My name is Phil Gerbyshak and this is why I’m Happy AF
I should be dead. But I’m not. And I’m really glad for that.
On May 22, 1990, I got my driver’s license. I should have died that day, but I didn’t - and I'm so grateful to be here.
Over 30 years ago, on May 22nd, 1990, I took my road test for my driver’s license. My mom picked me up at lunch and I drove us to the exam site.
At 1:30 pm, central time, I started the driving test. I drove in town, on the highway, I made Y turn, I perfectly parallel parked.
The test ended at 1:55 pm, so I got out of the car, walked inside the exam center and got my picture taken. I had the biggest smile ever, in my grey Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt and my favorite stone washed Britannia off-black jeans. You know the ones with the pegged bottoms and rips in the knees.
I felt so cool.
At about 2:10 pm, I got my physical driver's license and the results. I passed the test with flying colors. It was my second attempt and I knew how to drive very well.
My uncle had loaned me his, or rather his girlfriend's, silver Ford Mustang to take the test this time. It sparkled, it had t-tops and it was 2 doors. It was power everything and responded to my driving perfectly. Obviously it was easy to pass the test in this car, so much easier than the big family Woody station wagon my family had that I used the first time I flunked my driver’s test.
I drove my mom back to my high school with me and we arrived at 2:50 pm. My mom let me know I needed to be home by 4 pm so I could give my uncle the car back. I wanted desperately to show my best friend's mom my license, even though they lived 15 miles in the opposite direction of where I lived. I promised my mom I'd be home by 4 and gave her a hug goodbye and went to my 7th period class to show all my friends my shiny new license.
At 3:18 pm, school let out and I told my buddy Matt Moriva he was getting a ride home from me that day.
I had my license!!
We jumped in the car and put GnR Lies in the tape deck and turned it up as loud as we could. I peeled out of the school parking lot. We could hear the tires squeal and the engine rumble as we pulled out of the school parking lot. The windows were down, we weren't wearing seat belts and we were grinning from ear to ear. I thought I was Superman, and I believed I could fly - or at least go really fast!
At 3:25 pm, we made a left turn onto the county highway that would lead us to his house, after a few more turns and plenty of room to see how fast that Mustang could go.
At 3:29 pm, we made a right turn onto a side road so we could avoid traffic. We took the car up to 80 miles per hour around a corner we didn't quite make. OK, we weren't that close to making it. I buried the car in the ditch, but that was easily fixed by throwing it in reverse and going just as fast backwards as we were forwards just moments before.
At 3:33 pm, we had to slow down due to yellow school bus number 5 being right in front of us, packed full of kids.
At 3:34, I pulled around the school bus to pass them and put the gas pedal to the floor.
At 3:35, I noticed a car coming at us head on, and I didn't have clearance to pass the school bus. Moments later, I decided to head left and pass both cars by driving in the corn field next to the car at 83 miles per hour.
At 3:40, I realized I only had 20 minutes before I needed to be home. I told Matt we needed to see how fast this car really went. From a dead stop, we took off on the half mile road towards his house.
60 miles an hour.
70 miles an hour.
80 miles an hour.
100 miles an hour.
110 miles an hour.
120 miles an hour.
It was then I realized I was less than a quarter mile from the house. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could to slow us down. I had forgotten the road had just been stripped. It had gone from a smooth asphalt to a slippery pea gravel only days before.
The Mustang fish tailed towards the left ditch, and I pulled it quickly out. The car jerked right, and we skidded hard into the ditch.
With GnR’s Patience blaring from the speakers, the car started to roll. Matt fell out of the window that he’d rolled down all but 3 inches.
On the first roll, I got trapped between the t-top and the ground.
On the second roll, the t-top released and I flew 100 or so feet out of the car and into the corn field in front of Matt's house.
Proof that Superman can indeed fly!
I lost consciousness until Matt's mom came running towards me.
"Phil. Phil are you all right? I came as soon as I could. I heard the sound of metal crushing but I thought it was from the tv. Are you all right?"
"Yeah Ma. I'm fine."
"You don't look fine Phil."
"I'm fine Ma. Where's Matt?"
I looked over to see my buddy laying in the field, bleeding from his head and his armpit.
"I'm gonna check on Matt, Ma." And I began to walk towards him. I stepped down on my left leg first and then my right, when down I went.
"Ouch! My leg hurts."
And I went unconscious again.
I didn't come to until the ambulance arrived, loudly screaming their sirens. As the paramedics rushed towards me, I took a quick self assessment. I was bleeding from my head, and I had a corn stalk in my left arm. My legs looked normal enough in my acid washed faded black jeans.
Carl, the 80+ year old paramedic, was the first to my side. Good old Carl was also the paramedic for our football team, and that year when playing what would be my last ever high school football game, Carl taped my broken left ankle so I could go back and play more football. It hurt so bad and was so swollen I could hardly fit it in my shoe but Carl taped it tight so I could keep playing, and we won that game.
Carl remembered that I'd hurt my left ankle, so he grabbed my right leg gently to see how I was doing. I donkey kicked him a good 50 feet off of me just for touching my leg that was now swollen beyond the confines of my pants. Carl was resilient and he and the other paramedic put me on a body board and moved me to the ambulance.
My buddy and his mom joined me shortly after I got in and we got our vitals taken, me first. Pulse 200. Blood pressure 180 over 130. Oh boy!
Matt checked out normally and then he started yelping like a puppy dog. Seems as though his window wasn't rolled all the way down so when he fell out of the car, the window had ripped out all the hair out of his armpit.
Me being me, I decided to tease him while we rode in the ambulance. And I also decided to show him how tough I was by pulling the corn stalk out of my arm. I was a Phil-Ka-Bob.
"What'd you do Matt - shave your armpit?"
"Dude, only girls shave their armpits."
And on and on we went, all the while riding in the back of an ambulance on the bumpiest dirt roads of a time. I blacked out a couple times, only to be told "Don't fall asleep man" by Matt.
When we got to the hospital, they cut off my jeans and my t-shirt, as my right thigh had swollen up to three times its normal size, and my left arm was twice its normal size. My new Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt, gone. And my favorite jeans.
Long story short, the damage to my body was done and it was severe. The good news was my left arm was merely severely bruised, and I had nothing other than a scrape on my head. No stitches. And nothing wrong with my neck either. And I was alive. The bad news is that my right leg was broken in six places and my shoulder was broken in 12.
I spent the entire summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school in a wheelchair, watching my friends play sports, hang out at the beach and just have fun. I never again played high school football, but I did wrestle that fall and the following year as well. And there are no lasting ill effects on my body.
I'm so glad to be alive to share this story with you. I know now I can't fly, and I'm totally ok with that.
Now I'm just a normal guy who drives a normal car at a normal speed, who works his butt off to earn back the life he was given back 24 years ago. I am so glad to be here - and so glad you are too!!
With gratitude and love to my mom, Matt (my pal) and his mom. I am so grateful to be alive to share this with you, over 30 years later.
PS: This picture isn’t of the exact car I drove. That car was totalled out, with damage on all four corners and shattered T tops.