Please take the time to read this article to get a better idea about helmet safety.

A Second Chance
By Jeff Sambur

Late lunch? Bonus miles in Glacier National Park? Early Happy Hour?
These were some of my random thoughts as I huffed up the final pull toward the summit of Marias Pass. I was en route from West Glacier, Mont., to East Glacier on what was supposed to be a mellow seven-to-10-day circumnavigation of the Glacier/Waterton National Park complex. I was a mere half hour from completing these decisions when I was thrust into a cave.
Total darkness … no sound … no brakes screeching … no thud of my body smashing the sedan’s windshield … no noise as I went rolling and tumbling across 35 feet of asphalt and gravel. When I awoke in a ditch, a Good Samaritan was applying spinal traction to my neck. The peripheral vision from my left eye saw the drip, drip, drip of blood oozing from my nose. My right eye was swollen shut.
“What happened?” I asked weakly.
“You got rear-ended by a car. Don’t move!” she answered. She then called out, “He’s coming around. I’ll need some help here.”
I estimated I had checked out of planet Earth for two to four minutes. First responders in civilian clothes assisted me as they poked and plodded my body and took primary and secondary surveys of my injuries.
“Can you move your feet? Can you wiggle them? Squeeze my hands. Are you having trouble breathing?”
The questions came fast and furious: I passed the tests with flying colors. My spinal column was not severed. I was alert enough to pick up a distinct British accent from the crowd gathering above me. I got his attention.
“Was it you who hit me?”
“Yes. I was sightseeing and looking at the mountains and drifted into you.”
I might have said a few choice words to him, but I don’t recall. I don’t remember much, although I remember he never said he was sorry.
An ambulance from Browning arrived and I was placed on an unforgiving backboard and cervical collar. We raced back to the ER with the emergency lights on and sirens blaring. It was a bumpy, rough ride as we careened down the pass and through a construction zone. A paramedic attempted two sticks to get an IV into me and failed both times.
“Please don’t stick me again. I hurt enough already. They can do that in the ER under better conditions. I promise I won’t die before then.”
“OK. We can hold off on it.”
“Thanks.”
At the ER, a doctor made her orders known. “He’ll need a CAT-Scan of his head. Get a set of X-rays for his neck, chest and spine. Set him up with an IV ASAP. We’ll need to monitor his vital signs.”
The nurses and technicians efficiently carried out her orders. I was then in the hurry-up-and-wait mode of emergency medicine. A nursing student gently dabbed the grit, grime and dried blood from my many facial wounds and multiple areas of road rash. I even had road rash on the tops of my feet. Apparently, the force of the impact literally knocked me out of my shoes.
The compassionate ER doctor came to my side to survey the carnage to my face. She held my hand as she said, “Those lacerations and avulsions will need the care of a plastic surgeon. I can stitch them for you, but they can do a better job. Would you like me to arrange a helicopter transport to Kalispell Regional Medical Center? We can have a plastic surgeon waiting for you.”
“Please do. I am not a handsome man to begin with and I can use all the help I can get.” With that sad news, I knew my Hollywood contract as George Clooney’s double would surely be terminated. Shucks!
“We’ll arrange it. The CAT-Scan of your head and brain came out with negative findings. That is a good thing. We are waiting now for the radiologist to evaluate your neck, chest and spine X-rays.”
“Thanks for all the help. Can I get off of this backboard? It is really beginning to hurt me. I’m OK. I can move all of my parts.”
“Please wait a few minutes until we get the radiologist report. This is all precautionary.”
“OK. I’ll try.” The pressure point where my head contacted the backboard was starting to throb.
A few minutes later, (which seemed much longer) the nice ER doctor came back. Once again she held my hand.
“I have bad news. The radiologist found 11 fractures in your first 11 vertebrae. You have a broken sternum, too. There will be a neurosurgeon waiting for you in Kalispell, also.”
“What? How can that be? I can move all of my parts. Are you sure those were my X-rays?”
