By Patricia Wilson
Originally Published in Motorcycle Consumer News, July 2005, Page 31
I have a suggestion for a future article that addresses bike safety. The subject is what bikers casually call "road rash," but which, in fact, is no different from second or third degree burns.
I went down on July 4th, 1999 wearing nearly nothing (very hot day that day and I wasn't going far, uh-huh). I thanked God (and still do) that I have no memory of what happened between the time the front wheel started to go mushy and when I woke up on the pavement. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have this happen this close to University of Michigan's trauma-burn unit. I also remember thinking how lucky I was that I didn't lose any skin on my back or butt: it gave me a way to lay without lying on wounds. I had visions of one of those wheel beds.
I don't remember them doing it, but I had a tube inserted in my chest wall to re-inflate the lung that was punctured by a broken rib. It
seems strange, but I never had the feeling that I was mortally injured--just injured very badly. When they moved me out of emergency,
it was into a trauma-burns unit at University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. Lucky me; they know how to treat burns. Now I do, too, and I think that knowledge should be shared so people have a better understanding of what they are risking when they ride unprotected.
The broken shoulder took about a month to heal. The burns took nearly two years. You get to expand your vocabulary in interesting ways: Eschar, Sividine, Kerlix, debride, and finally, Jobst. You learn that morphine is great, except for when they come in to 'dress' your burns. You learn that the turnover is fairly high among nurses in trauma-burns because they can't handle the screams. You discover that the friendly cotton washcloth is really woven out of barb-wire. You learn that this daily process is going to go on not for days or weeks but for months.
I think the worst thing about the daily dressings (gives a whole new meaning to the daily grind) was the anticipation--knowing that the
agony you were going through was going to happen again tomorrow and the next day and the next... Indeed, it goes on until all of the wounds have completely closed.
Closed, but not healed; for now, you graduate to the Jobst garments, which you learn are worn to help minimize (not eliminate) scarring. Depending on where the wounds are, this can be at least uncomfortable. Remember how hot it was the day I went down? Imagine being wrapped in latex fabric in that kind of weather, twenty-four/seven.
Well, in the end, it works. My scars are visible, but not horrific like burn scars used to be, and I did not require skin grafts. It
wasn't until five years later that I rode again, but that was mental, not physical. I purchased the bike, the helmet, and the summer-weight armored jacket in that order. Speaking of helmets, I examined mine when I got home from the hospital. Had I not been wearing it when I went down, I would have lost a good part of my face to the road.