From the groans and squirms from the young audience, it was probably the pulpy, shredded faces of two women that drove the message home.
On the big screen in the lecture hall at Victoria General Hospital, Dr. Rod McFadyen laid out the realities of what happens to a body in a car crash, and the journey that body makes from the crumpled vehicle to the operating room.
Perhaps the more intense portion of the PARTY program, 90 Grade 10 students from Belmont secondary, all who have or are on the verge of getting a learners permit to drive, witnessed the harsh outcomes of making poor choices while behind the wheel.
“I’ve had far too many conversations with people your age with preventable traumatic injuries as a result of bad decision making,” McFadyen, an ER doctor for 30 years, told the teens. “I’ve had lot of conversations with parents breaking the ultimate bad news.”
As Vancouver Island’s primary trauma centre, McFadyen pointed out that if you get in a bad car crash, chances are he would see you in the ER.
He walked the kids through the stats: car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens and young adults in B.C. and that new drivers are five times more likely to be involved in a crash. Faces of past Belmont students who perished in a car crash also flashed on the screen, as did NHL hockey player Dan Snyder, who died after his friend and teammate Dany Heatley crashed his car after speeding.
The doctor noted auto collisions involve three crashes — the vehicle, the body inside the vehicle and internal organs moving through the chest cavity, such as when a chest slams into a steering wheel.
“The idea isn’t to gross you out, but is about making you aware of the consequences of decisions,” McFadyen said. “I ask you, please don’t come see me at work — unless you are a medical trainee.”
The kids had a tour of the trauma ward, including in the operating room, and talks on the graduated licensing program from West Shore RCMP, vehicle extraction from a Langford firefighter, people living with brain injuries. They experienced “drunk” driving in a driving simulator, complete with visual impairment goggles, from Drive Wise driver training.
Belmont student Ashlie Cook, 15, said the PARTY program should make her peers reflect on consequences of choices, as they enter their driving years, although she suspects some will still make bad decisions.
“It might not stop (bad decisions), but people will think about it,” she said. “Seeing pictures of people going through windshields should change how people think.”
Louise Gill, a trauma nurse at VGH and the organizer for the PARTY program (prevent trauma and risk-related trauma in youth), said it’s critical to get teens thinking about making wise choices, and taking “smart risks.”
The volunteer-run PARTY program, at VGH since 2007, traditionally focused on outcomes from drinking and driving, but these days looks at cellphone use as well.
“You are 23 times more likely to get into a crash if you are texting. It’s worse than drinking and driving, which is seven times more likely,” Gill said. “But texting is what teens do.”
Gill pointed out a study released last year shows this kind of intensive seminar hits home with youth. A March 2011 study in the Journal of Trauma showed that youth who attend the PARTY program are less likely to sustain a traumatic injury, especially females.
“The stats show the program is making a difference,” Gill said. “We are seeing fewer and fewer youth come through the trauma centre here.”
Using a smashed car as a prop in the hospital parking lot, Langford assistant fire chief Kerry Zado described the process of extracting injured people. A new volunteer to the program, Zado offered his own advice to the kids on how to get a erratic or drunk friend to stop a vehicle.
“Do not ever get in with a drunk driver. If your friend is not driving responsibly, get out of the car,” he said. “But how do you get out? Hold your mouth and say you are going to puke.”
“I think this is a very worthwhile program,” Zado said later on. “It has shock value. You’ve got to show kids exactly what happens what you might go through if you get in a car with a drunk driver.”