A Cautionary Tale: Wear a Bike Helmet

Jane McCarthy, a Marion resident, spent the evening of her 25th wedding anniversary in the emergency room after falling off of her bicycle on Converse Road in June. McCarthy was The Wanderer’s 2012 Keel Award winner for Marion for her years of service to the town.

“We had dinner as a family and were going to have dessert at home,” McCarthy recalled, “and I decided to do a quick, short bike ride of about three miles up to Route 6 and back home, something I do often, just to get some fresh air and exercise.”

She remembered later that the last thing her husband said to her was, “Don’t forget your helmet.” She did not wear the helmet.

After going only three or four houses away, she spotted a neighbor and braked to chat.

“I put on the brake with my left hand and stopped so suddenly that I went over the handlebars, landed on my chin and chest, partially broke my fall with my wrist, rolled over and hit the back of my head and lay there in the road,” McCarthy said.

For the first 24 hours, she couldn’t find the words to talk. When asked questions by her family and doctors at the emergency room, she said she couldn’t formulate the words to reply.

“In the ER, they asked me to sign a form, and I was given a pen, but didn’t know what to do with it,” McCarthy said. “And I wasn’t even unconscious after I fell, but the head injury was so debilitating and I was paralyzed mentally.”

McCarthy’s story has a happy ending. She recovered from her fall, but still has lingering pain in her wrist.

“I still can’t hold a coffee cup,” she says. She described weeks of being in a bad mood, feeling angry and showing impatience with others; she was just not her usual happy self. “It took a good three and a half weeks before the cloud lifted and I felt like myself again.”

Over the July 4 weekend, McCarthy said she took notice of the many bicyclists that passed by her home.

“I’d estimate that less than 50 percent of them were wearing helmets,” she said. “I felt like running out and telling them all to go get their helmets.”

The Massachusetts state law requires children under the age of 12 to wear a helmet, but local police find it very difficult to enforce.

“We hold two bike safety training sessions at Center School, the first at the beginning of the school year when children want to bike to school,” said Mary Lyons, Chief of Police in Mattapoisett.

When asked if police will stop a child without a helmet and ask them about it, Lyons said that it becomes a liability issue.

“If you send the child in a different direction, back home as opposed to where they were going, and something happens along the way, there would be legal issues involved,” she explained. “It’s tricky and ultimately up to the parents to make sure their children are safe and wearing their helmets.”

“I didn’t wear my helmet because I thought that, well, I’m only going three miles and at a leisurely pace on a street with little to no traffic, and I’m safe,” McCarthy said. “We think we’re invincible and it isn’t going to happen to us, but it does.”

McCarthy wanted to give advice to those reading this article: “Please wear your helmet and have your children wear their helmets, so that what happened to me won’t happen to you or a loved one.”

By Joan Hartnett-Barry

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