“Yes, those were your X-rays. You will get the best of care in Kalispell. I have a special place in my heart for bicycle riders. My son was killed by a driver 20 years ago when he was riding a bike. We will take care of you.”
No wonder she was holding my hand.
The helicopter flight crew came and checked me out. “We will hold off on the morphine drip until we get him to Kalispell. Jeff, we are going to give you a scenic ride over Glacier National Park. I am sorry to say you won’t get a chance to enjoy the views.”
With little fanfare, I was loaded and airborne. They had placed painkillers in my IV, so I became groggy, blurry and disconnected. I remember peeking at the snowcapped mountains briefly. Alas, I would not get to enjoy my $11,000 taxi ride to Kalispell. This was all business.
Upon arrival to my second ER of the day, a plastic surgeon went to work on my tenderized face.
“I will try to stitch you to minimize the scarring. However, there will be some scarring no matter what.” All in all, 20 stitches were applied to my eyebrows and right cheek. When she was done she asked. “Would you like to see my work in a mirror?”
“Sure!” I steadied myself for the view. OMG! I was staring at a mini-version of Frankenstein. My mug was enough to make a child cry. Dating would truly be more challenging in my future.
It was time to get past the cosmetics. A large neurosurgeon with sandy-colored hair and a stoic bedside manner approached me. “We won’t be operating on you. With all of your breaks, we would not even know where to start. Your spinal column is intact and not being impinged upon. We will place you in ICU and monitor your X-rays. We will hope there are no radical changes or shifts in your column. Now it is time for you to go on a morphine drip …”
“One question please. What is my long term prognosis?”
“We don’t know. We don’t see many patients like you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because they are usually dead.”
I whispered a lame, “Oh!”
The next few days on the morphine drip were a haze of dreaming and snippets of reality thrown in. Concerned friends and family members phoned me. I have no recollection of the conversations. I do recall the nursing staff getting me up and out of bed. I even walked up a flight of steps under their watchful eyes.
Best of all, my older brother Mike arrived from New York City to take care of his “baby” brother. I wept shamelessly as he entered the room. He went on to prove once again why he is the best brother in the world.
Four days after the impact, I was discharged from the hospital. My post-discharge orders were written out and terse. “Do Not Remove the Brace!” It looked like sponge baths and partial shampoos would be my method of hygiene for awhile. Gross.
Mike and I began a 1,000-mile journey south to my old hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. He drove and I navigated. The plan was for me to get a second opinion from neurosurgeon number two and to convalesce in familiar surroundings.
I told Mike a few times: “I always wanted to take a road trip with you, but this is not what I had in mind.”
Eight days after the accident, Mike and I listened to neurosurgeon number two, a no-nonsense, no-sugar-coating doctor who calls it like he sees it. He does not believe in small-talk. I suppose after 35 years in the game, he has that right.
“Your vertebrae fractures are mild. You do have a definite broken sternum. I believe you will heal OK. We will take another set of X-rays in a few weeks to see if there are any changes. I doubt there will be. I’ll see you again in three weeks.”
In my former life, I worked for 28 years as a firefighter/EMT for the city of Fort Collins. In emergency services, the term “mechanism of injury” is bandied about to predict the outcome of an accident.
A small, 138-pound man being struck from behind by a sedan traveling at more than 50 mph is an obvious assault upon the body. Humans are not wired to survive such an ordeal. During my career, I went on calls for three similar bicycle accidents. For those unfortunate victims, there was no tomorrow. The one and only thing that separated me from them was my use of a bicycle helmet.
Now in Fort Collins, I meet former lovers, friends and acquaintances on the street. I smile grandly as I maneuver in to hug them. If the hug lingers long enough, I usually score a life affirming squeeze at the end. I make sure to pay back that squeeze in kind.
Second chances in life are precious. I do not wish to squander this one.

