Friday, August 8, 2008

Rubber Side Up

I went for a pleasant recovery spin today – the first time we’ve had anything like sun for many days. I was a little sluggish after some intense intervals yesterday, and a bit bogged down with the complications and worries related to our impending move to the other side of the state (10 days and counting). Still, I was decidedly better for being out and moving.

I rode over to the Minuteman Bike Path, our local rails-to-trails MUP, which is nice enough, especially if you’re not trying to hammer. Unfortunately, on the way back, I came upon the scene of a bike crash.

A woman was lying right in the middle of the path, stretched out on her back with her eyes closed and her limp arms akimbo. A younger woman – who turned out to be the injured woman’s daughter – was wandering around talking in urgent tones into a cell phone. A man in his twenties or thirties had gotten off his bike, and was standing at a slight distance looking concerned and a bit lost. A man in his 60s or 70s was a bit closer; he had contributed a solid plastic ice pack the woman was holding to her forehead and wrist, alternately. At first I thought he was with the two women, but it turned out he’d witnessed the crash that led to this scene and had also stopped to help.

All in all, things were in a fine state of disarray. For all the people there, the woman was nevertheless lying alone across the useable part of the path, while the two men looked on from a small distance. (I want to make clear that I don’t fault the guys; they didn’t know what to do. Anyone who stops and doesn’t actually impede things can eventually become an asset at the scene of an accident.)

I was certified back in January for First Aid, so I figured I’d stop and see if I could help. I have to admit to hesitation about approaching the injured woman, because once I interacted with her, I became at least partly responsible, and this was the first time I’ve used my training. I was unsure how much I would remember, and she looked pretty badly off. Still, approach her I did. At first, she seemed little more than half-conscious, but she aroused herself a bit as I began to talk to her, asking her questions, and answering hers (the ones I could and should). She promised me that she’d suffered no head injury, and I asked enough questions to make sure she wasn’t disoriented. You have to be cautious if someone is laying half out of it, with her eyes half-closed, after a bike crash. It could be shock or fainting… or it could be a concussion or spinal injury.

Eventually, we figured out that the main, and perhaps only, injury was her wrist. I tell you true, folks, her wrist was something to behold. She asked me very quickly not to tell her how it looked (“I faint really easily,” she said.) I don’t blame her; I think she knew. Suffice to say, it looked exactly like the following letter: S. It couldn’t have been more contorted and still have had the hand attached.

I asked her to raise her knees to help blood flow to the head a tad (to decrease the faintness). I checked that the daughter was talking to 911. I had the older man stand in front of the injured woman and direct bikes around us, since the woman felt unable to move, and cyclists in heavy training mode sometimes whip down that narrow path at top speed, thinking they can get around anything at the last moment.

I sent the younger man scrambling up to the top of the overpass just above us to find out what cross-street we were at (no street signs on the path), to help the EMS guys find us. As it turned out, he was up there as the ambulance came in view, so he was able to flag them down and direct them.

A cop arrived first. He was a nice guy, but a bit goofy and ineffectual. Needless to say, the EMS guys were terrific. They were very patient with the woman, who simply did not want to move her injured arm. They continually talked to her; they were honest without being scary; and of course, they knew just what to do. (Even after the woman disclaimed any head injury, one of the paramedics checked her helmet for dents or dings. Smart move – I’ll do that next time. Things happen fast in a crash and she might have hit her head without being aware of it.)

After they managed to get her up on the rolling stretcher, we bystanders quietly shook hands and thanked each other for stopping and helping. Then I mounted up and began rolling toward home.

No more than five seconds later, I heard someone behind me – back towards the EMS guys, who were only about 40 feet away at this point – yell “Heads up!” I glanced back, and a road biker came flying up toward me, yelling all the way. “Don’t slow down! Heads up means move out of the way!” He went by me at about 20 mph.

After having witnessed the scene I’ve just described, I have to admit that the guy left me speechless with anger and bewilderment. I couldn’t believe how callous and stupid (and, by the way, wrong) humans can be. He must have flown by the paramedics and the stretcher, with very little room to spare (they were inside the tunnel under the overpass). It was obvious he hadn't slowed down in the least, and now was looking to fling himself past me without inconveniencing himself. It is this very type of jerk that gives road bikers our well-deserved bad name.

If I’d had any more momentum, I would have caught up with him, and given him an education he wouldn't soon forget (verbal only, folks, no need to re-involve the paramedics here). And by the way, friend: You don’t say “Heads up!” when you’re coming up behind someone. The correct phrase is, “On your left.” “Heads up” means “Look out” – which is just what I did.

From the low (the crash) to the high (the paramedics and helpful bystanders) to the low (Mr. Macho) all in about 20 minutes. Cycling really is a way to see the world.

Keep your heads up and the rubber side down. Enjoy your ride.

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