Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/5/2014 (831 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Here's the sum total of what Bev Bungay remembers after she left for work one slushy Tuesday in December 2012.
"Great, I'll be able to catch the earlier bus."
Asking a paramedic if she was dreaming. He replied, "No, but you're going to be OK."
Someone in the emergency room saying, "I've got her backpack and her wallet."
Hearing her sister, saying, through tears, "You hurt her. You have to be more careful."
Looking up to see a dozen people hovering over her bed, while someone rubbed her breastbone with their knuckles because she'd stop breathing.
When Bungay began to wake up two or three days later, still in a haze of shock and painkillers, she asked her husband, David, to let her boss know she'd be working from home for a while.
"Honestly, I thought four to six months and I'd be completely back to normal," she said. "I had no clue it would take this long."
That's what happens when you're hit by a speeding Monte Carlo, land face down about seven metres away in a yard and shatter 11 bones, including four ribs and a neck vertebrae. You spend weeks in hospital with your head immobilized in a metal halo, months sleeping in the dining room because you can't get upstairs to your bed and nearly a year off work.
And you join the 1,300 Winnipeggers, most of them nameless except to family and friends, who were killed or critically injured in bad car crashes over the last decade.
If Bungay had been injured on the job, there would be a provincial investigation. If she had been hurt in a nursing home, health executives would launch a critical incident review. If it had happened in a STARS air ambulance, the minister would have suspended the service.
Instead, remarkably little happens to prevent the next pedestrian from being hit while crossing Portage Avenue at Woodlawn Street, or to prevent any of the other 14,000 collisions Winnipeg sees in a year.
Vehicle makers have done their bit. Airbags, crumple zones and backup cameras have made vehicles much safer, meaning even the worst crash tends to kill one person in the car, instead of two or three. Seatbelt use is now ubiquitous. Photo enforcement is widespread. And paramedics, in the word of one veteran Winnipeg traffic cop, do "phenomenal" work at the scene.
That has helped shrink the total number of crashes in Winnipeg by about 30 per cent over the last two decades, even though the city's population has grown. More recently, though, the figure has plateaued. In fact, since 2010, the number of Winnipeggers badly injured by traffic has risen steadily, according to Manitoba Public Insurance data. And, there were so many crashes this terrible winter MPI is threatening to hike insurance rates significantly.
So far this year, several bad crashes, including the death of 23-year-old Amy Gilbert on Broadway last month, have captured the public's attention. Despite that, Winnipeg has not followed other cities -- New York, Paris, Stockholm, Chicago, Seattle -- by making traffic deaths and injuries a public-health issue. Elsewhere, that shift has sparked huge investments in enforcement, traffic engineering, pedestrian and bike infrastructure and public education, and in turn made those cities more livable.
If Winnipeg cut the number of crashes in half, through innovative road design, more cycle tracks and tougher enforcement, nearly 100 lives could be saved over the next decade, while also making the city more livable and less car-centric. Using cost estimates gleaned from Transport Canada research, Winnipeg could also save close to $5 billion in health care, lost work time, traffic delays, disability payments, property damage and other spinoff social costs related to crashes.
"It is a reasonable goal to have. These are things we can do. We have the tools," said University of Manitoba traffic engineer Jeannette Montufar. "We have a very important issue in our hands right now, a very important problem of people dying in motor-vehicle collisions. It affects society today but also in the future... We need to hear much more about that than we're hearing today."
Winnipeg averages 18 traffic deaths a year. There are roughly 28 homicides annually, sparking billions in spending on police, courts and prisons.
Perry Gray, the doctor in charge of Health Sciences Centre's surgical intensive care unit, said violence and crime get all the attention, but his biggest customers are victims of motor-vehicle collisions, just like Bev Bungay. They tie up nearly half the beds in the trauma unit, and they often need multiple surgeries on multiple body parts by multiple surgeons.
"You have the un-fixable in the worst category, the spinal injuries, the time-will-tell category and then the stuff we can actually fix," said Gray. "You get this whole array thrown at you when your family member is the victim of a bad accident, a series of events that go on for days and days and days... Is he going to wake up? Is he or she going to be like they were?"
