Having fallen off a cliff and suffered a skull fracture that nearly killed me when I was just six made me aware at a tender age of how quickly accidents can happen, and when I became a mother I spent endless time researching everything from high chairs to car seats to bicycle helmets, to find the safest ones for my kids. We never made a trip without everyone buckling up, and if we were taking a friend who refused to buckle up or who unbuckled while I was driving, well, pulling over to the side of the road and turning off the air conditioning and sitting there, silently, in the Texas heat soon persuaded the rebel to buckle up again. And everyone wore bicycle helmets, including all my little cub scouts when I was a den mother.
But accidents happen, and one afternoon when he was 12, Mike, who was riding through a grocery store parking lot with Chris and a friend, hit a divet that sent him over the handlebars of his bike. He was wearing a properly fitted, approved helmet. He wasn’t going fast, but he landed head first, hitting the curb, and he hit it so hard that he cracked his helmet and knocked himself out. A doctor who’d stopped to pick up a loaf of bread saw the accident, and almost before Chris and Ben could react he was on his cellphone calling an ambulance, and then, having gotten my number from Chris, called me to tell me what had happened. The grocery store is five minutes from my house, and I arrived just as the ambulance arrived. Mike was still out cold. When he came to, in the hospital, he didn’t know me. After numerous tests, we spent a harrowing night in the hospital, with Mike sleeping fitfully and drifting in and out of reality. Much of the time he didn’t know me, and he certainly didn’t know where he was or why he was there. But by the next day he was better, and the next afternoon he was released.
For several weeks he had some difficulties with speech, specifically, I noticed some projective aphasia (a speech impairment where one can't produce the right word). I remember one night I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and he said, “A firetruck!” with no idea that what he’d said didn’t give me a clue as to what he wanted. But Mike was incredibly lucky. In time, everything healed and there were no long term effects.
No one knows whether a helmet would have saved Natasha Richardson, of course. But it certainly wouldn’t have hurt her. By all accounts, she was a wonderful person as well as a wonderful actress. What a loss.