The parents got our attention by banging on the Ambulance Entrance doors. In their panic they had stopped there and did not read the signs about the walk-in entrance. They were panicking for good reason.
The father had his three-year old daughter in his arms. Her hair was matted with dry and fresh blood, her face was gray, and she was limp. Her eyes were half-open and lifeless.
“Her cousin lost control and ran her over with the 4-wheeler.” This, unfortunately, is an all too common story. We piled into the trauma room- monitors on, IVs going in, stethoscopes on chest, hands feeling all body parts for injuries. Within a minute it was clear that the girl had only a head injury, but a bad one. She was breathing, but unconscious and unresponsive. She had only a few deep cuts on her scalp to account for all the blood- with most head injuries the real problem is much deeper. In a few minutes we would take her to the CT scanner to look at her brain.
The parents clung to each other in a corner of the trauma room, tears streaming down their faces. As we talked about what was happening, the rest of the story came out. The cousin driving the 4-wheeler was twelve years old and had just gotten it for his birthday. His parents thought it was safe because the 4-wheeler was a “kid-sized” one. We bundled the IV pump, portable monitor, and oxygen tank onto the trauma bed and wheeled off to CT.
The CT revealed multiple skull fractures, brain bleeding, and brain swelling. After we finished stabilizing her, off she went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit under the care of the neurosurgeon and pediatric intensive care doctor. I tried to be optimistic with the parents, but that was hard because the true possibilities were not good. The child died two days later.
For generations in Louisiana and other farming states, children and teenagers have had to help out on the farm. It is almost impossible to manage without letting the kids run the farm machines. The invention of the ATV, particularly the 4-wheeler, gave rise to a cheap, easy-to-operate vehicle for farming and hunting. Their affordability, ease-to-drive, and power naturally lead to their use for recreation.
The drawback to 4-wheelers is their instability. They are top-heavy and overpowered. Their drivability lead inexperienced operators (like children, or teenagers with their inherent immature judgement) to lose control. The drivers either roll them over and get injured when the heavy machine rolls on top of them, or the drivers run over playmates.
There is a good reason that we do not routinely let kids younger than sixteen drive cars. The hand-eye coordination to operate heavy, powerful vehicles and the maturity to choose to be safe are not developed yet. The twelve year old in our story above was having fun that he thought was care-free. However, toys should not be gas-powered.
Every once in a while, especially when I see a 4-wheeler snorting along side the road, driven by a kid, often with another kid on back, I think of that morning in the trauma room. I get angry, or sad, as I think of the guilt that the twelve-year old boy and his parents have to live with, or the pain of the girl’s parents.