Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reflection (or, how the Vietnam War saved my leg)

As Sonny and Cher used to sing, "the beat goes on..."

If you need to refresh your memory, go to the archives and search out November 14, 2007. This is where I tried to explain Jimmy Hay's death and what he meant to me.

But, in spending the two plus hours cutting the lawn on Thursday, for some reason I was thinking of those days. So, I will continue with the story (or as much as I can, as the future does go on).

So, if you remember, I am laying on an ant hill, with Jimmy pressing down, incredibly hard, on my leaking artery. B___'s call for help came through and the Richmond EMS unit showed up. We were way too "off the road" for them to drive in, so they sent in a Jeep and a stretcher. They relieved Jimmy with some sort of a blow up leg immobilizer that they slipped on and inflated, put me on the stretcher, put the stretcher on the Jeep and, with two guys steadying me, slowly drove to the road.

Once in the ambulance, they hit the siren and headed for Mount Clemens. I couldn't care less as they also hit me with a couple of shots of morphine. Now I have had both legal and illegal drugs in my time, but, I gotta tell you, morphine is the best. You are laying there and thinking, "I am going to die? Cool..."

We get to St. Joe's and they unload me. Once inside the Emergency room came the most traumatic event of the episode: They cut off my pants with scissors! Now, today, they are quite common, but back then, they were quite unique. I had six pocket pants, each with a brass button, so you could go riding and NOTHING would fall out of your pants. And, they cut them off with a pair of scissors!!! I begged them not to, (they were expensive back then) but the doctor reminded me they were already shredded from the left knee down (I blame that oversight on my part on the morphine).

After some consultation, the doctors came back to me and said they would have to cut my leg off, just above the knee. If you remember, I did see my leg, just after the accident, and knew just how bad I was f*cked up, so I said, "Okay" and signed their papers to have my left leg amputated.

So, here's where it got a bit strange. From what I was told afterwards, I was in the operating room and my doctors were reviewing my x-rays, trying to decide where, exactly to amputate my leg when another doctor walked by. Unfortunately, I cannot now remember his name, but he had just returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam as an Army medic. He asked what they were looking at and they explained. He said, "Hell, I patched up legs more screwed up than this, after soldiers had stepped on land mines. I can fix this kid!" So, they let him.

So, I awoke, expecting to have just one leg and found I still had two! I did have a hip to ankle cast, though, and then thought, "Hmmm, that's odd," and then I asked "WTF?" when this new doctor came in.

What he told me was he had saved my leg. He had reassembled it with wires, plates and bolts and nuts. But, he cautioned me, I might never bend my left leg again. Right about now, that was still a pretty positive diagnosis!

At that point, they didn't have a room yet for me, so I was in a hall alcove with another patient, both of us shielded from curious passersby's by rolling screens. The bed next to me was the weirdest thing I ever saw as it seemed to be mounted on two huge chrome metal circles. I was told it was called a Stryker bed and made for paraplegics and quadriplegics so they could be turned and not get bed sores. In it was an absolutely gorgeous young girl with long brown hair.

At first she just stared at the ceiling, refusing to talk. But, with my boyish charm, I eventually broke through her depression. It was the usual story. Late night on the way home after the prom, the driver had been drinking, they crashed, he was killed and now she was paralyzed from the neck down! We flirted a lot and eventually made a pact to go to the movies together, even if we were both in wheel chairs, once we got out.

After a couple of days, a room opened up and I got moved. I asked the nurses about her, but they told me she had been transferred to another hospital, in another state. Sadly, I can't remember her name, but I will always be grateful to her. I think we helped each other through a very difficult time.

Now, this tale ends. Of course there is a lot more to tell, the hospital experience itself, friends I made, nurses I was fond of, the bone infection that plagues me to this day (apparently opening your leg up with a rotted stump is not what you'd call a "sterile incision," lol) and the most painful of all, the skin grafts (I still cringe when I here that term!) But it's late and I am tired, so we will leave all that for another day...

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