RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Time now for StoryCorps. Over 40,000 people so far have shared some of the most important moments of their lives. Today, we'll hear how one woman's life changed in an instant. In 1997, Barbara Esrig was driving home from work. She was struck head-on by another car, and the crash nearly killed her.
Ms. BARBARA ESRIG: A car was trying to pass four or five other cars, and they wouldn't let him back in the lane. And suddenly, things just slowed way down, and there was this huge white explosion and then silence. I had five cranial nerve paralyses, and I broke 164 bones. Everything was broken except for my neck and my spine and my pelvis and my hips.
(Laughing) So, all the important ones didn't break, but everything else was kind of toast.
The staff and the doctors, nobody really thought I was going to make it. But I knew that I would. And this one doctor came in - he was a student - and he was pretty freaked out. I had a patch on my eye; I was on a respirator; I had every tube you can imagine, could barely see my face. But I was definitely alive inside. I knew exactly where I was. And he came in with my chart, and he had his head in the chart and he goes, we don't know if you're ever going to talk again; we don't know if you're ever going to smell again; we don't know if you're ever going to taste again. And I have these chopsticks; I have a board, alphabet board, and I'm spelling by pointing with these chopsticks. And then I write on this board, I said, life is not worth living if you can't eat cannolis.
(Laughing) And he looks at me; he sees my one little eye twinkling.
So, then I write down and say, now, put down the chart and give me a hug. And he did. Later on he told me, he said, you know, you reminded me of why I wanted to be a doctor. And from then on, I called him Dr. Cannoli. He became this wonderful doctor, and we became friends. And it was really important for me to have people show me that I was something other than a car accident, that I was something other than a diagnosis, that I was a whole human being.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Barbara Esrig at StoryCorps in Gainesville, Florida. Her story and all the others will be archived at the Library of Congress. Read more in the StoryCorps book, "Listening Is an Act of Love," or sign up to tape your own at npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.