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  • Katherine Reese Kusza

Get Behind the Wheel

Fear is a powerful motivator. It keeps us from doing things we’ve always wanted to do, or should do, and it is used by evil people to control the masses. Just look how quickly Americans gave up their civil liberties because they were afraid of a virus that kills fewer than one percent of whom it infects.


In the Winter of 1997, I was in a bad car accident that cracked my pelvis. A kid ran a stop sign and T-boned my Ford Escort with his Lincoln Continental. I don’t know if he was drinking, but he was definitely speeding and not paying attention.


When the police and firefighters showed up, they were surprised to find me awake. I distinctly remember one of them saying from somewhere down below, as my car had ended up on top of the Lincoln, “She’s alive?”


Needless to say, the Escort was totaled. The rescue crew got me boarded and collared and over to the local emergency room. I was still breastfeeding my 8-month old and the ER pregnancy test came back positive. Oops! The doctors sent me home without an x-ray and orders to take Tylenol and stay in bed and see my obstetrician as soon as possible. I couldn’t walk, but I could crawl and, by April, get around on crutches.


Somehow, I managed to make it through a full-term pregnancy and deliver a perfectly healthy baby girl. I finally saw ortho and learned arthritis would likely become a good friend in my 40s. My left leg is slightly shorter than my right. That is probably why my back is a little jacked today.

The hardest thing for me to do after the accident, apart from being out of work injured and pregnant again and taking care of a kid learning to walk, was driving. I couldn’t physically drive for a few months, but, once I could, I was a wreck (ha, ha). Even today, getting behind the wheel of my Subaru is an act of faith, especially the way most people drive while looking at their phones, eating and drinking, smoking weed.


When I finally got around to serving in my town as a call firefighter/EMT, it was no secret I was a Nervous Nelly when it came to driving. Everyone knew I would rather deal with the blood and the puke, the patients "having a bad day" and all the dirty, thankless work that comes with rural fire service and EMS -- anything other than drive.


But I still did it. I was able to overcome the sheer terror and learned to operate the ambulance, the medic truck, the small rescue/brush truck. I trained, I studied, I showed up. Whatever job was asked of me I put my heart and soul into.

I never did learn to drive the big stuff properly and I retired too early to qualify as an engineer. Maybe I could have been a pump operator (I could do the calculations in my head). It may have even extended my service a few more years if I weren't trying to keep up with the 20-year-olds when other guys my age were officers and engineers.

I'll never know. It is too late now to wonder if I had started younger, I could have made a career out of it. If I hadn't been afraid 30 years ago to try out for a big city department, maybe I could have made something of myself and I'd have a pension to go along with bad lungs instead of just bad lungs.


But, 30 years ago, I was only 5 foot 3 and 120 pounds wet and I let others convince me that I would be better off going to college and trying to do some sort of snotty, egghead thing (for which I was and am wholly unqualified by temperament) instead of joining the military or the fire service.


It took me nearly 15 years to get my head out of my tail end and stop being afraid and finally do what I wanted to do.


Far too many people don't. They sit life out, scared, bitter, blaming everyone else for their problems. There are too many in the world right now letting others tell them how to think and telling them that someone else is the reason they are miserable.


I've been miserable. I've been in dead end jobs. I've been out of work. I've also worked too much and in dangerous places. I've seen a lot of ugly. The world can be a scary place. I've been scared. Not only for myself, but for others. Ultimately though, it is up to me whether or not I stay scared.


No one would have faulted me if I hadn't tried to do a job that is typically reserved for big, strong men. I could have been a housewife or worked in a bookstore. Plenty of women are content to do just that. But I would have regretted not trying.


I did something I wasn't supposed to be able to do, shouldn't have wanted to do and should have been afraid to do.


I challenge others to do the same. Stop living in fear. Get behind the wheel.





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