109 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Give it up already, wear or not wear a helmet, lets give up trying to justify it to someone on the other side of the coin.

I officially declare this discussion closed before we all fall out......

Any other business Devil

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8699 posts]
30th October 2012 - 15:55

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it's that time

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Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7258 posts]
30th October 2012 - 16:21

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Gkam you spoil sport, i love winding people up. Devil

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2675 posts]
30th October 2012 - 17:17

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15 km/h is well within the capabilities of decent amateur 5 to 10 km runners.

And yes, if your reasoning for cycle helmets lacks logical consistency, I can see why you wouldn't want to discuss running and walking helmets.

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
30th October 2012 - 17:24

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Dave Atkinson wrote:
it's that time

Good Lord! I've heard about this - CAT JUGGLING!!

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
30th October 2012 - 17:29

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Dave Atkinson wrote:
it's that time

Shame on you Dave, subjecting those cute innocent balls of fluff to this thread. I'm off to call the RSPCA Devil

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
30th October 2012 - 18:08

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That's alright, look what I do to mine Wink

cat-on-bicycle.jpg
Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8699 posts]
30th October 2012 - 18:28

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He won the Tour De Meow and Milk Race this year and proclaimed

i-am-cat.png
Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8699 posts]
30th October 2012 - 18:30

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Gkam84 wrote:
That's alright, look what I do to mine Wink

At least this one has 9 lives to play with if there's an off!!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
30th October 2012 - 18:46

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I don't really get how there's a debate?

If I fall off and hit my head, I'd much rather have a helmet. They're not gooing to save your life in every instance. But surely they're worth it for that small percentage of accidents they will save your life.

Violence is not the answer, but it will do until we find out what is.

posted by TheHound [48 posts]
31st October 2012 - 10:01

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Hi Jeff,

First let me say thank you for writing this article; it was a heartwarming recollection of your accident (did I say accident) or attempted manslaughter? There is nothing more important than life.

So pleased you made a good recovery; and I agree with you about wearing a helmet. Get A Hat And Save Your Head!

I so enjoyed reading your story; although, I hope no-one else has to go through what you went through, at least you survived and recovered from the ordeal.
My sincere Regards.

posted by Mostyn [400 posts]
31st October 2012 - 11:28

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TheHound wrote:
I don't really get how there's a debate?

If I fall off and hit my head, I'd much rather have a helmet. They're not gooing to save your life in every instance. But surely they're worth it for that small percentage of accidents they will save your life.

we're allowed to do a bunch of other stuff (climb ladders, drive cars, walk to work, play contact sports) without there being a debate at all. all of those things carry a broadly comparable risk of head injury to cycling; some a bit more, some a bit less.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7258 posts]
31st October 2012 - 11:34

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None of those things are actually comparable to cycling.

Cycling helmets shouldn't be a legal requirement. But it just seems common sense to wear one.

Plus they look AWESOME

Violence is not the answer, but it will do until we find out what is.

posted by TheHound [48 posts]
31st October 2012 - 11:43

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TheHound wrote:
None of those things are actually comparable to cycling.

in terms of your likelihood of dying from a head injury, they're all directly and very simply comparable. yet you wouldn't even consider putting on a helmet for most of them. why is that?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7258 posts]
31st October 2012 - 12:17

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I see...

Well I shall continue to wear my hemet and mock you thoroughly when you're licking windows for fun.

Violence is not the answer, but it will do until we find out what is.

posted by TheHound [48 posts]
31st October 2012 - 12:28

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TheHound wrote:
I see...

Well I shall continue to wear my hemet and mock you thoroughly when you're licking windows for fun.

you seem to be assuming that i don't wear a helmet. you'd be wrong.

my question is: why is cycling considered dangerous when lots of other things with a broadly comparable risk aren't?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7258 posts]
31st October 2012 - 12:45

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TheHound wrote:
I don't really get how there's a debate?

If I fall off and hit my head, I'd much rather have a helmet. They're not gooing to save your life in every instance. But surely they're worth it for that small percentage of accidents they will save your life.

