One day after a car accident
December 15, 2011 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I know this is a stupid question, but I am going to ask it anyway. I got into a car accident yesterday. Today I have minor back pain and MAJOR anxiety. Should I go to the doctor?

Yesterday morning I got into a car accident on the way to work. It was a front impact for me, but I was only going about 35 mph. The other person's car had a mere dent, didn't seem like anyone was injured, but my car was pretty messed up (most likely it is totaled). So I tried to brush off the incident and go on with my day after dealing with everything and getting into a rental, because I was in the middle of a very busy work week. Today, I am having a harder time. I had to excuse myself from work early because I was so tense and jittery, I am having a really hard time driving (pretty much staying under 30 mph because I am so anxious being on the road), and I have been having some, um, crying fits, since I got home. I have some minor back pain, but I don't know if that's just from all the tension (most of it feels like tension, but there a spot mid back that's achier than the rest). I am hoping this is normal and I will be fine tomorrow but should I be planning to see a doctor or something? (only asking because I am normally very healthy, nothing ever really happens to me, and I only go to the doctor for annual checkups, so I am just not in the habit of going to the doctor and don't have any kind of close relationship with a PCP).
posted by smokingloon to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
of course you should go to the doctor right away. it's the commonest thing in the world for the symptoms of a car accident to be delayed like that. just make a few calls & get an appointment as soon as possible. ps: 35 miles an hour is fast.
posted by facetious at 9:44 PM on December 15, 2011

Go to the doctor. Tomorrow.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:58 PM on December 15, 2011

It wouldn't be crazy for the back pain to get worse. Sometimes injuries don't even make themselves known this soon. And if it is the kind of thing that's going to get worse, you don't want to wait till it's hard to even get yourself to a doctor. You can't know, so you pretty much have to go. Being as anxious as you are is also both totally normal and probably not something you have to soldier through, either. I mean, this is not the kind of brush with death (if your car was totalled, an important nonverbal section of your brain probably considers it that) you would have to deal with in nature, you know? So don't minimize your pain or your anxiety when you go in. Just make sure they have all the facts you have.
posted by Adventurer at 9:59 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a different car accident, but similar reaction as you. Mine was late at night coming home from work, and I went to work the next afternoon but was jittery and had crying fits and was a mess. I went to the doc about 36 hours after the wreck, when my then-husband noticed how much I was hurting, asked if I wanted to go to the doc, and I burst into tears.

So yeah....this sounds like a normal delayed emotional reaction. I also believe you need to see the doc as soon as you can. I got muscle relaxers and anti inflammatories (I had no lasting injuries, just really sore and maybe some whiplash) and they really helped. They definitely made me more functional. So need to get checked out. And then you need to spend a full day in bed/at home just decompressing and crying when you need to. Letting that anxiety and emotion out makes you feel better, trust me. I was also afraid to drive and had no desire to look for another car until the insurance company was ready to cut off the rental car. It gets better!
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:14 PM on December 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hello collision twin... I'm in your very situation but a few days ahead of you. And yes, if you're like me, you'll be catching some waves of tension and anxiety and loss and irritation for a while, not to mention some muscle aches. For me, two days after the collision was the worst, so tomorrow may be a tough day for you, but for me each morning since then has felt a little brighter and less achey. I do recommend you go see a doctor just to get everything checked out. You may need to alert the insurance company as well, as they will need to give their injury claim department a heads up. Get plenty of rest, connect with friends, be good to yourself. People have been so kind to me and it floors me every time. You may want to take a day off -- I worked through deadlines and wish I hadn't. The more I can accept the situation as a quirk of the universe, the less anxiety I feel. Be well. :)
posted by mochapickle at 10:15 PM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wanted to add my car was totaled too. Got T boned in an intersection on the drivers side...probably around 40 MPH. Car accidents mess with your head...especially the ones you walk away from. It takes time for the adrenaline to calm down and your brain realize exactly what happened and what could have happened.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:16 PM on December 15, 2011

