the gravity of the situation and helped Valerie
up and over to a curb with a couple of other folks. I look back now and
realize I had been in total shock and my thoughts were too scattered to
While we waited on a paramedic to arrive and attend to
Valerie a stranger appeared out of the growing crowds and offered us his
handkerchief for Valerie's cut neck, which was still bleeding profusely. (To
this day her scars give testament to the Lord's mercy towards us.
She also named the place 'miracle hill'.)
The paramedics arrived and started to give Valerie tests
to see if she had certain types of injuries, asking if she could feel toes
and fingers as they squeezed them one by one. I was operating on
adrenalin and no one, not even I, knew I was hurt. They eventually
strapped her onto a stretcher as I watched them load
While on our trip to the
hospital the driver was not sure if he could stop at a light in time and
slammed on the brakes, throwing the lady paramedic on top of me.
some of the more
seriously injured into the Life Flight helicopter that landed nearby
moments earlier. The young man saved from the burning car, and one
of the elderly people, were transported out, but to no avail we learned
later...unfortunately, they both died en route.
strapped Valerie in they found out I was also in the car, and they told me
I needed to be put on a stretcher also and get taken for testing, so I
While on our trip
to the hospital (no siren, we did not seem that hurt) the driver was not
sure if he could get through one of the lights in time and slammed on the
brakes, throwing the lady paramedic on top of me, dang.
Then she realized, half way there, that she had
forgotten her medical bag back at the scene and caleld out to the driver
that we had to go back
to get it!!? She had been real gung-ho when she arrived and was way too
excited, explaining to all, and to no one in particular, that it was her first
traffic accident. (It was our first too, and hopefully our
last. We met people later on that said they had witnessed it from
the gas station there and could not soundly sleep for days afterwards.)
At the hospital, as the regular emergency entrance was
being remodeled, we were unfortunately unloaded, and then ushered, over a
rough brick flooring at a temporary entrance designed only for looks. It was
beginning to look like one of those days; if we did not have bad luck we would have had no
luck at all. The rough bouncing, while on the hard stretcher boards,
was another insult to injury, no pun intended.
told us we would both need chiropractic care for the rest of our lives!"
They X-rayed Valerie and I to see if we had internal
injuries. I felt fine but they warned me that when I would try to
sit up, having
had to lie down for transportation, tests, etc., that I would
probably have sever dizziness to attend to- from getting hit so hard. I boldly claimed
that I was sure I was just fine, as I was fine before I was put on the
stretcher. I barely started to sit up when the
world instantly started to spin out of control and I started to lose my
balance and felt sick. Whoa, what was that??! I instantly laid
back down hoping the event would
pass quickly. After a while I tried to get back up and it started
all over again.
This time I went much more slowly, but still the room spun out of control,
slowly slowing down and stopping after a few seconds of being vertical.
It was disconcerting, and the worst part was that it WOULD CONTINUE FOR ANOTHER WEEK every time I
laid down OR got up! It was a very amazing, and very unfortunate,
Click photo to enlarge.
The Life Flight (an emergency helicopter) photo of the accident
involved in was published in the Union Tribune. It was in April of
Detailed info can be seen by clicking on the photo.
Valerie had many stitches applied to her right elbow and
under her chin. Her outfit was full of dried blood and we called our
Gibb's explaining the dinner we were going to make for them
would have to wait. They were nice enough to offer to put us up for
a few days to help us recuperate. (That was needed more than we knew.)
I had to wear a neck brace for two weeks, one of those white cuff looking things, as my muscles were
way too sore to
actually hold my head up.
My chest was more sore than I knew, and the doctors told us, after
hearing how hard we were hit, we would both
need chiropractic care for the rest of our lives!
said if the doctors said there was no known medical help that could help us
permanently, and that we would need chiropractic care for the rest of
our lives, we would go to someone whom we knew could help us now- Jesus.
A couple of days later, after a mid-week Horizon Church service, we went
up and got prayed on by pastor Mike McIntosh. And a miracle happened, within the week our pains left us (even though we were told they would get
worse, not better, for two or more weeks).
"Last but not least, I
figured if I could go through something like this, I could handle a
marriage, especially with someone as lovely as Valerie Wong, uh, I mean
We visited an
attorney, not to sue for a bunch of money, but just to see if we could get
enough to replace the car and pay the medical bills. He said since
so much death and destruction took place in this particular 'accident',
someone like us would get nothing out of the $50,000 total coverage she
had. (I had cancelled mine because I was out of the country making
art for a month, thus saving a little money, and the company I had
reinstate it failed to because they said I had not sent in a deposit after
requesting a start-up, OUCH.) So we were out of luck, but did not
fret, as we had our health.
Note on another miracle; we rec'd enough a year later, out of the blue, to cover
both our medical expenses and car loss from that insurance agency! All of this came in
unexpectedly as we'd never sent estimates or bills to anyone. Thank
Thoughts later on...
A silver platter that we borrowed from the Gibb's, that we
were going to return that day, was behind my seat. After this accident, it
was impossible to get anything out from behind our seats, as the back seat
was completely crushed into the front ones. The rear bumper on the
passengers side was pretty much up to the back of Valerie's seat.
That pretty much flattens the back seats pretty well to accomplish this
feat. Had anyone been in our back seats, they would have been
Valerie resting with bandages on her arm and chin at the
I figured the double bruised, seat belt mark effect was
from the Volvo hitting into us at about the reported 60-70 m.p.h. the old
lady had hit him at. The first 'explosion thing' must have been after we
were thrust back from the initial impact and the second was when we hit
the car in front of us, causing us to then be thrown forward instead of
backward and spinning around. All at the same time we had been spun around from
being hit on the back right side. The car we were forced into also had major
rear end damage and was totaled, but not half as bad as us.
I called my
parents the next day, you know, to get them up to speed on our lives
lately. Well, I started by telling my mom, who lived 50 miles south
on the other side of San Diego city, down close to Tijuana, Mex., that we
had had an 'interesting day' the day before. And before I could say
anything else she said "you weren't involved in that nine car pile-up in
is because you have to take in a deep breath to start it, from lungs that
are so sore they refuse to do so- the pain being too great as you try. "
were you?" "Well yeah mom, actually we were" I honestly replied,
embarrassed one of here non-ending negative assumptions could finally come
true (I mean, figure the odds we would be the ones involved with some
100,000 folks in our area!).
My dad was kind enough to loan us his car until I
could get another; thanks Dad. (Another
miracle story, he just had a stroke but our prayers got him back to normal
in 'miracle time'- but that's for a book someday, right?)
Michael Seewald, Arnold Gibbs and Michael's
fiancé, Valerie Wong, 1992.
Last but not least; I figured if I could go through
something like this, I could get through a marriage, especially with
someone as lovely as Valerie Wong, uh, I mean Valerie Seewald.
The pain from
being throw around at the speeds we had was unbearable. They said we'd of
been better off braking our ribs, than 'almost breaking them'! We had to
take Vicodin, and the second day Valerie exclaimed she could not cough.
She complained of it more than once, but I could not see what the problem
was, who want to anyways right? What she failed to explain, as I found out
on my own on day three, was that you can't because you bend over in
excruciating pain before executing it! Yep. This is because you have to
take in a deep breath to start it, from lungs that are so sore they refuse
to do so- the pain being too great as you try. I double over in pain the
first time I tried, and immediately exclaimed to her, barely audible-in a
whisper 'now I know what you meant'.