Beware the dumb stuff

Editorial Notebook

December 30, 2006

Word this week that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger broke his leg skiing set inquiring minds to wonder: How could that happen?

The man is an expert skier, a movie star athlete, an Austrian, for heaven's sake.

Turns out the Terminator got a ski pole caught in one of his skis as he was waiting to make a final run. So when he took off, he just tripped and fell over. Ouch!

Ain't it just always the dumb stuff that gets you? The odd step off a curb, the slip on the ice, the horse that runs easily over hill and muddy dale only to dump her rider in a frantic bid to escape an odd-shaped hay bale.

Cable television viewers, glued 24-7 to the latest reports on grim searches over snowy, forbidding mountaintops for missing hikers, can't help but muse: Why do people put themselves at such risk? They do this for fun?

And yet, while extreme adventures certainly have their dangers, the risk of dying in a cave-in or avalanche is far lower than for choking on food that goes down the wrong pipe. Remember President Bush and that attack pretzel?

Life is risk, and often on a very mundane scale.

Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal, unintentional injuries for every age group, except those ages 15 to 24, who tend to get hit by things, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often, even fatal falls are simply a matter of tripping, slipping or stumbling on a flat surface.

Danger also frequently lurks in insect stings, dog bites and simple overexertion - the second-biggest cause of injury for those between 25 and 54.

Meanwhile, the National Safety Council reports the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are higher for pedestrians than for motorcycle riders - though the latter always look so vulnerable on a highway.

A fatal lightning strike is more likely than succumbing to a flood, earthquake or cataclysmic storm. But there is also a small chance that your pajamas could suddenly catch fire next year and send you up in smoke - about 1 in 97 million, but it happens.

The challenge is to manage risk like a successful stockbroker. Don't wear those flammable pajamas while setting off a fireworks display, but don't huddle in a safe little corner either. No risk, no reward, the stockbroker would say.

Let's admit it: There's a rush that comes from swooshing down those mountains, leaping out of airplanes (as Mr. Bush's father does), and galloping that pony over a jump. Adrenalin magically materializes to heighten the senses and give the experience a more vivid hue.

Would crocodile hunter Steve Irwin have directed his career on a different course if he had known he would die at 44 in an encounter with a stingray? Probably. But people in the midst of such adventure don't think about dying; they are too busy living. That's the whole point.

Active people do have a tendency to get banged up a lot. Former President Gerald R. Ford's famous pratfalls are back in the news during this period of mourning for him. President Bush falls off his mountain bike. Al Gore tore his Achilles tendon playing basketball when he was vice president. Governor Schwarzenegger made an earlier trip to the hospital this year to get his lip stitched up after riding his motorcycle into a car.

Pins, plates and screws holding broken limbs in place are practically a fashion accessory for the aging athlete.

But there could be poisonous spiders in those seemingly safe little corners. And folks die regularly just falling out of bed. It's the mundane things that in the end are more likely to hurt most of us.

The trick is to keep moving at a sort of sensible pace while keeping your wits about you. And avoid the dumb stuff. The only thing dumber for a ski lover than getting his pole stuck in his skis is not to be skiing at all.

- Karen Hosler

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