Absolutely normal physical and emotional reaction the day following a serious car accident. And also absolutely a reason to go to the doctor. Honestly, you're going to hurt for a few days, even if you haven't sustained any significant injury. And you should get checked out. The doctor can probably help with the anxiety, too. I know that just going to the doctor would lower my anxiety in the same situation. In the meantime, are you taking good care of yourself? Sleeping, eating, resting, taking otc pain killer/anti inflammatory for your backache? It takes good self care to recover from something like an accident.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:20 PM on December 15, 2011

Thanks everyone. Looks like there's a minor emergency clinic down the street from me. I'll be going first thing in the morning.
posted by smokingloon at 10:25 PM on December 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm glad you're going in to get checked out, don't think of 35 mph as a minor speed for a crash at all. If you ran full tilt into a brick wall, you would still be hitting it with a third of the force as that crash!
posted by TungstenChef at 10:50 PM on December 15, 2011

Oh, your reaction is sooo normal! I was in your shoes last year. I was on my way to my friend A's pad to hang out for an hour or two before retiring for the night. I lost control on some black ice on the highway that I didn't even know was there. It had been such a beautiful day. Mutual friend G was my passenger. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and his head slammed into my face really hard.

I saw a pickup truck losing control in front of me about half a second before I did. During the initial shock phase, I started off thinking it wasn't my fault and no one was to blame, because I was blindsided by conditions I didn't know about, and because four more people wrecked in the same stretch of highway after me and the guy in the pickup. By some miracle, none of us six drivers hit another person. Friend G and I shivered by the side of the highway with the other sweet shocked people who'd just wrecked. It was so sudden and violent. I was okay for a few minutes, and then I lost it. I freaked out and I raged and cursed and vomited, it was so awful.

Friend A made it to pick us up after about an hour by the side of the road and took us for a drink. After the shock wore off, I was still very shaken and scared, and I definitely lost a lot of my sparkle and confidence. After fourteen years of driving, twelve as an adult, I trembled to even ride in a car, and driving was out of the question, I felt physically ill and shook if I tried to make myself think of it.

I got better. So will you. The key for me was letting some time pass, and not just trying to pretend I was okay. I was patient with my weird new phobias. I allowed myself to process the trauma, without trying to bulldoze my way back to normalcy. I finally redeemed myself in my own eyes by reasoning myself into taking full responsibility for the events. I finally realized that I was the driver, and that drivers are expected to know the condition of the roads, just as pilots are expected to know what they're about to fly through. I finally realized there's a good reason why people are always going on about the roads and the traffic on the radio and TV and that it's not just noise. A friend turned me on to weather radios. Oh hell yes. They turn on and tell you when the weather is going to be severe. I have an weather alert app on my phone too.

I also realized that I can't take the risk of driving anyone anywhere who isn't wearing a seatbelt. I could have had a much more serious injury that day. I probably had a mild concussion, but I could have had a brain injury or worse. Now I'm just ornery about it. If your seatbelt isn't on, I won't put the key in the ignition. I'm responsible for the safety of both of us, regardless of your personal cavalier attitude about it. One hard skull smashed into my nose is enough.

Anyway, give yourself space to get to a better place. I definitely had a lot to learn from my wreck, and I'm not saying that you do or don't. Let it affect you, and don't try to rush it out the door. You're stricken and pretty out of whack right now. If you want to see someone to talk about it and get checked out, that's great! I turned out okay without it, and you will get better either way, but I can see how it would really help, and I wish I had done this. Do yourself a kindness and go. Even if you didn't need it and it just made you feel better to get some attention from a professional, isn't it worth it to take care of yourself and get checked out?
posted by evariste at 11:17 PM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your local "urgent care" or even your GP can help with this. It is not uncommon for people involved in a traffic collision to have aches and pains a day later.

