The Second Tragedy

“Pietermaritzburg October 27th – What began as a festive night celebrating the Sharks’ victory over the Blue Bulls on Saturday ended in tragedy after four young people, including two local matric pupils, died in a horror accident on the N3 in the early hours of Sunday morning.
A policeman said the Ford Bantam bakkie, which didn’t have a canopy, was crammed to capacity with people on the back and in front – 12 altogether.
The driver apparently lost control of the vehicle after another vehicle blocked him in the fast lane.
Among the dead is St Charles College head boy Samukele Khumalo. The St Charles’ headmaster described Khumalo’s death as “a tragedy”.”He was the type of young man who would have been a future leader of the country”. He was captain of the rugby team and head of the boarding house.”

Was that tragic? Yes it was. A young life wasted.

But there was another even greater tragedy that night.
The report also states:
“His classmate, Sphamandla Bhengu was admitted to the Pietermaritzburg Medi Clinic. Bhengu is in a “stable and critical” condition with head and neck injuries.”

What does that mean “stable and critical”, “head and neck injuries”?
It could mean paralysis.
It definitely means he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury or TBI for short.
It means that even if his physical injuries heal well, Bhengu’s life as he knew it, has been shattered for ever. His parents and family will discover bit by bit that he is no longer the same person he used to be, and he never will be. The brain doesn’t heal like the rest of the body.

When hearing of a car or bike accident where no one was killed I used to think “thank goodness”. Then I started volunteering at Headway-Gauteng, the association that supports survivors of TBI and their families. Now I know that life after a head injury can sometimes be much worse than death.

In SA there are about 100 000 new head injuries a year – about 80% of these are caused by vehicle accidents. An unconfirmed stat says “for every death on our roads four other people will suffer TBI’s”.

One of the most publicized accidents involving head injury this year was that of Ashley Callie. She suffered severe head injuries. Contrary to what her friends from the Isidingo set said, it is highly unlikely that she would ever have been able to return to work as an actress. Very few people with severe or moderate TBI ever manage to be employed again. Those who do, rarely work in their original positions.

In the case of a vehicle accident most of the damage is to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These areas are used for memory, learning, planning, organizing, and problem-solving as well as controlling emotions and behaviour.

Every injury is different and how each person recovers is unique. But let me paint a picture of some common complaints.
“My son or my wife has a head injury. She used to be such a dynamic, successful person. She still has a great sense of humour but sometimes the jokes are embarrassing and inappropriate.”
“He gets angry very easily and flies into a rage.”
“When he does manage to get a job it doesn’t last long. He’s slow and disorganised and keeps on forgetting what to do. The co workers get irritated with him for repeating the same stories.”
“Now she is at home I expect her to help out but she just sits and watches TV all day.”
“I am scared to let her cook because one day she went off to play with the dog and left the food to burn.”
“He has all sorts of grand ideas but can’t see they are way beyond his capabilities.”
“We have to manage his money because he would give it away to anyone who asked.”
“Where will she stay when I am gone?”

We, as individuals can do very little about the way other drivers drive. What we can control is how we drive and the example we set for our children. We can choose not to drink and drive. We can drive at an appropriate speed for the road conditions. We can wear our seatbelts.
We can also educate our teenagers. Encourage them to make careful choices and resist peer pressure. Khumalo and Bhengu should never have been on the back of that bakkie.
Let us each do our part to reduce the risk of being killed, or possibly worse, seriously injured on the roads.


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