Schumacher Accident: Short Term Thoughts

Monday 30-December-2013 11:24

This is written having just watched the news conference from the hospital in Grenoble.

The French doctors and surgeons treating Michael were noticeably reluctant to give any sense of outcome for their patient and the message was very much 'we have to wait and see'.

If you believe in reading doctors' body language it was not great - either that or they were extremely tired. Certainly having the world's media descend on your hospital is a hindrance not a help to running a top neurological unit. The doctors wouldn't go into any great detail of the case, saving that he had had one operation and they weren't anticipating another. They were going to wait and see how he reacted.

French privacy laws are far more restrictive than other countries, so they may not be able to give out the details that would enable specialists like Gary Hartstein (brilliant feature alongside) to give a remote prognosis.

There will be consequences from the accident, and whatever the outcome, there will be good ones. But some random thoughts to fill the void while we wait for encouraging news.

* If it does one thing, it will help increase the use of helmets among skiers. If Michael Schumacher, a man who has won countless F1 races, sky-dived and raced motorbikes wears one, everyone should. Certainly the doctors in Grenoble had no doubt that without a helmet he would have been killed. Now there should be no machismo about failing to wear a helmet when taking on dangerous runs. This accident will focus attention on ski safety.

* This is the time we really miss Professor Sid Watkins. The former FIA medical delegate was a professor of neurosurgery and had enormous experience of this kind of serious head trauma. It would be so reassuring to have him on hand. That's in no way undermining the care that he is being given, it's just that after a lifetime of dealing with cases like this, having an extra opinion could just help. Sadly the Prof died in 2012.

* As Peter Windsor has already said, the reason men become racing drivers is that they like pushing things to the absolute limit. So a skiing accident is not so surprising for a man whose whole life has been lived at the very edge of adhesion. Peter wrote a feature in 1998 for F1 Racing magazine about the 'Friction Circle' (christened by US race driver Mark Donohue) and why Schumacher was the master of it, because he could take the car to it limits.

* Retired F1 drivers still need that adrenalin kick (no matter what DC says). Some find other forms of motorsport to supply it - Michael tried motorbike racing and enjoyed himself in the Race of Champions. But that need for speed is still there for all of them. Martin Brundle gets his adrenalin rush in the most productive way possible by setting himself loose on a grid walk before each race. For others, there is no such methodone.

* The question arises - will the Malboro 'Vrooom' ski event in Madonna di Camplagia ever go ahead again. It's been cancelled this year for cost reasons, but this might signal the end of an era.

* Such is the degree of safety in modern F1 that Felipe Massa's bizarre bouncing spring impact in Hungary aside - no injury of this severity has been sustained by an F1 driver for many years in conventional F1 accidents - i.e. the race start at the Belgium Grand prix in 2012.

* While trying to remain stubbornly optimistic about the outcome, thoughts immediately turn to actress Natasha Richardson who fell over and banged her head while skiing at Mont Tremblant in Canada. She suffered the injury that Gary Hartstein describes, an epidural hematoma, had a period where she thought she was okay, a 'lucid interval', and refused medical treatment. She went back to her hotel, but started to suffer the brain swelling three hours later, by which time it was too late. The medics on hand in Meribel, who got Michael transferred immediately, made a timely decision. Let us hope it was timely enough.

* One final point, the French to English translator was talking over the top of the French surgeon's remarks at the press conference and described Michael as 'agitated' when he came in. I've seen this reported widely now. That may be so, but I think with the rush to translate that the French word used was probably agiter which means shaken, and that he looked shaken when he came in, not agitated.


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