The other day a helmet saved the life of a Livejournal member who was hit by a car and apparently hit the windshield.
Years ago my son chose not to wear a helmet and almost didn't survive. He lives today with a number of disabilities both physical and cognitive. He will never drive a car, for example, walks with a leg brace and pronounced limp, and can't use his left arm.
For the convenience of not wearing a helmet that would mess up his hair and wasn't needed "because I'm a really good rider" and "it's early in the morning with hardly any cars" he ended up having three brain surgeries and living with a helmet on 24/7 for over a year while part of his skull had been removed. He had a soft helmet for laying in bed and a hard-shelled helmet (for hockey players) to wear as he tried to learn to walk again. He was just 13 years old. Head injury has changed the course of his whole life. He is very lucky to be alive, doctors really couldn't tell me he would survive in the early days after his accident. It was a coin toss, and we won, somehow.
It's funny how we think about odds. If the odds are against us for something like the lottery, we think "Well, somebody has to win, it might be me." We'll plunk down our money, be it 1, 5, 20, or 100 dollars and hope we'll beat the odds.
When it comes to something like head injury, we don't even know the odds, we just think, well, it's not very likely it will be me. I'm safe. I'm a good bike rider. I ride defensively. Besides, I don't want to mess up my hair. (They'll shave it off if you're hit...)
The odds vary a bit year to year, but your odds of getting a head injury are better than your odds of winning the lottery, if you ride a bike without a helmet.
My son's good riding skills didn't help him when his own bike malfunctioned. He had stressed the front forks with jumps and trail riding. It was a mixed use bike, not quite mountain, not quite street, but a hybrid.
As he rode down a steep hill one morning to do his paper route the front forks suddenly gave, trapping his front wheel and stopping his bike suddenly. Momentum carried him over the handlebars head first onto the pavement at about 35 mph. He took all the impact on his unprotected head.
We know he laid there for at least 20 minutes, and possibly as long as 40. The first person to see him in the dark before dawn didn't realize what he was seeing. My son was laying on the side of the road, bicycle next to his head, and with his baggy clothing the driver who saw him thought he was seeing golf clubs (the bike handlebars) sticking up out of a golf bag (the baggy clothes). He drove around it pondering why someone had left golf clubs there and went on to work. (In retrospect I wish he were the type to want to steal them...)
The next person to see him was, ironically, this man's wife, who left 20 minutes after he did. It was lighter and she could see what was really on the side of the road, and at the same time a delivery truck drove up. She stayed with my son while the driver of the truck called for help. My son was convulsing, vomiting, and she tried to get a blanket on him but couldn't keep it on. As the ambulence drove up my son's friend also rode by on his bike--he had a route too--and identified my son. Someone tried to call me but my ringer was off. A residential assistant was sent to my door to wake me up (I was in college and we lived in family housing). Fortunately it was my dear friend Karen and she told me that she had bad news. In my groggy state my mind flashed to my kids and where each of them was, and my brain flashed: "Lakshmana. Bike. Head injury." Karen confirmed that there had been an accident involving my son and he was on his way to the hospital and that the police could take me there, to call when I was ready to go. She gave me a hug as I tried to take it all in.
I threw some clothes on, brushed my teeth and hair and called for my ride.
The officer was so upset that he passed the exit and had to circle back. I got to the hospital and found out that Lakshmana was already going into surgery so I couldn't see him. The doctor said he wasn't sure about the identity, but I said I was because his friend had identified him at the scene and I'd seen the bike. (The officer brought it.)
Thus began the first of many long waits in the days and months to come. They got him stabilized and into intensive care, and the first of many grim meetings with the doctors took place. No one could predict anything and he was in a deep level of coma. I didn't even know it had levels until then, based on movies and tv. I had a lot to learn about head injury.
I won't go into those details now. It took a few weeks before we were sure he'd live, and more weeks to be sure he'd be essentially himself and make some kind of good recovery. For severe head injury, he has made a good recovery.
If you get out of it capable of living your own life and going to school, even with help, that's a good recovery. If you can still read and think and write and talk, that's a good recovery. Maybe your short term memory sucks and you have poor judgment and you can't see things on one side very well and you don't behave appropriately (frontal lobe damage) and you limp, one hand is drawn up to your side in a stiff claw shape and your left eye droops along with the left side of your mouth, your speech is labored and unclear...but you're alive and functioning and that's what counts. That's a good outcome.
Given the strenth of impact he might have had some minor impairments if he'd worn his helmet that morning. Maybe a bit of memory and attention deficit, for example, on the level of a mild learning disability. What a difference!
If you are going to make a choice not to wear a helmet, make it an informed choice. Read up on head injury and know exactly what you are risking, what your family would go through, what it costs (got a couple million dollars handy?) and how it will feel. Meet some people who live with the effects every day. Then decide if the convenience of not wearing a helmet is worth the risk.
In the lottery of head injury, somebody has to win. It might be you!