My wife and I were on the way to a party, cruising along on North Sherwood Forest Drive in the eastern part of Baton Rouge.
It was early evening on a Saturday, and traffic was sparse — nothing like the weekday madhouse.
Suddenly, there was a car in the distance speeding in the opposite lane. Then it came into our lane, heading directly toward us.
My wife screamed. I was looking straight ahead at the car, now about 90 feet from us. For some reason, I relaxed and prepared for the collision.
There was nowhere for us to pull over. There were telephone poles and other obstructions on the right. If I swerved into the oncoming lane, there was a great chance I would hit another car head-on.
These were split-second thoughts.
As the approaching car was about 30 feet away, it was clear the driver was not going to swerve. My wife was screaming louder, and I had to make a decision. I suddenly pulled into the oncoming lane, missed the car heading toward us, and then I quickly pulled back into my lane.
Luckily, the other drivers behind me were able to avoid colliding with the car that turned off the road.
Was I afraid during those seconds? I think I was. There wasn’t much time to be scared, though.
As bad as that was, it was nothing like what happened Wednesday afternoon as I was rolling south on Thomas Delpit Drive. I was driving and talking to my cousin, Clyde, through my vehicle’s hands-free speaker phone.
I was also eating a sandwich. Suddenly, a piece of sandwich became lodged in my throat. I could not breathe, and I was still driving.
In a matter of seconds, I started to lose consciousness. That may have lasted a couple of seconds before the food finally cleared my throat. By then, I was looking at the roof of the vehicle. When I brought my eyes down, I didn’t know where I was.
When I was able to focus, I noticed that I was driving very slowly and erratically in the wrong lane.
I was able to pull the car back into the right lane, but I don’t remember looking to see if another vehicle was there. Finally, my head cleared enough for me to tell my cousin that I didn’t know where I was and hang up.
Slowly, my faculties began to return. I was about a block from my destination. I got there, and some friends were waiting on me.
I have never been as afraid for my life and others, even more so than when I was a newspaper reporter near the Honduran-Nicaraguan border, where I was with boys carrying rifles and grenades. I was even more scared than when I covered the aftermath of a hurricane, and a homeowner pointed a gun at me, thinking I was a looter.
In the moments after Wednesday’s incident, I began to think: What if this had happened on an interstate highway, and I was going 70 miles an hour? What if I had my two grandchildren in the car with me, and I was on a busy highway and had drifted into the path of a big rig?
The “what-ifs” just kept piling up. Luckily, I had been alone. But I could have slammed into a family headed toward me.
As my head was clearing, my cousin called back to check on me. I was able to tell him what had happened. He called again a few minutes later. I guess that’s called family love.
For a couple hours, I was able to put aside what happened. I have always been able to compartmentalize danger and other emotional episodes in my life.
Like the time I was about 12 years old, and I was aiming a .22-caliber rifle through my sister’s window at a man I thought was trying to come into the house. As I was about to fire, my dad came in.
Turns out the man was actually positioning himself to observe the goings-on at his house down the street. I just walked away and went on with my evening.
But this fear after my choking incident was different. I had no control over my thoughts, over my body or over anything. I don’t even remember holding onto the steering wheel. And, how was it that no cars or people were on that street during that blackout moment?
I told this story to a couple friends that day. A couple said it was divine intervention. I am not opposed to that.
I just know that after those few horrifying seconds, I have a greater appreciation for life. That may sound corny. It may sound sappy. But as they used to say in the neighborhood, “It is, what it is.”
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.