Lessons Learned from a Head Injury or What Can I Learn from Busting My Head Open

I was out hiking recently on some abandoned railroad tracks and climbing on the box cars and metalworks and … SMACK!

I hit a beam with my head so hard it made me go blank for a second. I was up on a ladder at the time. I do not even remember coming down. At the bottom I reached up to touch my head and check the injury. I felt my fingers go into the wound. That was when I fell to my knees and the blood started pouring out.

Head injuries bleed a lot anytime, but when you sever an artery, it’s much much worse. My superficial temporal artery was severed on the left side and there was an eight inch opening across the top of my head.

I was with my wife and oldest son. She bandaged it up really quick with the gauze from my IFAK, but it bled through in seconds. Then she took off her shirt, zipped her coat back on, and bandaged it with that.

Then we had to hike out to a road somewhere. It took awhile. It turned out the closest way out was over the tracks, through a muddy field, over several ditches, and climbing over and around two fences. Thankfully I didn’t pass out. My wife isn’t a weakling, but it’s not easy for anyone to carry 230 pounds of pure man.

But we made it.

An ER visit and 17 stitches later I have a really nice scar developing on my melon and a great story to tell. You’ve just read the story, so now let me throw you a few life lessons from a head injury.

  1. Wear a helmet. There are times in life where you should take extra precautions. I should obviously wear a helmet around big metal things. You decide when you need some extra margin in your life.
  2. Pay attention to signs. Pay attention, but do not necessarily obey them. I cannot tell you how many DANGER and NO TRESPASSING signs we passed that day. They did not stop me, but I should pay more attention next time and be better prepared. When people throw you caution flags in life, take note and then go from there.
  3. Make every opportunity a chance to learn something new. At the ER, while she was sewing up my head, the doc brought my son over and showed him all the layers inside my brainbox. He enjoyed it, as he’d never seen the anatomy of the skull other than in scientific illustrations.
  4. Dress appropriately. I always wear dark colors, usually black, because I get into so many activities that either leave me filthy or bloody. Dress the right way for what you’re doing.
  5. Look for the humor. After she saw the pics of my open head, my sister asked if it was too early for Phineas Gage jokes. Always look for humor in any situation.
  6. Go minimalist. So little is needed in trauma events. Outside of definitive care in the ER, all we needed to hike out was a bandage and pressure. Do not complicate things with stuff. It does not always help and sometimes hurts.
  7. Train your team right. My wife is a former paramedic. My 14yo son has multiple certifications in wilderness first aid and CPR. He’s also in good shape and pretty fearless. He never freaked out a bit. We sent him running to scout out a way out.  
  8. Be ready to hike out. Had I not been able to hike out on my own, I would’ve been in serious trouble. Always have a plan B and enough margin to get out and get safe.
  9. Problems makes the most simple things difficult. I have to be really careful about scratching my head, showering, and putting a shirt on, at least until the stitches are out. I have only one hat I can wear that doesn’t touch the stitches. Plan ahead for problems before they occur.
  10. Take care of yourself. At the hospital we talked the doc into giving us a suture removal kit. It makes pulling the stitches out way better than using the tweezers you pick your toes with and a pair of scissors out of the drawer. My wife will do it, and all the kids will probably enjoy watching. Do not always depend on outside resources to help you. Have the gear, team, and training to do it yourself.

And a last bonus lesson, do not ever let something stop you from adventuring! Less than 12 hours after the injury I was on a stage delivering a lecture. Another day later I was back on my workout routine like a beast.

No matter what happens, whether it is a head injury or a business failure, put my tips into action.

Dr. Dave, the guy who looks like an alligator bit his head

PS … If you want to see all the gross pics, check out my Instagram or Facebook feed. I posted all the ones that Facebook would allow to stay on there.

This message was written by a team of geeks, nerds, gamers, and Dr. David Powers. You can always find us at www.callsignredbeard.com. Thanks for reading!

In the words of Starship Troopers, “Would you like to know more?”





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