By Steven DiJoseph
In recent years, amusement parks have become testing grounds for some of the wildest rides ever designed. The ability to construct rides that are faster, higher, and perform gyrations that were once thought to be impossible to achieve have set off a frenzied competition to create the ultimate thrill ride.
The issue raised in one of the conversations in the movie Jurassic Park Ã¢â‚¬â€œ before everything goes horribly wrong Ã¢â‚¬â€œ applies to these rides; finding that you are able to do something does not mean that you should actually do it.
Thus, attractions that appear feasible on the drawing board and that give designers and engineers great satisfaction when they prove to be achievable have not always proven to be great ideas when they are actually built and put into operation.
Many rides designed to excite, astonish, and even terrify people turn out to be mechanically challenged from the day they are completed. While the structure itself can be built, and the ride maneuvered by advanced computer-controlled operating systems, any number of problems have developed once these rides have been completed.
Rain, wind, heat, weight, and mechanical stress that wears out cables and other critical components after only a few rides, have caused some of these attractions to never open or to be closed down repeatedly for repairs, inspections, modifications, and weather conditions.
Seeing terrified people hanging upside down for hours while rescuers attempt to remove them from rides that have gotten stuck has become a familiar sight on the evening news. Riders being killed when they are thrown from rides or caught in moving parts have also given a new meaning to the term death-defying.
Even if these safety issues can be resolved, however, a much more serious problem has now presented itself to those who would continue to design, build, and operate these mechanical marvels. How dangerous are they to people with various health conditions or physical limitations?
The emotional and gravitational stresses created by the new thrill rides far exceed anything ordinary people are used to experiencing. In the past, such trauma has been reserved for extremely healthy individuals in training to be pilots or astronauts who are constantly being monitored by doctors and scientists.
But what of those in the general population with high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, undiagnosed heart defects, brain aneurysms, circulatory problems, pregnancies, and other conditions that can be impacted adversely by the stresses that these rides create?
There is also the added problem that any warnings posted on these rides will be of no use to all of those people who are unaware that they are suffering from one of these medical conditions.
Researchers have found that the enormous gravitational pressures created by these rides forces the blood down into the legs thereby requiring the heart to pump harder to get blood to the brain. When emotional stress is added to the equation the heart and brain are placed under even greater demands.
People suffering from conditions that weaken blood vessels or restrict circulation, such as arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries Ã¢â‚¬â€œ atherosclerosis), alcoholism, prior heart attacks, or undiagnosed aneurysms are therefore exposed to unnecessary added stress at the weakest points of their compromised circulatory system.
Deaths of young people like 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye (2005), who was found to have had an undiagnosed heart condition (enlargement of the heart), and adults like 49-year-old Hiltrud BlÃƒÂ¼mel (this week), who died from bleeding of the brain brought on by Ã¢â‚¬Å“severe, long standing high blood pressure,Ã¢â‚¬Â raise serious questions as to the potential risks the new thrill rides may pose to riders who are suffering from particular underlying medical conditions that are prone to be aggravated by physical or emotional stress.
Both people died after riding Mission: Space at DisneyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Epcot center in Florida. While a definitive link between the ride and the deaths may never be made, medical experts believe there are some precautions people should take with respect to any of these highly stressful rides.
Ã‚Â· People with diagnosed heart disease or prior heart attacks should avoid the rides completely or, at the very least, get an examination and medical opinion before going on such rides.
Ã‚Â· Older people should discuss the matter with their doctor even if they have not been diagnosed with such problems.
Ã‚Â· Anyone over 60 should have a stress test before going on any of these thrill rides.
Ã‚Â· Young children may not be good candidates for such rides since they are emotionally immature and could become overly terrified while on the ride itself, or because they may have serious medical conditions that have yet to be diagnosed.
Ã‚Â· Anyone over 30 should carefully consider whether they really want to put themselves through the combined physical and emotional stress.
Ã‚Â· Pregnant women (or women who suspect they may be pregnant) should never go on these rides or even Ã¢â‚¬Å“milderÃ¢â‚¬Â rides that are still somewhat stressful.
Ã‚Â· Height and age restrictions as well as all other posted warnings should never be ignored.
In the case of thrill rides, the old adage Ã¢â‚¬Å“no chain is stronger than its weakest linkÃ¢â‚¬Â applies with respect to the human body. As one medical expert put it: “The human body is designed to withstand only so much stressÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“a lot of us could have structural weaknesses that we are not aware of.Ã¢â‚¬Â So, if Ã¢â‚¬Å“you put enough stress on it [the body], you could definitely cause some damage.”