Morphine, please: bike wrecks busy medics
July 12, 2006
Christen Boyer had just a few pedal strokes to go from the finish line of her mountain-bike race to the medical tent on Saturday, the day the Aspen, Colo., 17-year-old took second place in her discipline, the junior experts, in the National Mountain Bike Series competitions at Deer Valley Resort.
After her red-ribbon finish, though, Boyer wanted to watch a friend compete. Knowing that she needed to be checked out after a crash that morning during a practice run, Boyer then sought help at the makeshift medical clinic set up at Snow Park, near the end of the racecourse.
"I had to sit on the side of the trail for a couple minutes. I toughed it out and rode the rest of the course," she says at about 4:30 p.m., after being treated at the clinic for what was discovered to be a sprained left wrist and an injury to her left ankle, bruised when she was struck by her bicycle during the wreck.
Boyer and about 50 other bicyclists were treated at the clinic, a mountain-biking MASH unit, during the competitions, seemingly a low number of people given the scores of riders at Deer Valley over the weekend. They were competing in the races or otherwise riding at the resort during the event, popular with professional riders and everyday mountain bikers who crowded into the resort to watch.
The presence of the clinic, organized by the Park City Family Health & Urgent Care Center, a Bonanza Drive healthcare facility that also treats injured skiers at Deer Valley each winter, underscores the dangers of mountain biking, a so-called extreme sport that Parkites love.
The riders scream down narrow trails on their souped-up bicycles, avoiding rocks, roots, branches and tree trunks on their harrowing descent, supposedly made less brutal with high-tech suspension systems meant to give the riders a reprieve from the jarring ride.
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Injuries are commonplace, most of them minor and lots of them not needing attention at the clinic. The sport can be dangerous, though. On July 2, just before the competitors arrived, a 51-year-old Gilbert, Ariz., man died in a mountain-biking accident on an experts-only trail at Deer Valley. Tommy K. Crawford was on the resort’s Thieves Forest trail when he reached a steep drop, lost control and went over the handlebars, the Park City Police Department says. He died at the scene
Then, four days later, Julio Eynard, a 59-year-old from Argentina, was found sitting down on Deer Valley’s Little Stick trail. He did not complain of pain but passed out when he was talking to mountain-bike patrollers. He was brought to a first-aid clinic at Snow Park but was declared dead at the scene. The state medical examiner is investigating Eynard’s death. Eynard was a competitor in the races but was practicing when he fell ill.
"It’s very much up to the individual rider to decide how much risk they want to take on," says Mark Eller, the spokesman for the Boulder, Colo.-based International Mountain Bicycling Association, an advocacy group.
Reliable statistics are not readily available regarding fatalities and mountain biking. Some measures are not appropriate gauges of the safety of the sport because they factor in accidents between bicyclists and cars, for instance, Eller says.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency, reports that, nationally in 2005, it is estimated that mountain bikers visited emergency rooms 9,045 times, down 13.2 percent from the year before.
The statistics are low compared to the numbers compiled by the safety commission regarding people riding regular bicycles. In 2005, an estimated 485,669 visits to the emergency room were tallied by those riders, down from the 524,455 estimated in 2004, according to the safety commission.
Mountain-biking deaths are rare and, after Crawford’s accident, Eller’s group said the death was the first known fatality in 2006 or 2005. Tom Spiegel, the owner of Team Big Bear, the promoter of the National Mountain Bike Series, said after Crawford’s death that mountain biking is a safe sport, with less risk than road biking, when cars and riders compete for space.
"It was just a really rocky section," Boyer, the racer, says, remembering catching her bicycle’s front tire in the moments before her wreck. "With tons of rocks."
‘Hello, I fell down’
At 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, a woman arrives at the clinic with an announcement that most of the people inside could hear: "Hello, I fell down."
She was not one of the day’s more serious cases. The medical crew treated her right arm, put it in a bandage and said she could go. She walked out in 15 minutes, leaving the EMTs and registered nurses who staffed the clinic to treat the other injured bicyclists.
Inside, the clinic is loaded with medicine and outfitted with hospital equipment that mountain bike injuries might require. Three cots and a bed occupy some of the space and the workers scurry from patient to patient.
Stocked with intravenous kits to treat dehydration, morphine for pain, a wheelchair, a defibrillator, a heart-monitoring machine, splints, bandages and, perhaps of greatest need to the riders, Tylenol, ibuprofen and ice packs, the clinic is prepared to treat most of the injuries.
Candice Chaney, an EMT who staffed the clinic, says the people with more serious cases, such as head and neck injuries, broken bones and deep cuts, are sent away in ambulances. The majority of those who arrived, though, she estimates 95 percent, are treated at the site. They are not required to have health insurance for treatment.
"If it’s bad enough, they need stitches, we get them cleaned up and send them to the (regular) clinic," she says, adding that was not the norm. "You fall off your bike, you scrape yourself. Do you need an ambulance?"
The riders who visit the clinic are of assorted ages, both men and women. A little earlier in the day, a woman is taken out in a wheelchair, her right foot in bandages. At the same time, a man is put on the back of a medical cart with the area around his right foot and ankle covered with an ice bag.
"Big for us is at the finish of every race. There’s a rush," Chaney says.
Another woman arrives at the clinic at about 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. From nearby the green mesh blocking the view to the inside, bystanders could hear her agonizing cries. Word circulated that, somehow, a rock became lodged underneath her skin. The medics reportedly removed it while she was at the clinic.
Boyer, the Aspen teen-ager who finished second with a sprained wrist and ankle injury, talks about falling forward on her bicycle when she crashed, allowing the bike to then hit her. She wore a helmet, shin, knee and arm pads and what downhill bikers call ‘body armor,’ which protects the torso, when she crashed.
When she arrived at the clinic, there was one other girl seeking aid. The medics got to Boyer immediately, she says, wrapping the wrist in a bandage and giving her a bag of ice to stop the swelling.
"I know that injuries are inevitable," Boyer says. "And everyone gets one at some point."