You may not want to hear this, but ladies and gentlemen, it's about that time again. No, not another insufferable, unreadable vaccine post (though as a fair warning a series of that is coming up soon). Even though I talked about seat belts fairly recently, it's once again time to talk about . . .
Just kidding, just kidding. It's seat belts. Oh be quiet, I can hear you groaning from all the way over here. Yes, I realise I talk about them a lot, and you realise I talk about them a lot, and I realise that you realise that I talk about them a lot, and because I won't shut my damned mouth about them you therefore probably also realise just how important they are. If you do, this post is not for you. Instead this is directed to the people who still think seat belts are either A) not that important, or B) dangerous.
Something else (that ties into this story) that is even more important than seat belts is the police (the men and women who uphold the law, not the British rock band (though they were pretty damned cool too)). I'm sure many people here, especially those who have ever been stopped for speeding, aren't such big fans of these folks. Though I've been stopped a couple of times for speeding myself (though not in the last decade or two), and though I was admittedly righteously pissed off at the time, I only had myself and my stupid heavy foot to blame. I now thoroughly respect the officers who were simply doing their job trying to protect me and the drivers around me. As a trauma surgeon, this respect has only deepened. It turns out that the people they deal with on a daily basis correlate quite nicely with my patient population.
But unfortunately police officers aren't perfect. They are human, and they make mistakes. Just like Colby (not his real name™).
When a group of police officers gathers outside my trauma bay, it can mean only one of two things: A) they are protecting everyone from the asshole they just brought to me, or B) one of their own was just brought in. In Colby's case, it was the latter. He was chasing a suspect at high speed in the rain when he hydroplaned and spun out. This launched his car into the woods where he struck a tree and got knocked out. When he came to, the medics were pulling him from the back seat of his cruiser.
At this point the clever readers are probably wondering, "Hey, how in the hell did he end up in the back seat if he was wearing his seat belt?" Never fear, intrepid reader. I'll get to that.
He arrived looking in not-too-bad shape, but his oxygen saturation was only 90%. For a healthy (and very muscular) 25-year old kid, his oxygen level should have been no less than 98% unless something seriously wrong was seriously wrong. I asked him what hurt, assuming it would be his chest.
"My chest, sir. It's not so bad though, Doc."
Sir. Heh. I have to admit I thoroughly enjoy the "sir" whenever I hear it, which is almost never. Getting "sir" from a patient is like eating filet mignon - something you experience very rarely but enjoy the hell out of it whenever you get the opportunity.
But why was he in the back seat, Doc?
Quiet, you. I'm getting there.
A chest X-ray confirmed my suspicion - a couple of broken ribs, a lung contusion, and a pneumothorax big enough to require a chest tube. Chest tubes are designed to evacuate the air (or fluid) that has accumulated around a punctured lung, allowing it to re-expand fully. Colby wasn't enthralled with the idea of me shoving a tube the size of my thumb into his chest between his ribs, but he tolerated the procedure with hardly a grunt. As soon as it was in, his oxygen level normalised and his shortness of breath disappeared. A follow-up X-ray predictably showed that his lung was now fully inflated (HUZZAH!), so he was admitted and taken up to the trauma ward a short while later.
But Doc . . .
The following day I went to see Colby, and he was doing very well and in rather high spirits. He was a model patient - eager to get up and walk despite the large tube hanging out of his chest and the constant pain in it that stabbed him every time he coughed. I decided this was the right time to get the answer to the question that everyone was asking: how did he end up in the back seat of the car if he was wearing his seat belt?
He gave me a rather abashed glance towards the floor as he gave me his a very simple explanation: he wasn't. His colleague sitting in the chair next to him looked down and shook his head.
As he explained it, none of the officers in his district wears a seat belt. He gave me some vague (read: bullshit) excuse about possibly maybe needing to jump out of the car suddenly and not wanting to risk getting ensnared in the seat belt or some crap. I just gave him the look. The Look. You know, that look you give your kid when she tries to claim she didn't steal that last Oreo when you actually watched her do it five seconds ago. Yeah, that look.
He gave me a sheepish smile and said, "I know, sir. I know. I'm sorry."
I gave him The Look again and asked him if he was going to give himself a ticket. He chuckled as I reminded him that he was the one who needed to make sure that we wear out seat belts, and that in addition to protecting us, he needs to protect himself too. It is his sworn duty to keep us safe, but a large part of that is setting a good example. His colleague started nodding solemnly.
"Yes, sir. If I had been wearing it, I probably wouldn't be here. I mean, I'd be here, I just wouldn't be . . . you know, here . . . in this hospital, here. I probably would've been fine and walked away. I will from now on, sir."
Now that is what I was waiting to hear.