by Robert J. Lanz, LCSW
I was introduced to the ravages of not using seat belts by the prom queen. Not wanting to mess up her corsage on that very special night, she didn’t buckle up. The odds were in her favor. After all, what are the chances of getting into a car crash on one of the biggest nights of your life? Someone is going to win the lottery, but it probably won’t be you. Still, you did buy a ticket; you are in the game, so you never know until it happens. The prom queen knew. She felt it as her perfectly made up face punched through the safety glass windshield. A great invention, safety glass, breaks into thousands of tiny pieces so it won’t cut your face totally off. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that instead of cutting your face off, it performs a cheese grater effect when your face is shoved through it, then it gets you again going the other way when the recoil happens. That’s what happened—the double cheese grater on the prom queen’s face. Bad date that night. We all noticed that the corsage was still perfect.
I know I’m a little overboard with my seat belt stories, my seat belt lectures and my seat belt hopes. But I’m not just blowing Safety 101 smoke up anyone’s butt. This isn’t some academic exercise with me, because I see the results, and I’m the one that has to tell the family about it. I have to tell them about senseless paralysis. Lifetime in a chair. I have to tell them about expensive dental work, the original teeth having been left in the dashboard. I have to tell them about the unsecured babies flying from the back seat with enough force to break mom’s neck before taking their own final journey through the windshield. That would be a journey, thanks to that safety glass again, that has their upper body on the hood and their little legs still kicking around inside the car. Graphic enough? Then you understand why it isn’t an exaggeration when I say I wouldn’t change parking places without snapping my seat belt. Overkill? Sorry, bad choice of words. How about “over the top?” If you think the parking place precautions I carry on about are a stretch, here’s another story.
Maybe he took his seizure meds that morning and had a seizure anyway. Maybe he didn’t take his meds. Maybe he never had a seizure before but he was withdrawing from alcohol or Valium addiction or barbiturate addiction and that was the cause of the seizure. Maybe he had some brain bleed or an obscure metabolic problem that he didn’t even know he had when his body seized up. It doesn’t matter what the cause was. What does matter are the results, and the observation that no one ever seems to have a seizure when his foot is on the brake.
Joe, the school gardener was parked in a school bus zone and it was about the time for dismissal, so he knew he would have to move his van. Even the janitor had to play by the rules. He knew that because he had already been warned twice. I’m sure he didn’t give safety a thought because he was just moving the van fifty yards up the street out of the green zone. He just jumped in the front seat, looked out the window and when he didn’t see any traffic, pulled into the slow lane and headed up the street.
I guess he didn’t see the guy having a seizure in that Cadillac down the block. The seizure, like almost all seizure presentations that happen in cars, occurred with his foot on the accelerator, and the Cadillac closed the hundred-yard gap pretty quickly. Too quickly for Joe the gardener, who was just changing parking places.
The front of the high speed seizure bullet hit the back of the slow speed target that was only changing parking places. It hit so hard that it blew the drivers door open, launching the janitor to the street at just the wrong angle, so that the back wheels of the van, his own back wheels, ran over his head.
He lived long enough to make it down the hill to the trauma center where everyone realized that with a head injury like that, there was no way to save him. We just sat around the room and watched silently as his life slipped away. I’d be the one to have to tell his wife what happened, and I could already hear her response.
“He got killed changing parking places?”
“Yes, he did,” I would have to answer.
So when I yell and scream and harangue and cry and beg and plead about you wearing your seat belt, cut me a little slack. I’ve seen what can happen on a bad day.