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Handling the Unexpected: Being a First Responder to a Motorcycle Crash

Updated: Jul 10

Independence Pass is a beautiful, summertime-only drive connecting the towns of Aspen and Leadville, Colorado. It is a great alternative to the grind of I-70, but the turns are tight, potholes need to be avoided, and the route could use a few more guardrails to reduce some driver (and passenger) anxiety. Each summer, there is no shortage of car accidents on this 32-mile stretch of road; I just didn't think my husband and I would witness the immediate aftermath of one.

At the top of Independence Pass

I was 15 when I took my first CPR and First Aid classes for a summer lifeguarding job. Since then, I have retaken both courses biannually and added to my basic medical knowledge through volunteering in hospital settings in high school and undergrad, plus experiencing a variety of settings in physical therapy school. Although I work as a healthcare provider and by default have some medical knowledge, I am certainly not anyone's first choice for an emergency responder.

Unfortunately, I was a first responder on a Sunday afternoon last month. After a weekend in Aspen, my husband and I decided to take the scenic way home over Independence Pass. We hit the summit, which is also part of the Continental Divide, and were on our way to Leadville when my husband and I were the second car to arrive on the scene of a motorcycle accident. On arrival, the gentleman was bleeding from his head, was lying in an awkward side-lying position in gravel, and actively having a seizure. The motorcycle was on its side at the end of a large skid mark, his wallet and hat were scattered, and no helmet was in sight. The next few minutes were a blur with the seizures being replaced by painful groans, more bystanders arriving to help, and some chaotic discussions related to the ambulance being 40+ minutes away. Luckily for the injured gentleman, three people with far more medical experience than me took over and established his vitals, did a full body scan for broken bones and injuries, and calmed him down. At one point, he lost consciousness, which led to another few moments of chaos. He quickly stabilized and even communicated the words "I'm sorry" to those around him. After what felt like an eternity, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over care.

It's easy to reflect on things in hindsight, but reflection can also serve as a learning experience for everyone involved. Out of a dozen cars that stopped, my car was the only one with a first-aid kit. Although the $20 of supplies didn't affect a life-or-death outcome, it did allow for a sterile way to stop the bleeding from his head and a measure of safety (gloves) for the first responders. We also had multiple blankets in the car which helped improve the head and neck positioning while lying on the side of the road. As things were unfolding, there were a lot of discussions about the gentleman, but no one was talking directly to him. It was evident that he was in distress and maybe didn't know where he was or what had happened. After my husband located his wallet, we found out his name, which allowed me to talk directly to him, tell him what happened, and make sure he knew that people were there to help him.

My most important point of reflection is for the injured gentleman himself; he was not wearing a helmet. In Colorado, there is no law requiring a motorcyclist to wear a helmet, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't. I am very confident that this gentleman would have been able to walk away from this accident with some scrapes and bruises if he had been wearing a helmet. Instead, he likely suffered a brain injury that may take months or even years to recover from.

Coincidentally, I had coffee the morning of this accident in Aspen with my husband and one of my patients. There were many topics of conversation, including motorcycle crashes. Both my husband and patient had been injured in their own motorcycle accidents, which involved injuries bad enough to warrant transport to the hospital via a helicopter. Luckily, they were both wearing helmets and no significant brain injuries occurred. Their broken bones, road rash, and bruises healed, and both are back to biking, hiking, and skiing.

Not all accidents can be avoided. But some precautions can be taken to reduce the severity of injury; wearing a helmet is one of the cheapest and simplest ways to do this. Read more about helmet technology on a previous blog. Also, you can easily improve your response and helpfulness by being prepared. I recommend carrying a basic First-Aid kit in your car and on all outdoor adventures.

If you have been injured in accident and need help with your recovery, schedule an apppintment today. In-person visits in Denver, CO and online visits available.

Jessica Klain Physical Therapist Denver CO

Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT

Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)

Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)

Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)

Certified Vestibular Specialist

Certified Concussion Specialist

Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2

Certified Yoga Teacher

University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)

The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)

Call/text: 720-295-0060


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