Most of my friends and colleagues know that I like to stay in shape by cycling. My colleague, David, always says, “Steve, make sure you protect your head, we need that part of you.” So, I always wear a helmet.
This past Thursday my helmet almost killed me, but then saved me.
The Accident. I was nearing the final stage of a great bike ride behind our Lake House in Lempster, New Hampshire. I was feeling great and had kept my pulse rate within the correct parameters for my age. I was starting down a hill and took my left hand off the handlebar, so I could check my time and pulse on my Apple watch. About two seconds later, without warning, I blacked-out.
The next thing I remember is moving my bicycle to a small clearing to get it off the road. While I do not remember the accident or even getting myself up off the road, it is clear I crashed on the road, hit my head, incurred eight bad cuts, bruises, and abrasions, and fortunately broke nothing (most likely because my body was completely relaxed when I hit the ground.)
Immediate Follow-up. As my head slowly cleared I looked unsuccessfully for my cellphone to call Patti, my wife, who was at a Lake Host meeting at a neighboring pond. Because my Apple watch was smashed I could not use its phone locator either. I then hiked about a mile back to the house and rested. Eventually I went and got my bike, Patti and I connected and went and located my cell phone, and we washed my wounds.
I did not go to Urgent Care or the Emergency room because I was basically alright, although I could tell I had a mild concussion, which I had had before. My heart rate was normal before and after the accident. But, of course, I wanted to know why I blacked-out. So later that day we returned to our home in Exeter, NH so I could go see my primary care doctor on Friday.
Black-outs. We knew black-outs could be caused my many things like low blood sugar, low blood pressure, seizures, and atrial fibrillation or A-Fibs. I did not think it was from low blood pressure or low blood sugar because those black-outs usually follow a short period of dizziness, which I did not have in this case. I was worried about A-Fib, though, because my cousin had a car accident a few years ago from this.
Doctor’s Report – Mystery Likely Solved. Following a full exam and electrocardiogram my doctor told me I was in excellent health and had a mild concussion. He then asked me, “how tight was your bike helmet?” I said, “Funny you ask that because I just tightened it after reading about the importance of having a tight-fitting helmet.”
He then said, “Because you had a slightly raised heart rate I think when you turned your head to look at your watch you pressed the tight helmet strap against your carotid artery in your neck, which in just a few seconds made you black-out.”
(You may know the carotid artery is the artery in our necks we often use to check our pulse. I included a picture of my helmet and the poorly adjusted strap, so you can see how tight it was and how it sits right over the artery.)
This was a great relief and reminded me of how in some military and police trainings they teach trainees how to get opponents into neck choke positions that cause black-outs.
In many ways I am very lucky because if this had happened on a busy road or too near a tree or other barrier, the results could have been very serious, even fatal. I do not normally write personal articles about myself, but thought this story might be helpful to you or others. Make sure you can easily get your fingers between the strap and your neck.
I must go now, loosen-up the helmet strap, and get on my bike – many more hills to climb.