Before I begin this, I just want to make it clear that I have seen doctors about this incident and no lasting damage was found to anything besides my pride and really that only suffered a small dent. With that being said, this starts last Sunday, the 1st of December. I drive a 1998 jetta as my daily beater and had heard an exhaust leak on my way back home after the thanksgiving holiday. I decided to give it a quick look and see what parts I needed to buy. That almost got much more expensive than I ever could've planned.
On sunday morning, I got up, got dressed, and resolved to take a look at the exhaust before getting distracted and forgetting about it entirely. I threw a jack underneath the rear and threw a stand under the driver's rear corner. All wheels were left on so I just had some space underneath the car to take a look at it up close. I had found the pipe disconnected after the catalytic converter and played around for a bit to decide what parts I should get and i I should get a whole new system or just the bolt-on cat. I then hear a small creak and groan.
After that, I am pinned to the ground by 3000lbs of jetta landing on my head. This is actually a bit of an exaggeration for two reasons - 1) The car still had all four wheels on so when it "fell" on me, the suspension and tires were supporting the majority of the weight. 2) The frame rail lip was what "connected" with me. The very rusty, notoriously flimsy frame rail lip. Please look at the picture below for why this, in hindsight, wasn't as fatal as it probably should've been.
So now I'm stuck and screaming my head off. I really can't describe the panic in words because I can barely fathom just how bad it is after going through it. It hurt, yes, but the pain was only on par with dental work. It was the fear of being stuck there long enough for actual damage to occur. I was on flat concrete but in my mind, images of the car somehow rolling or me not being seen by one of my neighbors pulling in were filling my head. After maybe only fifteen to twenty seconds of screaming for help, I finally got my arms coordinated enough to push against the car. I thought it was foolish at the time as I was sure I was completely pinned. In hindsight, I think my neck pain was caused by me straining against the car to bend the metal back a bit more. It took a few tries, but I did eventually get free. Thirty seconds of absolute hell were over, my ear was crushed, I was bleeding from both sides of my head, all the dogs within a mile of me were barking, aaaaand......silence otherwise. Forget everything else about this ordeal, that last part will forever be my take away from this - I was pinned underneath my car by my head, screaming at the top of my lungs for help but no one even bothered to look out a window.
I pounded on my neighbor's door since I saw her car and figured she must have heard something (she's also a physical therapist). I had sat on the ground in near shock for a few minutes and when no one even asked "are you okay" I figured no one bothered to call 911 either. When she finally did come, she seemed oddly calm despite what had just happened. Turned out she hadn't heard a thing. But she did check out my ear and let me know it was still attached and in decent shape, so I had that going for me. I took a quick shower to clean up the wounds as best I could. I hadn't lost conciousness and I wasn't dizzy or having trouble thinking, but I knew better than to chance things so I drove to the hospital. Side rant - the nearest "urgent care" was over half an hour away but my insurance company makes an ER visit over twice that of an urgent care visit. But after a head injury, I'll bite the bullet when the ER is less than five minutes away vs. half an hour or more.
At this point, I'm starting to calm down a bit. My blood pressure was recorded at 140/90 after 45 minutes in the waiting room, but "I survived getting my head crushed by my car an hour ago" is a sufficient explanation for elevated blood pressure. It was actually in the little hospital room that I started to have a sense of humor about this whole situation. The medical staff didn't all appreciate it, but I had some fun with it.
Doctor #1: I heard you lost a fight with your car?
Me: Woah woah woah, let's be clear here. Unless I fractured my skull, it is a draw at worst. My car is still broken.
Doctor #2: Do you have any memory loss?
Me: Well, earlier I was answering no but given some time to rest and think about it, I do.
Doctor #2 and nurse: *gasp*! WHat? What's wrong?
Me: Well when I woke up today there were a few things I wanted to get done but after all this happened, I can't remember any of them. Funny how an ER trip can do that.
Doctor #2: ...
Doctor #1: So you were trapped underneath your car......how did you get out?
Me: I pushed
Doctor: You just pushed yourself out with brute force?
Doctor: That doesn't make sense
Me: It's not a very strong car
Nurse: (while cleaning the wounds and applying the anti-bacterial stuff) Well, the good news is as long as you avoid another blow to the head in the next week or two you should be fine. But you will probably have a headache if you don't have one already.
Me: ....I had a CAR land on my HEAD. If I don't have a headache after that either I'm horribly crippled or a superhero.
Nurse: Well you did get yourself out just fine. Maybe you have some super strength?
Me: Being resistant to damage from old german cars is an oddly specific, and useless, super power. I don't think the Justice League will consider my membership application just because a rusty jetta can't phase me.
After all that, I went home and just relaxed as best I could. The swelling and bleeding did eventually recede so I am in the clear. As I'm sure some of you have experienced first hand - I am a very hard headed individual. I now recommend that more people are hard headed. It can save your life when you least expect it. The picture below is from monday and it shows the extent of the "damage" and the only thing missing is the nice long slash on the side of my face that makes me look like a badass. I plan to hit the bar tonight and see if the combination of "badass scar" and my story of "meh, was working on my car last weekend and it fell on my head. I'm fine" will work or not.
I can only guess as to how all of this went down, but it all does come down to common sense. I probably should've used another jackstand on the side I was lifting up so that if one failed, the other would still give me some clearance. I should've double checked that I got the car into the stand correctly. I am glad that I did NOT remove the wheels and tires for a job where that was unnecessary. Remember kids - properly mounted wheels and tires are the sturdiest jack stands your car will ever see. They just don't offer much clearance. But my theory as to what happened is that the lip folded a bit, and since it was not in the notch of the stand, the weight shift caused it to slide and tip over the stand. And I ended up paying the price for it.
At the end of the day though, I got lucky. An incident that could easily have killed me if a few circumstances were different left me with a headache and some scratches. Had it been "stanced" and this happened? I'd probably be dead. If I had rock hard, zero ground clearance coilovers? Dead. Had it been in better condition with metal not likely to bend? Dead. And despite all of this? I just got a set of fender flares in and I can't wait to paint and install them. The new catalytic converter will come in next week but, having learned my lesson, I will have a professional exhaust shop that I have gone to before do it. I can attach fender flares with minimal risk to life and limb. I really don't want to be conked in the head with a rusty catalytic converter......again. Yes, accidents will happen, but I won't let that dull my enthusiasm for what I love. Wrench safe everyone.
Edit and shameless plug: If you enjoyed reading about how I almost died under an old jetta, please consider taking a moment to read some of my other articles in the neo-hipsterish series cars that time forgot