I woke up wearing a hospital gown. The paper napkin tie-on dress was a faded robin’s egg blue, dotted with orange bloodstains from the burns that turned into inch-thick scabs on my stomach and chest. My legs felt limp, my stomach felt empty and my face was a mosaic, bandaged with a cloth that smelled like a mix between the school nurse’s office and old tomato soup. I tried to take the gown off, but my body was too weak. I felt just as useless as my teddy bear. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t rip the napkin off my flimsy, bruised body.

“A seat belt saved your life.”

That’s the first thing I remember the doctors telling me that night in the emergency room.

It was 2002, four days before Christmas. My two friends and I were on our way to a restaurant after Christmas shopping at the mall when our car was struck by a drunk driver. I was 15 years old.

I remember the stretcher, the ambulance ride, the paramedics, the wailing siren sounds of fire trucks from up close. I remember the smell of smoke and air bags.

I remember the scissors they used in the ER that night — they were silver and shiny like tinsel. I remember my body — pink and naked with bandages, and my faces, the old one that was now shredded beneath craggy roads in Baltimore County, and the new one, put back together by plastic surgeons with thick, black nylon sutures and magic.

My parents hovered over the hospital bed the way angels do to dead people in the movies. “You’re alive,” they said, crying. “You’re alive.”

This was 12 years ago, although snippets from that night are still vivid like it was yesterday.

I think of that night often, usually when getting into the passenger seat of a car, and almost always during this time of year. The last few weeks in December are for parties and caroling, stocking stuffer shopping and peppermint hot cocoa. It’s the time of year when people decorate homes, businesses, trees and even the newsroom with red and green flashing lights to celebrate the season.

But for me, it’s not the red and green, it’s the red and blue lights that remind me how lucky I am to be alive, and how grateful I am for the paramedics, police, firefighters, doctors and nurses who saved me.