The aveage jo blogg will cycle at approx 8mph. If he/she comes off their bike the worst injury they sustain will be a cut hand or twisted shoulder. In the last 5 years I've cycled roughly 50,000 miles and come off my bike twice. Once when a ped stepped out in front of me - twisted shoulder. The second - not clipping out in time - staved wrist. I used to play squash and never wore head gear regardless of the risk of head butting a wall. Also played rugby without the need for head gear. Learn not to fall and if going to fall learn how to fall.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
31st October 2012 - 12:57

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I did assume you don't, my apologies.

I think you're less likely to have an accident walking down the street that involves a head injury. In terms of ladders, anyone that climbs them regularly for work or whatever is genreally going to be wearing a hard hat.

It all boils down to personal choice. It certainly shouldn't be a law. But having been knocked off my bike on only my 2nd ride through no fault of my own, I'll certainly always wear 1 and advise peopl I know to wear 1.

Violence is not the answer, but it will do until we find out what is.

posted by TheHound [48 posts]
31st October 2012 - 13:05

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TheHound wrote:
I think you're less likely to have an accident walking down the street that involves a head injury.

that's what you'd assume, if you hadn't looked at the injury statistics. so go look at them.

Quote:
anyone that climbs them regularly for work or whatever is genreally going to be wearing a hard hat

so profesionnal ladder climbers have to wear a hat, but us amateurs can go without, eh? *thinks of parallel to cycling*

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7258 posts]
31st October 2012 - 13:10

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Thanks Mostyn,

I appreciate the thoughts and I am a happy guy knowing I should have been pushing up daisies after the crazy hit I took. If you will scroll down all the posts here, you will see a lighter article I included as a peace prize to the cyclists in the UK.

Be safe and be well,
Jeff

Saved by a helmet twice

posted by Saved by a helm... [27 posts]
31st October 2012 - 13:30

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notfastenough wrote:
Paul J wrote:
notfastenough: Broken bones don't incapacitate you? I literally could not move after I broke and pulled apart my collarbone. The smallest movements (including breathing) were difficult for the next *2* days. That's a longer incapacitation than a *severe* concussion. And that was with a bone that isn't even that important! (One option for really badly broken collar bones is to simply remove them completely).

Are you really arguing that the head is the only part of y
Yes i am.I broke 2 collarbone arm's elbow 10 years ago. It hurt but fine now.Injured my brain at the same time.I still fit every 3 months.Infact i had on yesterday.Fuck wear a Helmet brain injury is for life

big mick

posted by big mick [176 posts]
4th November 2012 - 20:26

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For every anecdote there is an equal but opposite anecdote:

I completely broke my collar bone 17 odd years ago (was wearing a helmet). I got knocked down by a car just under 2 years ago, and landed on my head after a bonnet surf. My head had a slight headache for 30 minutes after. My collar bone still aches and gives me back ache, 17 odd years later.

I'm not wishing ill on anyone, but people who cycle without wearing full body armour deserve to die a horrible death.

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
5th November 2012 - 9:32

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I really can't understand anyone who'd cycle without body armour. You've only got one body, and it's hardly a hassle to put on some plastic & polysterene. Anyone who cycles without body armour must be an irresponsible idiot, and if they injure their arms or torso - well they had it coming to them.

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
5th November 2012 - 10:11

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Paul J wrote:
I really can't understand anyone who'd cycle without body armour. You've only got one body, and it's hardly a hassle to put on some plastic & polysterene. Anyone who cycles without body armour must be an irresponsible idiot, and if they injure their arms or torso - well they had it coming to them.

Good point, I'll make sure and wear mine when I'm cycling on the road, as well as using it for racing. I'll skip the lid for road use though as the body armour makes more sense. Most cyclist injuries in road crashes involve damage to limbs.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
5th November 2012 - 11:02

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Paul J wrote:
I really can't understand anyone who'd cycle without body armour. You've only got one body, and it's hardly a hassle to put on some plastic & polysterene. Anyone who cycles without body armour must be an irresponsible idiot, and if they injure their arms or torso - well they had it coming to them.