I have been involved in two pretty major TCs in the past few years (neither my fault), including one like yours. After the first one, the doctor prescribed pain killer and a muscle relaxant. I had a different doctor after the second accident and when I told him that prescription pain killers strong enough to work made it impossible for me to do anything at work, he prescribed massage instead.

The issues with my back from the first collision often returned to bother me years afterward. The massage therapy took longer and was probably more expensive for the other driver's insurance company, but it helped with the cumulative effects of the accidents and my "bad back" hasn't bothered me since. YMMV, but you may want to talk to your doctor about alternatives to prescription pain killers.

Last, consider talking to an experienced Personal Injury lawyer. Yes, they expect to get paid, but they are sometimes necessary to help get the treatment and resolve issues without you having to deal with it.
posted by Hylas at 5:11 AM on December 16, 2011

Yes. You should go to a doctor. You were in an accident and you have pain. Go to a doctor.

Do not fool around with your back. Probably something minor that will resolve with time, but if not time will make it worse.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2011

Just wanted to chime in to say that the weird post-trauma effects of a car accident are very surprising! And very real.

I was completely freaked out after my last car accident, and it took me hugely by surprise. (No one was hurt, though two cars were totalled. Eek.) So that was all dealt with and things were towed and tickets were given... but I was a BLITHERING WRECK.

It'll pass. Be good to yourself. It takes time. Also the whole "constantly seeing it replay itself" every time you close your eyes will pass, I swear.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:32 AM on December 16, 2011

At 35mph whiplash is pretty much a given (I mean, you can get whiplash from slipping and not falling, or from turning around really fast when startled; there's a lot of delicate devices involved in keeping your head upright), and it wouldn't have hurt yesterday. Treating it correctly is less miserable than toughing it out, and there is absolutely a possibility of longer-term damage so get it looked at. (And even though the collar is super dumb-looking, wear it if they give it to you.)

The flashbacks are typical post-traumatic reactions. If you can rest today, take some weight off your neck, watch some major comfort TV/movies (or read/listen to a comfort book, whatever makes you happy), hydrate, ice and take your ibuprofen as directed, you will feel massively better tomorrow.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on December 16, 2011

You were probably in shock right after the accident. I got in an accident a couple months ago and for the rest of the day I was mostly dazed/unfeeling and then the next day I felt soreness and some pain. My right bicep was so sore(I'm guessing from gripping the steering wheel so hard) that I could barely pick up a cup of coffee. Total delayed reaction, but if you think you might need to see the doctor then you should definitely go. In my case I just felt like I had worked out really hard the day before so I didn't go.

Emotional reactions are delayed too. My accident involved me hydroplaning on the highway(didn't hit anyone thankfully!! I was so lucky, so lucky) and even a couple months out I still am not very comfortable driving on highways or at night. I had to drive long-distance after I got my car back from the body shop and I was so tense and exhausted when I got to my destination that I slept for like 12 hours. Couple weeks ago I was supposed to get together with a friend one night and then when I realized I would need to drive on the highway for 20 minutes or so I freaked out and didn't go, partially b/c I was embarrassed at my freaking out.

Also if you'd never been in an accident like me, it kind of changed my perception from cars as a fun way to get around to potential death trap. It will take some time to get over that.
posted by fromageball at 10:52 AM on December 16, 2011

Just chiming in with everybody else -- I was in a crash 2 days before Thanksgiving, and I'm still somewhat discombobulated. (Turning with a light, hit by guy going forward against red. My truck was totaled.)

Also adding that you'll want to go to the doc for insurance purposes at the very least. Actually, this question reminded me that I need to call my HMO about some paperwork I was supposed to have gotten.

BTW, for me, the second and third days were the worst, pain-wise (yay Thanksgiving!) but it's been an ongoing thing since then, very gradually getting better. Be prepared to go slow for a while...and good luck!
posted by epersonae at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2011

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