It had been a quiet week, until the last three minutes.

It had been a quiet week, until the last three minutes.

That's what I thought after a four-car accident left me standing, with five or six others, on the side of the road.

Two minutes earlier - that's a real-time estimate - I had tripped over something on the sidewalk, fallen down and (a) scraped my knee and (b) broke my hand.

Of course, I didn't know I had broken my hand when the car accident happened. I just knew that my knee was stinging and probably bleeding through my pants and that my hand was scraped and throbbing. It made waiting for the police officer to finish taking pictures of every car from every angle seem a little surreal. I felt like a character in an action movie, the kind that never gives the audience a chance to sit back and eat popcorn for a few minutes. No, it was going to be a spectacular tumble onto concrete followed by a four-car pileup followed by a train derailment (the track was right there) followed by, who knows, an invasion of space monkeys.

Having been told to stand by my car, I stood by it, wondering what my bleeding knee looked like. I probably could have gotten the EMTs to give me a Band-Aid, but since I didn't scrape my knee in the course of this precise accident that wouldn't have been fair.

Besides, the EMTs were busy. Right in front of me they were helping a young woman onto one of their wheeled beds, bracing her head with rolled-up towels and then - on a count of three - raising the bed waist high before rolling it across the street to the ambulance.

It reminded me of the time our car was hit from behind when I slowed down to turn into our driveway. The impact drove our car into the ditch, while the car that hit us traveled a little farther on before going into the ditch on the other side of the road.

"We've been in an accident! We've been in an accident!" my daughters immediately cried. They were young at the time - maybe 9 and 11 - and I thought they were displaying amazing presence of mind. Certainly I had yet to think such a lucid thought as "We've been in an accident!" I was just beginning to connect the loud CRACK from behind with the fact that the car - having just missed a utility pole - was suddenly nose-down in the ditch.

When I turned to say as much to the girls they launched without a pause into the next verse: "You're bleeding! You're bleeding!"

In fact, I was bleeding - it was just a head wound, nothing serious, and yes, I do love saying that - but because I'd hit the framework of the car, the medics, when they arrived, insisted on putting me on a backboard, bracing my head with towels, and, on a count of three, pulling up the bed to waist height.

I didn't get to watch that time, didn't get to see how neatly the bed's wheels folded up underneath like the limbs of a long-legged bird. I saw now, though, as the medics gently slid the table holding the woman into the back of the ambulance. I also saw how the medics put the young woman's purse and other belongings on her midsection before taking her away. They did that for me too, put my purse on my chest, which made me feel faintly ridiculous, like a holiday turkey being borne off to the oven, garnishes intact. That was years ago, of course, not to mention several cars ago, though not as many cars as you might think.

Meanwhile, I contemplated my suddenly exciting life. I'd probably get home to find our refrigerator broken, I thought sourly. The refrigerator is, after all, older than our daughters, and my husband and I have been expecting it to croak for years now.

The police officer, whose grasp of the collision's particulars was impressive, asked a lot of questions. I answered them politely, as if by being a model citizen I could earn prizes, perhaps a boat.

Several days later, I realized that I wasn't the only person to look at a minor accident and see prizes. Each day, the mail brings another offer from area attorneys who are distressed to hear about my troubles.

"Let me fight for you!" one lawyer begs. Another assures me that he'll handle all the paperwork. "Your only job will be to get well," he writes italically.

Since I wasn't injured - well, not in that accident - I concluded that I could handle the paperwork without outside assistance.

However, I'm keeping these offers on file, since the way things are going I expect to be eaten by a circus lion any day now.

First, though, the refrigerator will break.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer. E-mail her at