Let's face it, seat belts are a good idea. This statement is in no way controversial, and all who try to argue against it aren't just "expressing an opinion" or "arguing the other side", they are just plain fucking wrong. Seat belts were designed to keep you safely in the car in the event of a crash rather than getting blasted through a window to land on a fence post, over a guardrail down an embankment, or into oncoming traffic. They are a Very Good Idea that have been implemented spectacularly well all over the world (mostly) (fuck you, New Hampshire).
As simple and effective as they are, I can not believe that there are people living and driving today who still don't put them on, but there are. And because these people exist, I get to take care of them.
And then I get to write about them when they are inevitably injured much more severely than they should have been.
Judy (not her real name™) and her husband Mickey (not his real name™) decided to take a break from their door-to-door Xanax business and take a little drive. Now before I continue, please go back and read that last sentence again. I'll wait right here.
*pleasing hold music, but not the boring twaddle you hear while on hold on the phone*
You're back? Excellent hold music, right? Anyway, I assume you read it back at least twice, because I know I sure did, and I wrote the damned thing. Yes, Judy and Mickey had a little neighbourhood benzodiazepine business. They literally went door to door asking their friends and neighbours if they wanted any pills. Where they got these pills is anyone's guess, but I have to assume business was booming because the police officer who came with them described their stash as a "large grocery bag full".
In case you thought that was stupid, what made it even stupider (yes, that's a word) is that they dipped into their own cache and then mixed the pills with alcohol.
And what made it even stupider is that on their break they decided to go for a little drive while drunk and stoned out of their minds.
And what made it even stupider was then choosing to engage in a street race while stoned out of their minds.
And then what made it the stupidest (yes, that's also actually a word) is that they failed to put on their seat belts.
Ironically I can't even fault them for not putting their seat belts on, because they were both too drunk/stoned to keep their eyes open let alone perform a complex task such as inserting tab A into slot B. How Mickey managed to navigate the controls of a motor vehicle is one of life's great mysteries. Regardless, engage in a street race they did, and I believe it is a safe assumption that they lost. Crashing into a bridge abutment at 120 kph (75 mph) in a 50 kph (30 mph) zone will usually lose you any race fairly instantaneously, unless the objective of the race was to see who dies the fastest (or tries, at least).
And because Judy and Mickey were not wearing their seat belts, both were ejected from the car, far, far away from all the various safety mechanisms that had been designed, extensively tested, and installed specifically to protect them. Mickey was thrown through the windscreen, presumably striking his head and/or neck on the bridge or the ground or a tree or it doesn't really fucking matter what. Judy was partially ejected through the passenger window, bending her lower spine at a rather awkward angle.
Both of them were awake when they arrived in the trauma bay. Neither was moving.
"Hey trauma team, this is Mickey and Judy. He's 50, she's 35. They were in a street race, high speed, struck a bridge. He was ejected, not moving anything below the neck. She was partially ejected, moving her arms but not her legs. Doesn't look good, Doc."
No, no it sure didn't.
Mickey had fractured his sixth cervical vertebra, and a portion of the fractured bone had been pushed into his spinal cord, paralysing him from that point down instantly. He also had a few broken ribs, but those would only pose minor problems (relatively speaking). Judy had fractured her first lumbar vertebra, also injuring her spinal cord at that location. Mickey had no motor or sensory function below his neck, and it was a minor miracle that he was still able to breath on his own, since the nerves that control the diaphragm come from just above that level (C3-5). Judy had no motor or sensory function below her waist in addition to a minor laceration of her spleen.
Both required major spine surgery. Both survived.
I had several opportunities to sit and chat with Judy during her two weeks with me. She was actually a reasonably intelligent woman, polite, appreciative, and apologetic (even though she hadn't been the one driving at the time). Mickey, on the other hand, remained recalcitrant despite his quadriplegia. Despite his horrific and life-changing injury, he was adamant that he had only survived because he had been "thrown clear of the wreck". Judy at least understood that remaining in the car with the seat belts and airbags would have been much less harsh on their bodies than, you know, hitting concrete at 1/10 the speed of sound (yes, really).
She too failed to convince him before she went to a spinal rehabilitation facility.
Mickey had some respiratory complications and ended up needing a tracheostomy. He stayed with me for about a six weeks before going to the same spinal rehab facility, arguing the entire time that he still would never ever wear "that damned belt".
I saw Judy about a month later. She had finished her inpatient rehabilitation and was starting to regain some use of her legs. I saw Mickey about two weeks later, and owing only to the quick response of our neurosurgeon had regained near full use of his arms, though he will remain paralysed from the chest down for the rest of his life. But unfortunately that had only strengthened his bewildering belief that not wearing his seat belt had saved his arms. I again tried to explain that, had he stayed in the car and been buffered by the seat belt and airbag, his injuries would have been significantly less, and he may have literally walked away from the accident, but he only cut me off.
"I'll never wear that damned belt. It would have killed me."
I seldom give up, especially when it comes to something as important and life-saving (and simple) as using a seat belt. But after several attempts and an equal number of rude interruptions, I gave up.
And if you're wondering, I have no idea what happened to their Xanax business. I forgot to ask.