My boyfriend didn’t start wearing a bicycle helmet until about two years ago (full disclosure: me either). If he still practiced that unsafe habit, on July 17 he might have wound up in the morgue instead of the emergency room.
Some 52,000 bicyclists were hurt in U.S. traffic in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That same year, 698 cyclists were killed.
In Illinois alone, 27 cyclists were killed.
I don’t know how many lives have been saved by bicycle helmets, but I can say that my boyfriend Jason is likely alive because of his helmet.
On the afternoon of July 17, I was in the locker room at the gym getting ready to hop in the shower post-swim, when I noticed a missed call from Jason. Knowing that he was on a training ride, and we had a friend’s wedding to get to later in the day, I called him back so we could coordinate our evening. We figured out our plan and went about our business.
Just shy of an hour later, he called me back and he sounded funny. His voice was slightly high-pitched, almost like he sounds when he’s been out with his friends drinking beer. (To be clear, he was not and would not be on a bike after drinking. The point is that his voice was off.)
“I fell off my bike,” he told me. “I need a sanity check. Ask me some questions.”
It’s important to note here that he’s not one of the flip-flop wearing “cyclists” who pedals slowly down the middle of the lake front path, checking out the girls and paying no attention to his surroundings. Quite the opposite actually. He’s an accomplished cyclist who’s completed four charity rides this year, ranging from 62 to 165 miles, and at the time of the accident, was training for a 50-mile race that had nearly 3,000 feet of climbing. By mid-July, he had ridden close to 3,000 miles since April 2009.
I asked him some questions, and he answered them satisfactorily enough. But I knew, just by virtue of the fact that he’d called, that something wasn’t right.
While on the phone with me, he told me he was fine, just a little “shaky” and would ride home. I told him that he was NOT going to ride home. He was in Wilmette, Ill., for crying out loud, not exactly close to our Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
A brief argument ensued, and then we compromised: he promised he’d call me in 15 minutes to check in.
Knowing something wasn’t right — the cyclist I know wouldn’t have called for a sanity check, and the man I know would’ve been furious that he’d fallen/been knocked off/or otherwise was involved in a cycling accident — I kept one eye on the clock and threw my crap into my gym bag and dashed home to throw the bike carrier on the car.
It took me exactly 15 minutes. I didn’t wait for his call, I started driving toward Wilmette — and I called him while en route.
He didn’t recall our conversation. And he didn’t recall falling off his bike. (My stomach instantly knotted up.)
I told him to stay put, that I was on my way. An argument ensued again. This time, though, I wasn’t giving in. He kept asking me the following questions:
- What about my bike?
- Do you know how to put the bike carrier on the car?
- How hot is it?
He forgot my answers almost immediately, and would proceed to ask me again. I tried to stay calm.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Somewhere in Evanston,” he replied.
I finally got the cross-streets out of him, and plugged them into my trusty iPhone Google Maps app. I remember hoping that he was right about where he was.
It took all of my negotiating skills to get him to stay put and keep talking on the phone until I arrived. He was not happy when I got there.
Now that I had him in the car, I had to figure out how to get him to the hospital. He’s got about five inches and a dozen or more pounds of muscle on me. I knew I couldn’t drag him there, that I was going to have to convince him.
When someone has a head injury, they’re not thinking clearly. They make poor judgments. And they think they’re fine.
I knew that Jason wouldn’t want his expensive bike sitting on the back of the car while we were in the ER, and while I didn’t want to take it back to his place (knowing he’d get out of the car and how the hell would I get him back in?!), I lost that battle.
He promised he’d get back in the car after we dumped his bike off.
Knowing he’d forget that promise, because we had been having the same three-minute conversation over and over again for nearly an hour, I decided to leave the car in the middle of the street with the flashers going. I knew I could appeal to Jason’s concern for his car if he decided to be more stubborn than me.
He kept saying he didn’t need to go to the ER. He tried everything to convince me otherwise. He’d hold up his helmet and
yell, “does this look like the helmet of someone who needs to go to the hospital?!”
And in fact, his helmet looked fine from the outside — there were not scratches or scrapes.
(It wasn’t until we got home from the ER that we saw four huge cracks INSIDE the helmet.)
I stopped playing nice. I started to ask him questions he had asked me, trying to get the right answer. When he couldn’t provide them, I’d point out that he’d asked me that a dozen times. And so he needed to head to the hospital.
We eventually got to the ER… four hours after he called for his “sanity check.” (And after him thinking he would walk to the ER. Ah… yes, parking the car in the street was brilliant. He had to walk right by it, so there was no reason not to take it!)
He had a CAT scan, and it showed that his brain was in fact fine, that it wasn’t bleeding.
I don’t know how I could’ve gotten a 37-year-old man, who’s six feet tall and 190 pounds to the ER faster. I couldn’t carry him. But I wanted to share his story so you can plan ahead should something similar happen to your loved one.
SYMPTOMS OF A CONCUSSION:
- Ringing in the ears
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
WHAT IF IT’S NOT A CONCUSSION?
Check out the brain-injury checklist. It will help you figure out what’s wrong, and give you something substantial to tell your doctor.
For the love of God, buy a new helmet, even if you crash and it looks OK. Check out tips for when to replace your bicycling helmet.
We’re keeping Jason’s messed-up helmet. But only for good luck. That thing is toast.