Saturday, November 03, 2007

Perils of Biking

Two incidents in the past month involving have reminded me just how unprepared America is to move forward as a society responsible for its health and environment. One of my friends has been carping on this issue for a while, and for once, I will join his refrain.

The bicycle is increasingly considered a legitimate mode of commuting; many employers provide showers and secure lockers for staff. As the environmental, health and cost benefits of biking are realized by more individuals, there is more contact between bicyclists and automobile commuters. This fact rears its head in some ugly ways. The first is that case of a Seattle commuter who was shot with BBs at point blank range this past week. He blogged about this and his situation described in a local paper. The thing was that he kept riding with a pneumothorax, got home, and told his wife in private so as not to concern his kids! One of the BBs lodged near his aorta, but he is okay and will be able to bike again soon. My other example doesn't have such a happy ending (yet).

When I first started working in the Murry lab (where I completed my dissertation work), I was drawn to certain of the experimental techniques used there - namely murine cardiac surgery. That a mouse heart the size of Roosevelt's head on a dime could be used to approximate human heart function was amazing to me, and that we could surgically induce heart attack was unbelievable. I learned how to do heart surgery from the skilled hands of Jitka Virag. Now an assistant professor at East Carolina University, Jitka was a post-doc in the Murry lab. When she left, I inherited her desktop computer, through which all of my science was done. On October 19, while bicycling home from work, she was struck by a motorist who was traveling as fast as 50 mph. Her helmet may have protected her head, but it could not prevent a T4-5 spinal cord transection. She has been recovering in the hospital since then. A community of support has formed around her, reaching across the country and around the world. Some of the updates on the blog her husband keeps are in Hungarian for family members over there to keep up with the news. I am thankful that she is alive, but hope she can come off the ventilator soon.

Incidents like these make it hard for me to oppose groups like Critical Mass. Some of their tactics are belligerent, but they are not as belligerent as BBs shot at point blank. Their behavior may be irresponsible, but not as irresponsible as clipping a bicyclist at full speed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my bicycle-commuting days, I had, in separate incidents, an egg and a beer can thrown at me. At least the beer can was empty.

Alas, they make handy clips for water bottles, tire pumps and other bicycle accessories, but there's no handy way to keep your pistol holstered on your road-bike frame.