Dale Earnhardt 10 Years Later


NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, taken by offic...

Dale Earnhardt

Ten Daytona 500s ago, we lost Dale Earnhardt.  It was February 18, 2001, and I was on-call as a 4th year surgery resident.  No, Dale did not present to our trauma room that day, since we were over 1100 miles away.  But the accident taught me an important lesson regarding trauma:  looks can be deceiving.

The accident was replayed continuously, and those of us watching in the resident lounge were not very impressed.  It didn’t look like a devastating accident.  Sure, the car hit the wall and slid, but it didn’t seem the same as a full head-on impact.  I was shocked to later learn that The Intimidator was gone.  In retrospect, and in light of the findings that he had suffered a massive and unsurvivable basilar skull fracture, it seems obvious.  When the car hit at around 160 mph, the impact subjected him to giant rotational forces.   On repeated views of the crash, one can picture what happened inside the car upon impact.

In trauma, its amazing how small changes in the mechanism of injury can make a huge difference in severity of the injury.  People sometimes crash cars, fall from great heights, and encounter all sorts of mayhem, walking away with a few scratches, as is apparent from watching any “amazing videos” television program.  But sometimes, seemingly small traumas can have terrible results.  Slipping on ice, falling off stepladders, initially innocuous head injuries, and the like can all prove dangerous or deadly.  Dale Earnhardt and the 2001 Daytona 500 underscored an important lesson in trauma:  looks can be deceiving.

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