Note: The following is an installment from Danielle Baker’s regular column, The Bakery, featured weekly on our sister site, bikemag.com
Image and text by Danielle Baker
I am not one to tell other people how to live their lives. I am usually the supportive friend, the one you go to when you know your life decision is terrible but you want someone to agree with you. Recently, however, I have had to restrain myself from opening my living room window, leaning out in my pajamas with mascara under my eyes and shaking my fist like an old person while yelling at the douchebag riding by without a helmet on. He rides by every morning and I have actually thought about lying in wait and jumping out from behind a parked car to push him off his bike just to prove my point. What’s my point?
Riding without a helmet is a total douche move.
“A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that cyclists who ride without a helmet are three times more likely to die of a head injury than those who wear the protective headwear.” This is what I would be yelling at him if I could ever get my window opened in time.
Two years ago I didn’t have much of an opinion on the subject. I didn’t own or ride a bike between the ages of 8 and 24, when I started again the first bike I bought was a downhill bike. I always wore a helmet when riding; it is just what you did as a mountain biker. Back then it never crossed my mind to judge the people I saw riding in the city without helmets; I just assumed that they were better at life than me, or at least better at riding a bike.
Then a year and a half ago I crashed and forgot who I was for the scariest fifteen minutes of my life. After years of mountain biking and some pretty decent wrecks, it was a shock to wake up on the side of a highway. I had crashed on my road bike. Going about 40 miles an hour I had landed on my head. My last memory was vivid, I had felt my bike lose control and had clearly thought to myself “Fuck, this is going to suck”. That was an accurate prediction. Two hospitals, some X-rays, and a CT Scan later I was diagnosed with a brain bleed, broken collarbone, and broken ribs. My doctor showed me my demolished helmet and explained in no uncertain terms that I would be dead if I hadn’t been wearing it.
I wasn’t dead, this was a plus, but I had a brain bleed. I had no idea what that meant or what the impact was going to be, it sounded terrifying and I was alone in a hospital trying not to panic. Every time I sat up the world would spin and I would vomit. I ran through every terrifying brain injury scenario I had ever heard or seen on TV. Would I know the right words for things? Would I say “fork” and mean “spoon”? Would I say “bunny” and mean “fuck off”?
It is an odd conundrum to be in when the only tool you have to find answers is the tool that is potentially damaged. I would test my long-term memory and become distraught when I couldn’t remember the name of a friend’s pet turtle from grade two. Clearly it meant that there was something very wrong. The brain is complicated and fragile; it is who we are and how we interpret the world.
I like who I am, I like how I interact with the world. I am okay with the fact that my quirky personality causes most people to assume I have already hit my head a few times. Truth be told, I have. There was that time I fell off the ice-cream store roof while trying to change the sign from ‘Scoops!’ to ‘oops!’ and the time I got up on the shoulders of a friend with a bad knee at a small community show and didn’t know how to get down. Facing the idea that your perception of the world, your abilities, and who you are, may be permanently altered is a lot to come to terms with. I was scared. I am not good with change.
For months after my accident I had to prepare myself before I stood up and every time I lay down I had the bed spins of a teenage alcoholic. I couldn’t ride my bike and my world felt different. I was injured and it slowed me down.
All of my friends were so nice to me that I started to wonder if I did have a brain injury. People I barely knew would hug me and tell me that they were so happy that I was okay. I felt like I would get a round of applause just for tying my shoelaces. I wondered if people were just being polite, like when someone doesn’t tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth or that you are drooling. It freaked me the fuck out. Still, now whenever I have to reach for a name or I forget plans, part of me wonders if it’s because I hit my head.
My accident had a ripple effect through my friends and family. My parents refused to ride their bikes until they bought helmets and went so far as to implement mandatory helmet wearing amongst their group of cruiser-riding friends. Peer pressure in your sixties is a real thing. My grandma, out for an afternoon stroll, reduced a helmetless bike rider to tears by telling her about what had happened to me and what could happen to her. My grandma has probably sold more helmets than you your local bike shop sales associate this year.
Friends who have had multiple concussions took to telling me about their experiences; their mood swings and irritability that had resulted from the damage they had sustained. These intense interactions were a little frightening to someone who wasn’t sure what the end result of their injury was yet. For the last year I have been fairly certain that my accident has had no lasting effect, but now I wonder if it has. Is it possible that my brain bleed has caused selective turrets that is only present when helmetless fucktards ride by?
The crash that almost ended my life was caused by an impact with pavement. Why is it then that I have seen three more commuters ride by without helmets on while writing this? It is shocking to me that anyone would ride without a helmet; death is one thing, but becoming a drooling burden on your family when you could have taken a step to prevent it is deplorable. Brain injuries are a real thing that can happen whether you are wearing a helmet or not, but I am much more sympathetic to a friend crying over a pregnancy scare if there was a condom somehow involved.
Wear a fucking helmet, you fucktard.