The sad truth: We’re not invincible

Susan Flanagan
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Susan Flanagan makes a hasty retreat after coming face to face with Mr. Elk. — Photo by Marie Snippa

I have done some really stupid things in my time. One glance at this photo of me in Banff will show you just how truly idiotic I have been.

A minute earlier, Mr. Elk had been doing what elk do. He was minding his own business quietly chewing on a few branches. I should have known better than to approach him. But I was young and foolish and my sister was waiting, her trusty Canon AE-1 focused and ready to shoot.

It’s hard to tell how frightened I was by the picture you see here. But when Mr. Elk put down his head and charged, a terror I had not yet experienced gripped me. I reversed direction and ran towards a tree.

Luckily for me, I made it behind the tree before I got skewered. Aside from my frayed nerves, I came out relatively unscathed. The only physical reminders of my stupidity were my bloody palms where I gripped the rough bark trying to get around the trunk as quickly as I could.

I like to think I have learned from my mistakes.

Last fall, for example, when I met a moose eating his supper in the middle of a path on the East Coast Trail near Aquaforte, I did not try to get close enough to shake his hoof. Instead, I turned around and crept back the same way I had come. It was dusk and I was alone, seeking water for my teenage posse back at camp.

I had already come three kilometres to get water and knew the river was only a few hundred metres beyond Mr. Moose. But did I attempt to sneak around his big-horned rack? Oh no, what I learned two decades ago told me not to mess with large members of the deer family. They are much bigger than I am and have much pointier coatracks.

As a parent, I have to remember there’s nothing I can say or do to convince my children that they are not invincible. Like me, they have to learn that lesson on their own.

On June 27, immediately after school let out for the summer, No. 3 — my middle child, one might note — jumped on his bike, helmet safely strapped on head, and set out with three friends who were on skateboards. Once they reached St. Pat’s Ballpark, No. 3 jumped off aforementioned bike and removed aforementioned helmet from his head. He then swapped his bike for a skateboard.

Then, with No. 3 on the skateboard holding a rope attached to the bike post under the seat, the bike friend proceeded to tow skateboard son down the steep decline towards the gravel parking lot next to the ball field. As the skateboard gathered speed, No. 3 considered his exit options. He decided to jump off the board while it was still in motion before it hit the loose gravel. This proved his undoing.

He took three steps and was headed for a face plant when he decided to roll left to avoid breaking his nose. He broke his collarbone instead. The roll was more of a left shoulder/head plant, resulting in the end of the collarbone cracking off. It’s an odd break. Most collarbone injuries are near the neck.

The three friends did everything right. They called me, and then, knowing No. 3 was in great distress, they called an ambulance before I arrived. One friend ran to a house on Carpasian Road and procured a wet facecloth to soak up blood. The facecloth was white when it first made contact with No. 3’s head. It was red by the time I arrived.

I know how much blood can come out of a head. This is not the first time I have witnessed large quantities of blood escaping from No. 3’s. A kind City of St. John’s parks person stayed with the boys until both I and the ambulance got there. A mounted RNC officer even came down to make sure everything was under control.

Once the paramedics cut off

No. 3’s shirt and assessed the damage, it was obvious to them the shoulder or collarbone was broken. They loaded him on a stretcher and into the ambulance and indicated that I should meet them at Emergency at the Health Sciences. Although No. 3 is still 16, trauma apparently merits a trip to the adult Emergency department.

I wasn’t allowed in to see him for the first half hour or so. By the time I talked my way in, No. 3 was in the corridor on his stretcher getting hooked up to a morphine drip. His face and hair and shirt were still covered in blood. X–rays were ordered and examined before attempting to stitch up the gash behind his left ear, however.

I’m writing this five days later.

No. 3 was sent home from emergency with a prescription for a narcotic called Dilaudid. We’re waiting to see an orthopaedic surgeon to tell us what needs to be done to help the bone heal. Right now, however, No. 3 walks very slowly and carefully, with his head cocked on an awkward angle to the left.

But there is a ray of hope in this less than auspicious start to summer break. Today I passed No. 3’s friend leaving my driveway on his long board. He knocked on his helmet in greeting. I was happy to see him wearing it. I’m not sure he would have had it on had he not seen No. 3’s spectacular wipeout. And, of course, a helmet would not have saved No. 3’s collarbone, but it might have prevented the gash behind his left ear.

I take comfort in knowing that at least four teenagers now know they are not invincible.

Susan Flanagan is a journalist whose elk attack was caught on big-old movie camera by a British tourist. She imagines him 20 years later showing the home movie to his grandchildren, asking them if they could ever be so stupid. She can be reached at

Organizations: Canon AE, Health Sciences

Geographic location: Banff, Carpasian Road

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Recent comments

  • JPower
    July 02, 2013 - 11:18

    FYI, acupuncture will help your son heal much quicker. It certainly did when my son broke his around that same age, he found immediate relief. Make sure you see a registered acupuncturist. She is now his first resource for any other injury.

  • carogers
    July 02, 2013 - 09:39

    I so enjoy your writing. I had three very active children all grown now, your articles also bring memories of their growing pains lol