Teen-agers jolted at Shock-Trauma

October 26, 1990|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

It was the 20-year-old woman who probably had the greatest effect on the seven teen-agers touring the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore.

A picture of the beautiful, smiling young woman lay on the table in her hospital room. But what the teen-agers saw before them was a young woman who may or may not be aware of where she is.

She had been hit by a car, driven by a drunken driver, while changing a tire a few months ago.

"Ninety percent of the patients who come into the Shock-Trauma live," said Carol Michalski, one of the nurses who volunteers to take teen-agers on the tour. "But it's the quality of life."

Once a week, from October to June, small groups of young people, most of them high school students, tour Shock-Trauma to get a firsthand look at the effects of drinking and driving. Most of the teen-agers have been ordered by the courts to attend because of an alcohol-related incident. The visit to Shock-Trauma is part of a five-week adolescent substance-abuse-intervention program run by Baltimore County.

Of 718 participants who completed a one-year follow-up survey last year, 93 percent had no further contact with police after completing the program.

Four of the five weeks are spent in a classroom-type setting talking about the physical and psychological effects of alcohol, as well as laws relating to alcohol usage. But students agree that the tour of Shock-Trauma often cuts deepest.

One 16-year-old youth said he decided on his own to accompany the tour. He said he no longer drinks but is in a rehabilitation program. He is about to get his driver's license, he explained.

Another youth, 17, said he was sent by the court. At the beginning of the two-hour session, which included films and discussions on alcohol and driving, he said he had not been drinking when he was charged with possession of alcohol. Later, the 17-year-old admitted that he had, in fact, been drinking throughout the day right up until the time the car he was driving flipped over four times and into a ditch near St. Joseph Hospital in Towson.

Another 17-year-old also was sent to Shock-Trauma by the court. He said he wasn't drinking but a friend had a can of beer in the car he was driving. However, the 17-year-old said he was the one who received a possession charge. Two and a half months after the incident, the youth said, his parents still won't allow him to go out on weekends.

Before the tour began, students said they expected to see "grotesque" sights and be "scared straight." Nurses maintained they didn't want to frighten the students, but they didn't pull many punches in driving home their point.

"We think we can hit you over the head without really damaging you," said nurse Debbie Yohn, who was a cousin of the 3-year-old Reisterstown boy killed in his back yard last summer when a car driven by a woman who had been drinking plowed into him.

One of the films the teens watched was made by a young man named Steve who killed his best friend in an alcohol-related pTC accident in 1984. As part of his community service, Steve spent 400 hours working at Shock-Trauma.

"I feel as low as a person can feel," Steve said staring out from the television monitor.

As students discussed how they would feel if they had killed their best friend, many said they did not believe such an incident could cause them to be suicidal. But nurse Michalski said most people are suicidal in that situation.

"I can't conceive, even think of that," said one 17-year-old.

Among the victims the youths saw was a 19-year-old man who had been injured during a motorcycle accident. The young man had been drinking and hadn't been wearing a helmet. The students said they were definitely affected by seeing the victims.

Students also had an opportunity to go past the room of a Howard County mother who was struck while riding a bicycle with her 3-year-old daughter on the way to preschool this week. The daughter is fine.

"You've seen real people," Yohn said. "Their lives are not going to be the same."

"Just look at Jennifer Jones," Yohn said of another victim. "She had two chances. She's not going to get a third.

Jones was the 18-year-old Reisterstown woman killed Sunday in an automobile accident with two other people, including the driver who had been drinking. Jones also had been a passenger in the July accident that killed the 3-year-old Reisterstown boy, Ryan Garth Davis Shanahan.

The teen-agers said the tour would have a definite effect on what they do, and what they tell their friends.

After seeing the motorcycle victim, one of the 17-year-olds, who rides dirt bikes, said he never again will ride without a helmet.

"I don't drive and I don't drink," the 16-year-old said. "Now I have to work on getting my friends not to drink."

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