After a head-first plunge, doctor knows helmets work

May 21, 1991|By Dr. Lawrence Block

Dr. Lawrence Block, a local podiatrist, fitness enthusiast and member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Academy of Podiatric and Sports Medicine, offers this cautionary tale about wearing a helmet while bicycling.

IT WAS A Thursday morning that just beckoned you to be outdoors, to breathe the fresh spring air and to see the wonders of nature.

I rolled out my 10-speed and chose a 25-mile course that took me from my home in Ruxton through the neighborhoods that line Charles Street, down to the Inner Harbor and back. It was a route I had taken many times before, but this ride would be an especially meaningful and memorable one.

Cycling and running have always provided a natural high for me -- a time to forget the daily rigors of medical practice. No paperwork to do, no phones to answer.

My mind wandered, as it always does when I ride, thinking of what was in store for me that day. I daydreamed amid the serenity of the homes and gardens of Guilford and Homeland all the way to the busy downtown streets near the Inner Harbor. Physical effort somehow was diminished by all of this, and it seemed so worthwhile.

I knew my goal was close at hand when I began to smell those now-lost aromas of fragrant spices that used to emanate from the production lines of the McCormick Spice Co. I guess my mind was wandering too much, as I proceeded down Light Street, just south of Pratt, preparing to make the turn for home. Unfortunately, I failed to make a wide enough turn to avoid a line of railroad track, a steel remnant of Baltimore's past that runs along Light Street.

In an instant, the front tire of my bike lodged in the groove of the tracks. The bike continued south on Light Street as I proceeded, airborne, in an easterly direction, toward the harbor.

I remember landing on the unforgiving street and, though dazed, realized I had injured my left shoulder. I picked myself up, one-armed, and removed my helmet. It was only then I realized I had banged my head when I fell. The dent and scratch marks on the helmet told me I had taken quite a nasty tumble.

I managed to walk to a police kiosk at Harborplace, where my wife picked me up and took me to the hospital. It's a sobering moment when the doctor is transformed into the patient. I felt foolish but grateful that I had worn my helmet; without it, my injuries would have been a lot more severe. It took time for my aching clavicle, or collar bone, to heal. For a year I was able to predict rain better than Bob Turk.

It also took a year for me to get back to riding my 10-speed again, helmet strapped in place.

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