MASTER SGT. CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Joint Force Headquarters, State Safety Office
Minnesota Army National Guard
St. Paul, Minnesota
I take safety seriously. I’m the guy who reminds you to take off your ring, put on hearing protection, wear safety glasses and buckle your seat belt. You never know when something is going to happen and you’ll have wished you had. I’m also serious about off-duty safety. For the past 25 years, I’ve always worn my helmet while biking. The same goes for rollerblading … except that one time.
I’m 50 and in good shape. As a runner, I log many miles, so I decided I needed to switch it up and throw some biking and rollerblading into the picture. One afternoon I was at work, getting ready to go rollerblading for PT. After putting on my blades, wrist guards and water bottle, I reached for my helmet, but it wasn’t in my equipment box. That’s when I remembered I’d left it hanging on my bike handlebars the day before.
I pondered the situation for a moment. I could take off my blades and switch to my running shoes, or I could just cut my planned rollerblading route in half and only do about four or five miles. After all, I was an experienced rollerblader and had never had an accident. I’d been looking forward to rollerblading that day, so I opted to continue with a shortened route. I rationalized my decision by convincing myself that if I didn’t go as far that I would be safer and still get a workout. I made it less than half a mile.
I approached some railroad tracks at a moderate pace and intended to just roll right over them. However, as I crossed the tracks, I tripped where some of the rubber matting was missing. The last thing I remember was spinning around backward. When I came to, I was sitting in my work locker room after taking a shower. I felt bad — really bad. And boy did my head hurt! Dazed, I got dressed and went toward my office.
Luckily, a woman who saw me fall and followed me back to the building informed my co-workers that I’d taken a header backward onto the concrete road. According to her, I walked back to work carrying my rollerblades. I’d venture to guess that she’d stopped to help but I had turned her down.
My co-workers found me and tried to explain what had happened. I couldn’t comprehend what they were saying. All I knew was my head was killing me. It all started to make sense, though, when I pulled up my pants legs and sleeves and saw the scrapes. I also had blood on my hand from holding the back of my head.
My co-workers gave me some first aid for my cuts and ice for my head. I was reluctant to go to the emergency room but did agree to be taken to my clinic in town. I thought, “How bad could it be?” I’d soon find out.
My wife met us at the clinic, and the doctor instructed her to take me straight to the ER. He told her he would call ahead and let them know we were coming. There, I soon discovered how bad it really was.
I spent the next eight days in the hospital with a mild traumatic brain injury, blood and fluid in my ears, a crack at the base of my skull, several stitches to the back of my head, bleeding inside my skull, a jacked-up neck and an extremely sore tailbone. To top it off, I was leaking cerebrospinal fluid out of my nose, which required a lumbar drain for the eight days to get it to stop. Life was not good at this point.
The real shocker came when I told the doctors I had originally wanted my co-workers to just take me home so I could sleep. The doctors said had my co-workers complied, I may not have woken up. That really hit home. When I was finally released, I shuffled out of the hospital using a cane for stability. I soon realized recovery was going to take a while. I wouldn’t return to work part-time for two months and full-time for four months.
I did my recovery at a veteran affairs hospital’s TBI/polytrauma clinic. The staff was great. After more than 35 appointments covering everything from physical and cognitive therapy to a job coach that oversaw my gradual return to work, I graduated from recovery. I was told the fatigue and headaches would continue and given guidelines to follow. I consider myself very lucky. The only residual effects are headaches when I concentrate too long, a minor loss of taste and my loss of smell. It could have been much worse.
During my ordeal, I was amazed how many folks contacted me with stories of people they knew that had experienced brain injuries biking, rollerblading or playing sports. One person told me of an uncle that died rollerblading. It is a lot more common than one would think and affects all of those around us. In my situation,
I’d put myself, wife, family and those around me through quite an ordeal because I made a poor decision. I tell everyone to use me as an example of why to wear a helmet. Some friends have told me their kids aren’t too happy about the new helmet rules until they explain what happened to me. I guess sometimes it’s possible to be a good bad example.
So here’s the moral of my story: I decided to not wear my helmet. I knew I was safer wearing it. I thought one time wouldn’t hurt me. I was wrong. Always wear a helmet and make sure those around you do too. Feel free to use me as an example of what can go wrong by not wearing a helmet just one time.