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Heads Up for Helmets

Your life can change in a flash, with a crash. Physical activity of all kinds is so good for you and so is being smart and safe.

I am a lucky woman. But I wasn’t that lucky 34 years ago. Here’s the story past and present and the reason I’m sharing it with you.

This past Saturday morning, after coming in from my morning hike around town, the phone rang, a nurse from Morristown Memorial Hospital telling me that my husband was brought in by ambulance.  He was in a bicycle accident. My breath stopped and my body froze, as I didn’t know what was to follow.  In a gentle and calming voice, she explained that he was “stable” and asked how soon I could be there. 

I woke up my son so we would be together and off we went. When we arrived, we were led to a waiting room, where we sat for about a ½ hour before we could see him. Pictures of a past experience flashed through my mind and my heart was pounding, not knowing what was happening. All I wanted to know was is he conscious? Is he awake? What is his condition?

They were doing all kinds of tests, full body scans, x-rays and who knows what else.  It felt like an eternity we were waiting but it was not. I was speechless and numb and talking myself down—saying this is not happening, Risa, chill, breathe and wait.

This was not the first time I got a call like this one….

August 4, 1977:  My sister called to tell me our father was in an accident in Connecticut and we needed to get there quickly, about a two-hour drive.  It was a moped (not a motorcycle) crash on a dirt road.  He was thrown from the moped going at a speed slower than many cyclists ride. It was a freak thing, no known reason, just an accident. We arrived at the hospital; my father was not conscious.

I live with the memory of my father’s face covered in dried blood, his head swollen, and his body not moving. He was breathing, but that was about it -- he was in a vegetative state.  If you think this is over the top and dramatic, it is not. This is a mild description of what my family lived through that one day. 

Diagnosis: basal skull fracture.

Prognosis:  wait and watch for signs. 

What could they do for him? Nothing.

I could not understand that, why nothing?

Back to Saturday at Morristown Memorial:  So, at this moment sitting in the waiting room of Morristown Memorial Hospital, all I wanted was to see my husband, hug him and know he was OK.

Back in 1977, I wasn’t so lucky. Looking at my father, I focused on what his life would be, how it would affect my mother, my sister and me. 

He died the next day, August 5, 1977. He was 50, my mother was 49, and I was 22. What would life have been like had he lived?   

When my husband’s tests were done, we got our hug and knew he was OK. He was in a lot of pain in the ER, but there were no tears – until he apologized for what he knew my son and I went through while waiting to see him.  

What was the difference between the two accidents?  

A helmet.

My father didn’t have one on and my husband did. 

Not only did he wear a helmet, but it was properly fitted, buckled snuggly under the chin and covering the forehead where the impact happened (pictured above). He broke his right collarbone and two ribs and dislocated his left thumb, and has some nasty cuts and bruises. But his head is intact and he is alive.  

I still have my husband, and my sons, 23 and 25, still have their father. 

I’m a thankful and lucky woman.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bob Sharpley July 30, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Back in the 80s before cell phones we were outside Denton on our way to Decatur. 30 miles away from anything. One of our ride companions was fartin' around doing bunny hops over roadkill (not wearing a helmet) and misjudged and banged his head pretty badly an obvious concussion due to the blood coming out of his ears. One of us had to haul butt to the closest place with a phone so we could get an ambulance out there. Not fun! Or funny! My helmet has saved me three times in the last thirty years. One of those times the helmet didn't even have a scratch on it but it was cracked. Once you bang it replace it. Parents the helmet should be parallel to the ground when it's on someone's head. If you wear it back like a ball cap it does not protect the front of your skull! Many in the cycling community recommend replacing it every year. BTW in the Netherlands cyclists have right of way, not cars or pedestrians. Be safe out there!
Alexandra Birnbaum August 02, 2011 at 03:17 AM
Thank you for a poignant reminder to those of us who do wear helmets, why we do, and for those who don't wear them, or sometimes "forget" - why it is important to never leave on your bike/moped/motorcycle without one. Also a very important part of your story, for all, wearing them correctly! I am so sorry for the loss of your father, and relieved that your husband is still here.
Patricia Brady-Danzig August 11, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Hi Risa; I just heard about it today from Bonnie. Thank goodness for Mark's helmet! PBD
Tara O'Leary November 01, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Risa, an amazing story, one we can all learn from... my heart goes out to you, and all you went through. Havng met you after the accident, Im so happy to have met both you and Mark recently, and to see the outcome for myself and the impoirtance of helmets.
Risa Olinsky June 11, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Some may wonder WHY I'm reviving this story almost a year later. This past Saturday, I did a marathon walk along the Hudson River on the NJ side up to the GW bridge, over and down on the NYC side. I watched as so many people on bicycles passed me NOT wearing helmets. People seem to think that because they are on a cycling/pedestrian path without any cars, they are safe -- this is so wrong - NOT SO. If this story is read by yet one more person and saves one more life-- it will have served a purpose - so I believe it is worth re-posting. If you know someone who rides, skates, or does anything that would be safer wearing a helmet - please share this story with them today. Risa

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