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Posts tagged ‘accident’

dear universe: you win

packed up and ready to go ... almost

Just when you think you have gotten “over the hump” –  the wrecked car, the tornados, all of the crappy stuff of recent weeks … When vacation time has arrived, and you are ready for a much-needed break and a week of bicycle adventuring – and then the unpredictable forces of the universe strike again, and you can only feel like you are on the losing team in the current competition.

At the end of May, our oldest son Mason left for a summer physics research internship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  We were thrilled that he was chosen for such a great opportunity, and he was excited to have the chance to spend his summer doing research with Dr. David Ernst (theoretical/computational physics, neutrino oscillation) and earning money at the same time.  It was a win-win.

With his books and bicycle in tow, he was off to a great start at Vanderbilt – absorbed in his work, enjoying new friendships with his professor and the team of researchers he was working with, exploring the city by bicycle during his hours off.

Mason at Vanderbilt

At home, Mark and I were packed up, excited and ready for our cycling vacation.  We were heading to Missouri to spend a week riding across the state on the Katy Trail – a trip I have wanted to take for several years, but we had never managed to get planned and scheduled until this summer.  It was not to be.

Got a jumbled phone call from the ER of Vanderbilt Hospital on Thursday night, the 16th.  One of Mason’s friends told us that they had been playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee on campus, and Mason had been “clocked” in a collision during play.  He had been knocked out, but was now conscious; had suffered a concussion and they were going to perform the routine head CT.  Later we learned he also had a shattered nose along with some chipped teeth – all of the information being very difficult to come by, given HIPA regulations, the fact that he was over 18, and complicated by his current lack of mental clarity – he wasn’t initially lucid enough to give permission to release information to us.  As a parent, it was agonizing.

We finally were able to speak with the attending doctor who assured us that there was no brain bleeding, and that felt it would be safe to release him with his room-mates looking after him through the remainder of the night and until we could get there.

(post-surgery ... he gave me permission to post)

at home, on the road to recovery

So, to condense the story … we’ve spent the better part of the last 4-5 days in Nashville.  Mason had surgery at Vanderbilt on Monday to “repair” his nose, and he continues to improve each day from the concussion – which has, truthfully, been the most disconcerting part of the whole ordeal.  We know that there are expected side-effects – loss of memory, difficulty in concentration, mood swings – all of which should improve over time.  It’s just difficult to see him struggling with “the foggy feeling” he’s experiencing, along with some short-term memory problems.

We brought him home yesterday for the remainder of the week.  Hoping that he will be feeling significantly better and recovered enough to return to Nashville and to begin to resume/continue his work at Vanderbilt next week.

We also brought his bicycle home to stay for a while.  I know he’s really disappointed that he won’t be able to be riding, but he also understands that it’s just too risky, given his head injury.  For now, all we can do is look forward to getting back on the bike when it’s safe to do so.

Finally … Dear Universe:  Please give us a break for a while, ok?

Mason on his bike ... a few weeks ago

brain buckets and noodle bowls




helmet crack (always better than skull crack)

helmet crack (always better than skull crack)

The Kid (Mason) got a very sweet new road bike this week; partially a graduation gift.  He picked it up Wednesday (it was raining) and rode it for the first time yesterday morning. And not very far.  A bit of rider error on his part, and he ended up off the road and into the roadside ditch.  Fortunately, he wasn’t badly injured – save for a bit of road rash on arm and knee – but his helmet tells a story.  

There seems to be a debate, which can often get quite heated, among cyclists – to wear or to not wear a helmet.  I’m a helmet true-believer.  And I think this picture speaks volumes.

The non-helmet wearing crowd presents a number of arguments, including the perception(?) that vehicles will give more passing room to a cyclist without a helmet. I read of one study in Cambridge, England, where someone electronically measured data from passing cars.  They claim cars gave several more inches of clearance when passing a non-helmet wearing cyclist.  For a couple of extra inches, I’ll wear a helmet, thanks.

Anti-helmet folks also point to the great cycling Meccas such as Amsterdam, where huge numbers of people rely on bikes for daily transportation, yet virtually no one wears a helmet. Does this make our own country’s helmet-wearing trend just a plot by American equipment manufacturers to sell helmets?  Personally, I don’t buy this argument.  Infrastructure differences, political will, and decades of cultural adjustment to the bike as real transportation in cities like Amsterdam make the bigger difference.  

Another argument I have read more than once (and always seems counter-intuitive somehow) is mentioned in Jeff Mapes book, Pedalling Revolution:

(Peter Jacobsen, Sacramento public health consultant) has argued against helmet laws on the grounds that they discourage cycling by building the impression that it is a risky activity (and in fact, mandatory helmet laws in parts of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada did seem to reduce cycling).  And he has argued, as have many others, that risk compensation comes into play:  just as drivers in cars with seatbelts and airbags may feel it is safer to go faster, people wearing helmets may be less cautious.

Mapes goes on to cite some interesting statistics, and a very valid criticism of one of the significant differences in attitude toward cycling deaths in the US (versus places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen…)

From 1994 to 2005, the percentage of fatalities involving cyclists who didn’t use a helmet ranged from a high of 97 percent in 1994 to a low of 83 percent in 2004. New York City’s 2006 study looked at 122 fatalities where helmet use had been recorded.  Only four of those killed had been wearing a helmet.  But that New York study also noted that more than a fourth of those who died did not have head injuries.  So the lack of helmet use could also be associated with other dangerous riding.

Still, all too often in this country, news coverage of cyclist deaths has tended to focus only on whether the rider wore a helmet and not other problems that may have caused the crash.  And it’s clear from the experience of the Netherlands, Denmark, and other European cities with high cycling rates that helmet use is far from being the last word in safety.

But even putting all things automobile or traffic-related aside, the simple fact is this: rider error happens.  It doesn’t take much – a little bit of silt or fine gravel on the pavement, a momentary distraction, a chasing dog, some bad pavement… I have talked with a number of seasoned and experienced cyclists who have had the unexpected accident – and who are also helmet true-believers.  I can’t say for certain that his helmet saved Mason’s noodle, but looking at it afterward, I can only feel grateful that it came between him and the pavement.

Personal choice or mandatory helmet laws, maybe it’s a tough call for some?  But I know what I’ll be wearing….


scuffed and dented noodle-bowl

scuffed and dented noodle-bowl


Mason's new one-up (dealer paint sample) Specialized Roubaix, weighing in at just under 17.5 lbs.

Mason's new one-up (dealer paint sample) Specialized Roubaix, weighing in at just under 17.5 lbs.