As the world wakes up to the tragic loss of British and Hollywood actress, Natasha Richardson, we all once again witness another unnecessary loss of a young, unfulfilled life possibly due to the lack of adequate safety measures. An avalanche (no pun intended)of comments have now descended upon the sport of skiing in the face of skiers not wearing the obligatory helmets. Anyone who has skied or been near a piste when enthusiaists whizz past you, can attest to the incredible speeds that can be recorded. Skiing has claimed many lives and it's danger is palpable, although it is clearly a deliciously enjoyable and popular hobby. For some Africans, it may even be considered an indulgent luxury, but I bet that is only the case because unlike most of Northern europe, we don't have the copious amounts of snow that decorate the landscape during the winter season. But let's get back to the tragedy in question and how it relates to everyone's life.
Reports have it that when Natasha Richardson fell on the slopes in Canada, she managed to get up and actually walk away from the incident! Infact, she fell on what ardent skiers call a 'baby slope'. So, how did she twenty-four hours later, become brain dead and finally expire within fourty-eight? Here are the views of two experts in the field of Neurology:
Dr. Carmelo Graffagnino, director of Duke University Medical Center's Neurosciences Critical Care Unit, told CNN; "there is an artery that runs above the skull and can get torn and begin to bleed above the lining of the brain. At that point all the pressure is pushed on the brain, causing it to swell but there is often no room for it to move inside the skull cavity. And as the pressure continues, it reduces blood flow to the brain and a patient would begin to feel the symptoms."
Dr Philip Stieg, chair of neurosurgery at NYP/Weill Cornell added to Dr Graffagnino's comments, "People need to evaluate a person's response after a minor trauma," Stieg recommends checking the size of their pupils and asking questions such as the patient's name.
Now, sit back and reflect on what you have just read. Cast an eye back on the events that have marked your life and ask yourself and those around you; have you ever known anyone who has lost their life after what is considered a minor head incident? I bet there will be one or two memories coming back to haunt us all. The head, a culturally significant body part in African mythology, is easily the most fragile thing that modern science believes a human being possesses.
If this accident and subsequent tragedy had happened for instance in Nigeria, I can put my mortgage on it that we would have been blaming the careless medical personnel of the hospital and the witch that cursed us the night before. The reality of course, is that we like everyone around the world who indulges in any activity that can result in a fatal head accident, should in every situation adhere to the necessary safety measures. In the UK, one watches in amazement, as cyclists zigzag through traffic with nothing but a mop of hair at best, to protect their cranium. On my last visit to Nigeria; I saw unbelted children driven in speeding cars, passengers on 'Okadas' riding with helemets carelessly balanced on their heads like fedoras and baseball caps. In some extreme cases, you even saw people hold the helmet a few inches above their heads!!!
In the end, it is the individual's responsibility to look after one's life and the careless abandon most of us engage when we board cars, climb onto bikes and put on those skis of life, proves one universal and undeniable fact; most human beings easily forget the fragility of life! I will leave you with more words of wisdom from Dr Graffagnino:
"The most important thing to do to lower your risk is to wear a helmet when you can, and don't brush off an injury because you feel 'fine' at first. The brain is like Jell-O. Imagine if you dropped a bowl of Jell-O on the floor and it looks intact at first but when you examine it really close, you can see it has teeny tiny cracks all in it. Well the brain can have these tiny cracks that don't show up on initial CAT scan but will develop into problems down the line."