I was glancing back at some of my previous posts recently, and I realised I hadn't mentioned anything about seat belts in a while. As an aside, I hope it doesn't sound too narcissistic to admit that I occasionally read my old posts, mainly to make sure I'm not repeating myself. Because who the hell wants to read another repeated story about another repeated subject.
But I digress. As I was saying, seat belts are a very sensitive subject for me (as I'm sure you can easily tell), one that I feel quite passionate about. Obviously. I wasn't planning on bringing up the subject for a while, because who the hell wants to read yet another story about yet another idiot who failed to put on his seat belt and sustained much more serious injuries than he otherwise would have. Blah blah blah, we've heard it all a million times before. Wait, am I repeating myself?
Anyway, I was going to lay off the Seat Belt Preaching for a while, but after meeting Ryan and Douglas (not their real names™), it became instantly clear that not everyone in the world reads my blog (why the hell not?). These two had apparently missed all my previous Seat Belt Preaching and had therefore not gotten the message.
Theirs is a story I can't afford not to share.
The vast majority of patients I get in my trauma bay come one at a time. Occasionally I get multiple victims from the same incident - 2 stabbing victims, 2 guys who beat each other up over a stolen bar stool, 2 occupants of the same car . . . you get the idea. So when I heard a helicopter would be bringing me two car accident victims, both trauma bays were readied immediately. Equipment was gathered, personnel arrived, coffee was finished. The first young man rolled in about 15 minutes later looking very anxious but relatively uninjured.
Feel that foreshadowing yet?
"Morning Doc, this is Ryan. He was in a high-speed MVC," the medic began. "Front-end collision, major damage to the driver's side."
I started my evaluation, but less than a minute later the second victim arrived looking markedly sicker than Ryan. I left Ryan's trauma bay immediately to tend to Victim 2, and the medic started his story.
"Morning, Doc. Here we have Doug, high-speed head-on crash, major damage to the car, driver's side. He's the other guy's best friend," he said as he pointed his thumb towards the other trauma bay.
Ok, I asked, which one was driving? It's not a terribly important bit of data, but one I always ask anyway.
"Both of them," the medic responded.
Oh, ok . . . wait, what?
"How . . . how is that possible?" I asked, completely bewildered, trying to imagine one sitting on the other's lap.
"They were driving separate cars," he explained.
Oh, ok. Wait, what?
"But . . . but you said they were best friends", I continued, my bewilderment not improving at all.
"Yes. Yes I did," quoth he.
His smug grin did nothing to make me feel better. I rarely have the desire to smack another man. This was one of those times.
It probably makes just as little sense to you now as it did to me at the time. I'm sure you'd like to avoid the stupid "WTF???" face I'm sure I was wearing just then, so I'll explain better than the medic did in hopes that you won't want to smack me in the face.
Apparently Ryan's truck's steering locked up and he lost control, crossing into oncoming traffic. He tried desperately to regain control, but he was unable to. When he looked up he immediately recognised the car he was coincidentally about to hit as his best friend Doug's.
They smashed into each other at a combined 225 kph (140 mph), utterly destroying both vehicles. The bad news is that neither Ryan nor Doug normally wore his seat belt. The good news is that Ryan, for reasons only known to him, decided to put his on that day. And because of his seat belt, Ryan walked out of my trauma bay with a few scratches and bruises and a demolished truck.
Doug, on the other hand, suffered a subdural haematoma, an open fracture of his femur, a broken spine, and a broken foot. After a month in hospital, two surgeries on his leg, one on his brain, a feeding tube, and a tracheostomy, he finally started to wake up. Over the ensuing two weeks, his mental status improved to the point where he could look at me and give me a thumbs-up when I asked him to, but he was still unable to talk. A few days later I transferred him to a rehabilitation facility that specialises in children.
He is just 17 years old.
There is no telling what kind of permanent neurological dysfunction Doug will have, if any. The brain is a funny organ, and its recovery is highly unpredictable. It can take a year or more to recover, but there is no way to foresee how much will come back. What I do know is that his life (and those of his parents) has been permanently altered because he didn't listen to his mother, who badgered him daily about fastening his seat belt. Ryan, on the other hand, will be left with a few minor scars and a damaged best friend to remind him. I don't suspect he'll need any other reminders.
Seat belts are there for a reason. They don't hurt. They take one second to fasten, less to unfasten. And they save lives. SO PUT IT THE HELL ON GOD DAMN IT YOU IDIOTS. NOW.
And now I'm done repeating myself. For now.