Sunday, October 18, 2009

If Not For A Helmet....

I had an interesting experience with helmets two months ago.

One of them saved my life.

Here's the story: Back in late August, my wife and I were honeymooning in Maui. We had both signed up for the Haleakala downhill bike tour, where we witnessed the morning sunrise and then rode down the side of a mountain. I was the first of my tour group to begin the ride down.

Now, I'm an experienced bicyclist, as is my wife. But I was not fully prepared for how steep the ride would be and the effect on my bike's speed. While the speed of the ride was thrilling at first, I began to have greater difficulty controlling the bike. Then, as I was about to round a sharp turn and I applied my brakes, my bicycle skidded into the opposite lane.

Right into the path of two oncoming cars.

Luckily, I was able to swerve and avoid both vehicles. But in doing so, I lost control of my bike, which ended up flipping over and throwing me into the asphalt.


As I pulled myself up, I could feel my upper body aching, my lip was bloody, and my nose was even bloodier. Worse, I felt extremely stupid and mad at myself. So, as one of the drivers I had avoided hitting pulled over to check my condition, he, and unfortunately, his family, got to me just as I was uttering a string of expletives. I quickly caught myself and apologized to them.

Then, my wife came and saw me on the side of the road. I could see the worry in her eyes as she saw me up close. I looked like a mess as the blood flowed freely from my nose and lip. Fortunately, it looked much worse than it was. The tour guide in our group checked me over and, after determining I had no head trauma or broken bones, allowed me to continue the ride with my wife after some breakfast and a few minutes' rest. We finished the tour without incident.

It was only when I was eating breakfast that I began to appreciate how much worse it could have been, had I not been wearing a helmet. I had been wearing several layers of clothing which helped dull the impact of the crash. But the full helmet the tour group had provided me with had kept me from brain damage, head trauma, or even death. The helmet saved my life.

Thanks to that helmet, I had walked away from a potentially life-ending or life-altering bicycle crash with only some bruised ribs and a bloody lip. I was able to enjoy the rest of our honeymoon with little difficulty.

It wasn't completely pain-free. I found out that bruised ribs are nothing to sneeze at --- literally. For two weeks, I had to brace myself for some hurt each time I said "Achoo!" But they healed. Soon, it was like my injuries had never happened. The only lasting effect of my accident was a story I could tell my family and friends.

Now imagine the potential lasting effects had I not been wearing a helmet. Even if I'd survived the crash, there's a good chance I could have sustained head trauma and ended up in a coma. And instead of planning our future and growing old together with my wife, I might have spent the rest of my life in a hospital. All our dreams of starting a family, gone.

The whole experience reminded me of the story of Bill Mantlo. Mantlo is most famous for his stint as a Marvel writer in the 70's and 80's, writing such titles as Incredible Hulk, Rom, Marvel Team-Up, and Micronauts. In 1992, Mantlo was struck by a hit-and-run driver while rollerblading. Unlike me, he was not wearing a helmet at the time of his accident, and he suffered a severe head trauma. He spent two weeks in a coma following the accident, and he's been under 24-hour institutional care ever since, long past the time his health insurance ran out. From the time I'd first heard about it, I'd always considered Mantlo's story a terrible tragedy. But now I have an added realization: It could have been me.

Even before learning about Mantlo, though, I'd had yet another first-hand lesson on the value of bike helmets. Years ago, my brother and I were taking his kids to the local playground near their home. They were riding their bicycles while we watched. My niece, who was 5 or 6 at the time and just off training wheels, was going too fast on her bike and it fell down with her on it. I saw her heading toward the ground face-first but was too far away to grab her. The next thing I saw was the 3-inch lip of her helmet hitting the ground before her face had a chance to. She was shaken up and crying, but, except for a skinned knee, she was unhurt. I doubt that would have been the case if my brother hadn't made her wear her helmet.

So if you ride a bike, a motorcycle, or even a pair of rollerblades, and somebody gives you a helmet for your birthday, I have one piece of advice:

Wear it.


(Thanks to Googum at Random Happenstance for providing the strip above. And a special thanks to Saranga for helping me find it.)


At 3:55 AM , Blogger Saranga said...

I agree. I always wear a helmet when on my bicycle. Unfortunately many other folks don't.

Glad you weren't hurt too badly.

At 5:10 AM , Blogger googum said...

I promised my granny I'd always wear my bike helmet, and I'm usually glad of it. I do need to get a, um, sexier one sometime though; mine's uglier than homemade sin. Really glad you had yours, too.

The panels look better broken up here, than they do at my site, though; I may have to look into that...

At 1:57 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

I'm awfully glad that you made it through your experience none the worse for wear.

Wearing ia helmet IS a darned good idea. I always mutter to myself whenever I see some idiot on a motorcycle without one.


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