Westfield Singing

In the 1800s, Walt Whitman—a.k.a. “Our Great American Poet” –used his voice to celebrate our nation’s diversity. Proclaiming, “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman painted vivid pictures of this melting pot we call America. His verses capture an ideal deeply embedded in our creed: that we all have a place in the choir. 

Whitman also conveyed a passionate awareness that the journey involves challenges. Our “song” is often an ode to overcoming those challenges. 

This column provides a voice to Westfield students and staff who wish to share their trials and triumphs, paying tribute to our collective spirit of resilience. 

      December 10, 2010, was going to be a good day.  It wasn’t just because it was a Friday, but the Westfield staff holiday party was that night, and I always enjoy attending those. Sure, the coffee maker broke that morning, which was annoying, but I figured that would be the worst thing that would happen that day.  It wasn’t until I was pulled out of a meeting and told that my wife Tracey was in the hospital due to a very bad car accident that I realized just how wrong I was–and how much our lives would change forever.

Tracey Barrow’s car: Says her husband, “Airbags really work but they’re not fun!” Photo Courtesy Brian Barrows.

      My wife was driving to work on the Reston Parkway when she was hit head-on by somebody turning left across the intersection at Wiehle Avenue.  The airbag and seatbelt did a wonderful job of protecting her head and upper body.  Her lower body, however, was not as well protected.  She suffered nerve damage to her knees from hitting the underside of the dashboard, and the arch in her right foot shattered into six pieces against the brake pedal.

      Tracey would later tell me that, in her confused state, the dust from the airbag made her think the car was on fire and her door was jammed shut prompting fear that she was going to burn to death.  Fortunately, somebody walking his dog pulled her out and laid her on the ground.  He put his jacket over her, and his dog sat next to her until the emergency responders arrived.  We don’t know who this man was, but if you have heard this story from someone, please let me know so we can thank him.

      The road to recovery would be a long one. Tracey had to spend every one of those days on the living room sofa with her foot propped up in the air to reduce the swelling. She did everything in the living room.  She ate there.  She slept there.  She bathed there.  She used a portable toilet there.  Her entire life at home was on the living room sofa.

Tracey learned how to drive again in the WHS parking lot. Photo Courtesy Brian Barrows.

      She needed reconstructive surgery on her foot, but it took seventeen days for the swelling to go down enough to allow doctors to put the ten bolts, the metal plate, and the bone pieces from a cadaver in her foot to make it kind of right again.

      After another two months, her foot finally healed enough that she could start learning how to walk again.  The physical therapy was slow and painful, often leaving her in tears.  Eventually, over the following six months, she transitioned from using a wheelchair, to a walker, to crutches, and then finally a cane.  All that time, she still lived on the living room sofa.

      She also had to relearn how to drive because the thought of getting in a car terrified her.  Fortunately, she dove right into that one and, after driving around in the Westfield parking lot for a few minutes, decided to get on the highway and drive home.  Her reasoning was that if she didn’t do it right then, she might never do it at all.

Tracey’s foot required a lot of reconstruction and hardware to get put back together. Photo Courtesy Brian Barrows.

      Ten years later, we are still thankful that she is alive.  However, she has a permanent disability. She cannot run or even walk long distances.  She requires help walking through the snow and on beaches.  Due to the loss of flexibility in her foot, she even has to walk up steep hills backwards.  Yes, she’s alive, but she will live with this for the rest of her life.  

      So…  why am I writing this article?  

      Car accidents are a major cause of death in this country and it hits teenagers particularly hard.  More often than not, it’s just a wrecked car and the worst thing that happens is the money spent, the bruised ego, and angry parents. Sometimes it’s worse and even if you are alive, it may result in a lifelong problem.  

      Distractions like cell phones only make things worse.  Consider that if you are driving at 55 mph on Rt. 28 and you look at your phone for five seconds to read a text and respond with “Ok,” you will have driven 400 feet with your eyes off the road.  Would you ever drive that far with your eyes closed?  Because that’s essentially what you would be doing.  

     And no, it’s not just teenagers who do things like this.  Many adults do it, too, because we think we are experienced enough to “do it safely”.  These are often the people who are driving slowly in the left lane and swerving around.  Look for that car and you’ll notice that the driver almost always has a phone in their hand.

      Keep your eyes up and pay attention to your driving.  Cars offer a lot of freedom and I think they are just plain fun, but they can come back and bite you, too.  There are no reset buttons or do-overs.  Once it happens, it happens.  Every year, I devote a class period where I tell this story to my students.  Despite how hard it is to relive December 10, 2010 every time I teach that lesson, I do it because I feel it is valuable to share with others the importance of driving safety.  

      That all said, I want to thank everybody who helped us during this time.  Not just the unknown dog walker but the Westfield faculty and students as well.  They all came together to help us out and provide whatever support they could.  I still remember Mrs. Anita Short and Mrs. Hilary Loder [English teachers] pretending to be my wife’s sisters so that the emergency room staff would let them talk to us. 

      Knowing that people came together during our difficult times is why we are so proud to be part of the Westfield family.