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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts

Your Brain Is inside Your Skull. Protect It.

May 2021

Your brain is inside your skull. Protect it.

Wear your helmet.

Please wear your helmet.

I have spent most of my career working in special education, usually with children and adults with learning disabilities, sometimes adults with other and personal issues. I’ve taught five-year-olds, trained adults to work with children with mild and severe special needs, worked with teachers to improve teaching skills so that fewer children end up in special education or below their grade and age levels.  

The saddest situations are those that accidents caused and that could have been avoided. Wear your seatbelt every time you drive. Never ride your bicycle until you have your helmet fastened on your head. Never ride an ATV until you put on and fasten your helmet. Never ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Wear your helmet when you ski steep slopes. In other words, always protect your head when you do outdoor activities that could damage your head.

Wear your helmet.

Why do soldiers wear helmets? To protect their brains. Why should civilians—children and adults—wear helmets? To protect their brains. Why do I see a family riding bikes when the children wear helmets but the adults don’t? Do the grown-ups think they are immune from a bicycle accident?

My husband is a retired nurse. I’m sure he’s assisted in too many brain surgeries that resulted from military wounds, bomb explosions, and other incidents generally called head trauma. The military spends a lot of money training soldiers, Marines, pilots, and other participants. For them it’s not only a cost benefit approach, but also an investment in protecting the people they trained. My husband has also been in civilian surgeries with brain injuries and later worked in rehabilitation. The Rehab Unit sometimes included young adults with permanent brain injuries from bicycle and motorcycle accidents.

As parents we spend a great deal of money helping our children become good, productive adults—$233,610 through high school. Add on more for college. As parents, though, our loss is not monetary if something happens to our child. It is wrenchingly emotional and changes our lives forever. This cost is even steeper than any dollar sign…and it never goes away. Think about that.

Wear your helmet.

Buy a helmet for you and your children and always wear them when riding bikes, motorcycles, snow machines, skiing, and those other risky activities.

Back to the civilians and children. I was a principal of an elementary school and about to refer a new fifth grade student for testing for possible placement in the gifted program. He was bright, knowledgeable, dedicated to school, got along with people, everything a parent, teacher, and principal want to see. One day after school, he rode his bike through the neighborhood. A car hit him. He did not have on a helmet. His mother, a lovely, dignified, divorced woman worked full-time and also had a child in kindergarten. A beautiful family of three. They had been homeless and living out of the car at some point previously, but now it was so obvious that they were on their feet and moving forward. Until that day, that afternoon after school.

I received a call from his mother. The fifth grade boy I cottoned to was in the hospital, in the pediatric intensive care unit, in a coma. My heart broke. They had no relatives in town or nearby. The mother continued to work, 9:00 to 5:00, and went to the hospital every day and perhaps more. Perhaps because of my own past experience of spending a week in a coma, I cottoned to the boy even more now. I went to the hospital and sat by his bed every day after school,. I don’t know whether he had any cognizance of my visits that week, but I felt it was important to support him and his mother, the family.

Suddenly this personable, very bright boy had suffered a traumatic brain injury. He went from someone I was about to refer for gifted testing, to someone I needed to refer to the program for learners in trouble. He had the signs of someone with traumatic brain Injury—cognitive problems in thinking, a temper, need for help in learning. Two years later, I moved out of state. I do not know where he is or how he is, but I know my thoughts still go out to him often.

Wear your helmet.

Another situation occurred a few years earlier. I called my son, a college student. He was frantically running around his house looking for his bicycle helmet. It took him forty-five minutes to find it and I had called in the middle of the search, a very short phone call obviously.

He and his friend left on their distance bike ride. Coming down a hill in south Eugene, they traveled at 41 miles an hour. Behind him his friend had a sudden flat tire, a blowout I suppose. His bike lurched forward and hit my son’s. He had no idea he was about to receive a sharp, fast blow from the rear. He flew off his bike, took out someone’s six-by-six wooden mailbox post with his head, helmet on. His helmet cracked severely. At least it wasn’t his head. He arrived at the hospital by ambulance or car I do not know.

I called his house a few hours later to continue our delayed chat. Someone answered and said he was at the hospital.

“Oh. Who’s he visiting?” or “Why?” I said. She assumed I knew about the accident and I called to check on him. Realizing I had no idea, she filled me in on the details and gave me the ER number.

I called and a nurse eventually gave the phone to him. He knew who I was but had no idea the day, time, month, year, what courses he was enrolled in at the university. He still spoke German, one of his classes, but his train of thought trailed off mid-German and the topic was gone, in English also. He can describe the incident now, but only from the stories others have told him about what happened. He has never had any recollection of the event or of the hours of amnesia afterwards. He now owns his own construction company and does very well.
Without his helmet, I would no longer have a son.

Wear your helmet.

Recently in our small town, we have need for our airport to be paved again. We have a lot of workers from various parts of SE Alaska here. One day, one of them was off duty and riding his ATV down by the airport. As he turned, something happened and he flew off the ATV and hit his head on a vertical concrete culvert waiting for installation. Not wearing a helmet, he died instantly. I cannot say a helmet would have saved his life, but it certainly may have. He had a family who loved him.

Please don’t close the barn door after all the horses have left.

Wear your helmet.

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