Seven Things EMTs Wish You Knew about Bike Crashes
BY SELENE YEAGER MAY 26, 2016
No matter how good a rider you are, accidents happen—and quickly. But with a little knowledge and a few precautions, you can keep a bad situation from getting worse, says Greg Martin, an engineer firefighter and advanced EMT who provides emergency medical assistance and performs backcountry rescues in Ketchum, Idaho.
“Cyclists get used to riding all day and things being fine," he says. "It’s easy to forget sometimes that we’re traveling pretty fast and pretty far and a little mishap can end up being a big problem. A little knowledge and precaution goes a long way in keeping you safe in the event of an accident.”
Here's what Martin says you can do to minimize the damage in the event of a bike crash—and maybe even save your life.
Take Care of Your Head
“Head injuries are always a cause for concern,” says Martin. “You hear about it in skiing, but it can also happen in cycling. Someone falls and hits their head and they shake it off. Then later they don’t feel well and it turns out they have bleeding on the brain. That can kill you. You always need to take an impact to the head seriously.”
In short, call 911 if you or another rider has:
- A cracked helmet. That means you’ve hit your head hard.
- A headache. Not just sore from the initial impact, but you have a headache that isn’t abating or is worsening.
- Lost consciousness. If you pass out, you need to get checked out.
- Confusion. If you don’t know who the president is or why you’re sitting on the side of the road, you need to get checked out.
- Vision changes. If the world doesn’t appear clear and normal, you need medical assistance.
Take a Deep Breath
Difficulty breathing is always an emergency situation. “Too often people crash and think they’ve cracked a rib, but figure ‘Why go to the hospital? They can’t do anything about it,’” says Martin. “But you need to go because those cracked ribs can have sharp edges and if it’s an unstable fracture and it shifts, you can puncture a lung.” If it hurts to take a deep breath, get to the ER.
Give Yourself a Gut Check
There’s a lot of vulnerable soft tissue and plenty of vital organs in your belly that can be damaged by impact with a handlebar. Take your hands and palpate your abdominal area. If you have an area that is more tender than others, you could have internal damage. If your belly becomes distended or firm, that’s a sign that you could have internal bleeding and need medical assistance stat.
Stop the Bleeding
Unless you’re a trained professional, forget what you’ve seen in the movies about fashioning a tourniquet around a limb to stop the bleeding. You risk doing more damage than good. The best way to deal with bleeding is basic first aid—direct pressure (preferably with something clean) on the wound. Keep it there till help arrives.
Be Smart About Your Spine
Neck and back injuries are scary. You can generally tell if you’re okay by checking your fingers and toes. Obviously, you want to be able to feel your fingers and toes, but if you have any numbness and/or tingling, that’s not good. You could have spinal injury. Also try slowly turning your head 45 degrees to the left and right. If you feel discomfort, stop. That’s also a sign of spinal injury. Get to the ER.
Make Your Personal Info Accessible
Whether you use Road ID, dog tags, or place ICE ('in case of emergency') information in your cell phone, having your personal information available for emergency workers can definitely save your life, says Martin. “We need to know your medications and your allergies," he says. "There are a lot of medications we can’t give you if you’re allergic to them… and we won’t give them if we don’t know.” New iPhones come with a Health app that provides a place for you to fill in all your medical information. Emergency personnel can access this information without unlocking your phone. “We know to look for it if you’re out there by yourself, unconscious, after a crash,” says Martin.
Leave a Note, or a Text
Riding alone? Take two seconds to leave a note or shoot a text to a loved one or buddy. “We’re all guilty of this,” says Martin. “We go out for a quick ride and nobody knows where we’re going. Even if you’re just 10 miles away, you might as well be 100 miles away if no one knows where you are.” The more remote of a place you ride, the more important this is.