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A Piece of My Mind |

Driving Thoughts

Robert E. Johnstone, MD
JAMA. 2009;302(11):1154. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1164.
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Halfway between my home and the hospital, where Interstate 68 intersects Cheat Road, I start thinking about life and health care, not every time, but often. Crosses planted beside three of the interstate access ramps, clearly visible from the roadways, trigger the thoughts. I know some details about two of the motor vehicle crashes and deaths that the crosses memorialize, and occasionally learn and understand more.

Late on a Saturday morning 12 years ago, while returning home from the hospital, I spotted something a quarter mile ahead, at the I-68 intersection. Moments later I found a car stopped, a motorcycle on its side, and a boy lying face down and motionless on the shoulder. I pulled over and ran to help, asking an elderly man standing there, “What happened?” Hearing no response I shouted, “Call 911!” and knelt beside the boy, noting blood on the gravel beside his head. Others arrived and watched as I carefully rolled the boy on his back. I found massive skull fractures and no breathing or carotid pulse and knew the injury was not survivable. I prayed quietly, waited until the emergency responders arrived, and announced, “I’m a physician. This boy is dead.” They agreed. I continued home, told my wife, changed my blood-spotted shirt, and cut the grass, not knowing what else to do.

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