My Wipeout and Why Helmets Are (Obviously) A Good Idea

img_3208Everything was dark when small bright lights began darting across my field of vision. Almost like stars. I felt detached from my body in an unnatural way. My hands and feet didn’t respond at first, but slowly I regained my sense of motion; the air had the resistance of water. I opened my eyes to a tree of red leaves painted onto an early-morning sky. For a moment I couldn’t place myself. The first thing I realized was that my body didn’t feel good. I had no idea where I was or what had happened, but in a rush I felt my mind rewind, piecing together my memories from the past hour. The next thing I realized was a shooting pain in the back of my head. I instinctively reached my hand back to the source of pain and felt something warm. I brought my hand in front of my eyes and felt my heart drop as I noticed the bright red coating. I thought I was dreaming. I couldn’t stand, so I screamed for help.

Last Wednesday, over Thanksgiving Break, I was working on a college application when I decided to go outside and skateboard—a moment to think and grow inspired. I zipped up my jacket, put on my headphones, turned on Guns N’ Roses’ cover of “Attitude,” and set out on a small path near my house. Once on the straight-away, I pedaled twice, maybe three times, to gain speed. I don’t remember what happened next, but when I woke up I was in a puddle on the ground facing backwards, my board fifteen feet away in the direction from which I’d been traveling. I was alone, so I’m not sure how long I was out for, but amid all the confusion and pain, one other feeling forced its way to the surface of my conscience: regret. I hadn’t worn a helmet.

I still can’t fully make sense of my position after the fall. To land in the way I did, I must have somehow slipped out as I turned inwards, pushing my board back as I flew forward and twisted in midair to avoid a head-first landing. The ground was wet from a shower of rain that morning, but I’ve ridden in worse conditions, so I let my arrogance take over when I decided I’d be alright. I was using a new board and had never tested the wheels in rain before. After a few hours in the ER, I left with a confirmed concussion and a staple in my head. I cringed when I realized that the rest of my body remained unscathed, a painful reminder that my head had taken the whole blow.

Every time I step on my skateboard, my mom tells me to wear a helmet, and every time I elicit one of the reasons from a long list of why I neither need nor want one. Nobody else wears them. I can just jump off if I lose control. They’re too heavy and cumbersome, and I like the way the wind feels in my hair. When I fell, I was just going for a short ride before I headed back inside to write, so a helmet felt particularly unnecessary.

Every time that I’ve fallen before, the wipeouts have been minor enough that I’ve maintained some semblance of control, catching myself with my hands or shielding my head. I convinced myself that I could never lose control to the extent that would require a helmet, but I was wrong. I don’t remember what happened, which speaks to how easy it is to make a mistake that can’t be saved. I’ve heard of the potential injuries, and I know how bad concussions are for the brain, but my better judgement couldn’t trump my aversion to this safety measure. In a way, I was lucky that something worse didn’t happen before this experience, which was apparently the only way I would come to recognize the importance of a helmet. 

It’s been a little past a week since my fall, and I still get dizzy when I turn my head. The headache is persistent, exacerbated by reading, music, and any movement more aerobic than walking. These symptoms should fade in the coming weeks, but it’s not really about the first major concussion. It’s about everything that follows. The next time I hit my head is the time I’ll have something to worry about.

Maybe there’s some allure to the sense of abandon or rebellion that comes with skating without a helmet, but I don’t think that’s the only reason people do it. Around Branson, other high schools, and college campuses, students skateboard everyday without helmets. It feels like the norm, lulling the participants into a false sense of security. I’m sure everyone’s been told at some point about how important it is to wear a helmet when riding, but unfortunately this advice doesn’t always feel relevant until it matters. Wearing a helmet, however, really is less of a burden than the repercussions of a hard fall.