Not meaning to be picky but you advocate the wearing of body armour and in your own words "hardly a hassle to put on some plastic and polysterene", yet on the 29th oct you wrote "I don't wear one because they're hot" meaning the helmet, followed later by "The pressure to make them wear helmets at all times (which are inconvenient)".

So they are hot and inconvenient, yet your willing to cover yourself in plastic and polystyrene (same as a helmet) body armour which of course isn't as hot as a helmet or as inconvenient as a helmet is it Thinking

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2675 posts]
5th November 2012 - 11:27

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Stumps: It's called satire.

Note that, in certain contexts I'd strongly advise wearing body armour, and in such contexts I would then also strongly advise wearing a safety helmet (in which case it should be a proper, full hard-shell one - not the near-useless, fragile, soft placebo-helmets many wear on the road). In some other contexts, just a soft-shell helmet might be a good idea. However, in other contexts, including the most typical ones for cycling (like pottering about town at normal speeds), I don't see what the point is - though I wouldn't stop someone wearing them.

What annoys me is when people argue that /all/ cyclists must /always/ wear helmets. It's non-sensical. It's damaging to cycling overall. It's damaging to public health overall. It's damaging to cyclist safety overall. There is crystal clear evidence how best to achieve high-rates of cycling with good safety, from the Netherlands and a few other places, and it simply doesn't involve helmets.

(oops: cyclists of course still have the choice in the Netherlands, and a very small number do: notably those trying to emulate their sports cycling heroes).

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
5th November 2012 - 11:54

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OldRidgeback wrote:
Paul J wrote:
I really can't understand anyone who'd cycle without body armour. You've only got one body, and it's hardly a hassle to put on some plastic & polysterene. Anyone who cycles without body armour must be an irresponsible idiot, and if they injure their arms or torso - well they had it coming to them.

Good point, I'll make sure and wear mine when I'm cycling on the road, as well as using it for racing. I'll skip the lid for road use though as the body armour makes more sense. Most cyclist injuries in road crashes involve damage to limbs.


Wrong bones fix brains don't Epilepsy which i have is for life and a total pain in the arse.

big mick

posted by big mick [176 posts]
5th November 2012 - 23:47

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Bones don't always fix. Even if they heal well, they may never be as strong as before (broken pelvis can be a problem for women of child-bearing age). Breaks in complex joints may never be the same again. Spinal injuries can be extremely life-changing.

I've got a few broken bones from my childhood and young adult, when my body was at the peak of its healing capabilities. I feel most of them forever more. (As I type this, my right index finger aches every time it presses a key - cause there's a chipped off bit of bone in one of its joints).

Yes, you can injure your brain too. But don't kid yourself that the rest of your body doesn't matter.

The best strategy is to go slower. Especially down hills. After motor vehicle collisions, speeding down hills seems to be a significant cause of cyclist injuries (my anecdotal impression).

posted by Paul J [561 posts]
6th November 2012 - 0:16

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The northern Euro countries are a lot safer for bicyclists because most car drivers also ride bicycles or are close to bicyclists.
Also, the majority ride much more slowly, because they are not sports cyclists.
See what the beeb has to say.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20068083
So you can't compare the injury rates, it is apples and oranges.

It is not "opinion" that a head striking a hard object is less likely to suffer to damage if is is covered in a helmet; It is a fact. It is opinion to say that more collisions occur due to wearing a helmet. But it is an incorrect opinion; bicycling is not American football.

Charlie Horse

posted by ch [100 posts]
6th November 2012 - 13:30

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ch wrote:
The northern Euro countries are a lot safer for bicyclists because most car drivers also ride bicycles or are close to bicyclists.
Also, the majority ride much more slowly, because they are not sports cyclists.
See what the beeb has to say.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20068083
So you can't compare the injury rates, it is apples and oranges.

It is not "opinion" that a head striking a hard object is less likely to suffer to damage if is is covered in a helmet; It is a fact. It is opinion to say that more collisions occur due to wearing a helmet. But it is an incorrect opinion...


Are you saying there is no such thing as risk compensation?

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
6th November 2012 - 19:41

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