Eighteen days after he and death came within inches of the ultimate joy ride, Dick Enright is resting at home with a 10-inch gash in his chest, a couple of layers of skin gone from his right leg and a head full of what-might-have-beens.
Enright, 54, the former football coach at Capistrano Valley High School, was driving south on the San Diego Freeway, near the 133 Highway interchange, when the drive shaft from the truck he was behind came through the windshield of his mini-truck.
"It was like an explosion," he said. "It happened so fast that I only saw it as it was breaking the glass."
The end of the eight-foot drive shaft lodged in the upper right half of Enright's chest.
"The pain was unbelievable," he said. "It was like catching a shell from a Howitzer."
From the time he saw "the mound of flesh pushed up around the shaft," Enright was certain he was going to die. Resigned to that, Enright set about getting his truck, traveling at about 60 m.p.h., off the road.
"I said to myself, 'You're going to die. There's no reason anyone else should get killed.' "
Maneuvering his truck across two lanes to the grassy area that separates the north and south portions of the freeway, he passed out just before the truck came to a complete stop.
"It's amazing to me all the things that could have gone wrong that didn't," he said. "The drive shaft ricocheted off the dashboard as it came through the windshield. If it hadn't hit that, it would have hit me in the head, and there's no doubt I would have died.
"It's amazing I didn't get in an accident trying to get my car over to the grass. Once I got on the grass, it's amazing I got the car to stop. If the car had kept on going, I would have gone to the other side of the freeway and would have been going head-on into traffic."
Just as amazing was the appearance of an off-duty paramedic who happened to be on the road. Before the paramedic reached the truck, Enright described being in a sort of dreamlike state.
"All floaty and peaceful."
The paramedic, whose name is not known to Enright, brought him into a very painful state of reality. Enright, who played two years of professional football, had a number of injuries during his playing career--including a serious concussion--but said nothing compared to this pain.
"I've run into guys 260 pounds at full speed and thought that hurt," he said. "I fell off a motorcycle and hit a cactus and I thought that hurt. But this thing was unbelievable. The thing not only cut me, but it burned me because it was so hot."
An ambulance took Enright to Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo where he spent nine days, four in intensive care. Doctors grafted two layers of skin from his right leg onto the 10-inch gash in his chest. Enright was also treated for a third-degree burn around the gash, two broken ribs and a cracked sternum.
Enright coached at Capistrano Valley for eight years, leading it to the Central Conference championship in 1980. He resigned during the 1987 season after he illegally viewed tape of an opponent's practice.
"It hasn't been an easy year for me," he said. "But I'm simply amazed how people keep rallying around me. I received a big box full of cards wishing me well after this. I got the same support after I resigned.
"It's amazing the things that go through your mind when something like this happens. I remember I was sitting there in the truck getting mad that this was going to cut into my vacation time. Now, when I look back, I see we're all just dangling by a thread in this life. What matters is the people around you."