That is exactly what David Bungay was wondering as he raced to HSC an hour after his wife's crash, using his Bluetooth to frantically call family. Soon, the couple's grown kids converged on the hospital, along with Bungay's dad. Sisters and nephews arrived from across town and from Thompson. David camped out for a week in Bungay's room. Two weeks after the crash, the couple's new granddaughter celebrated her first Christmas at HSC with a groggy, bruised, swollen, immobilized Bungay in the background of fluorescent-lit family photos.
None of the 11 bones Bungay broke was a nice, clean, easy-to-fix fracture. Her C2 bone (the second of seven bones in the cervical spine) was smashed in several pieces but on the side furthest away from the spinal cord, which was good. X-rays show bits of jagged shin bone floating in space, a metal rod acting as the leg's structure.
The 30-year-old driver who caused all this pulled a classic Winnipeg move, darting out of traffic to zip ahead of a slow-moving lane. Bungay was crossing Portage at the light, a few steps from the curb when she was hit, likely at close to 70 kilometres per hour.
Many people stopped to help. They did all the right things, resisting the urge to turn Bungay over and, instead, covered her up with coats to keep her warm until paramedics arrived.
Over the last 18 months, Bungay has gone from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane and a leg brace. She is back at work at Manitoba Justice halftime, squeezing in physio three times a week to improve mobility and deal with pain in her neck.
Before the crash, Bungay had just started to run, doing the "couch to 5k" program. She really misses running, something she never thought she'd say. She can't drive yet -- using the gas and brake pedals hurts her right shin too much -- which is also making her nuts.
It would have been nice if the driver had reached out to the family, come to the hospital or offered an apology, said David, but neither is wasting energy on ill will.
"People have asked me about that -- 'Aren't you angry?' " said Bungay. "I don't feel anger toward the driver. I don't believe he had the intention of hurting anyone that day. He just made a careless mistake."
Readers' crash stories
The Winnipeg Free Press asked readers to share their own stories. We received dozens. We'll print some each day as part of the series.
My accident, three years ago in January, wasn't the worst but it did a lot of long-term damage to my body. I was turning onto Provencher from des Meurons after dropping my children off from daycare and a dump truck rear-ended me. I ended up pulling over into the parking lot where the Subway was while he waved at me and drove off. In the end, I had physio for eight weeks (I should have done longer) and was on light duties at work for that amount of time, as well. I had to pay my deductible AND watch him drive around in St. Boniface as I didn't have any witnesses to the hit and run. My shoulders are now in awful shape and I'm not even 30 yet. My learning moment, if there ever is a next time, is to immediately stop and not move.
-- Erica Lindell
On an August evening in 2010, my wife, Margaret, and our daughter, Melissa, were going to an evening bingo on Sturgeon Road. It was about 6:15 p.m., clear and sunny, and we were in our brand-new Honda Fit. We were in the proper turning lane, with our signal lights on waiting for traffic to clear, allowing us to make our left-hand turn into the driveway when the other car hit us from behind, putting most of the trunk of my Fit beside my daughter in the back seat. He was doing between 40 and 55 kilometres per hour. We all survived, except our Fit, and all because the kid who hit us was texting and had dropped his phone. My solution? Get caught texting, lose your licence for one month. Twice? One year. Cause an accident, any accident while texting and you should be barred from driving for life.
-- Jim Carter
I was rear-ended on Provencher in July of 2011 during rush-hour traffic in the morning. Traffic was not moving fast -- we would move for a few car lengths and then stop. At one point, I saw in my rear-view mirror that the driver of the car behind me was most likely texting. She would stop her car and her head would bend down. When she realized that she had to move to catch up to traffic, she would quickly accelerate, stop abruptly behind me, and then would bend her head down again. I was starting to think I should be changing lanes, but she ended up rear-ending me before I had a chance. Luckily we were not going fast, so the damage to the car was minimal, about $750, to repair the bumper.
-- Diane Tryhuk