This year, July 29th is the 40th anniversary of an incident in a mountainous wilderness (Pratt Lake, Cascade Mountains, Washington State, USA) that nearly ended my life.
I just thought that someone should commemorate this day, and it looks like its gotta be me.
In 1979 I'm 21 years old and leading a church youth outing (as their youth director), and while hiking around a lake at 10:30am on a pleasant summer morning, a giant glacial boulder, after being precariously balanced for centuries if not millenia, decides to tumble down the hill and roll over my right foot from behind. Maybe it's because I'd just hopped off of it, giving it a bit of a nudge.
The boulder and I merrily hop down the hill together, as the boulder is plowing my foot into the ground as if it were a plowshare.
We finally stop after about 10 seconds, and I repeatedly chant at the top of my lungs (I'm a quiet person, so this is probably the first and only time this had ever happened), "get it off me!"
My hiking mates do heroically roll away the stone, and I'm thinking that my foot was left behind somewhere up the hill, since I couldn't feel anything down there. But it was still there, minus its tennis shoe, smashed and swelling beyond recognition.
I found out later that in the crushing, the boulder had snapped my heel bone, as well as a few metatarsal bones for good measure. The broken heel bone was protruding out of the back of my foot.
We all found a flat rock that I could lie on, and everyone did what they could to apply tourniquets, stop the bleeding, etc. Some had to use their own T-shirts to accomplish this. A horseman across the lake rode over after hearing the commotion, and offered some whiskey to ease the pain, but I declined his gracious offer. We were 6 miles from the trailhead, so they couldn't carry me out. We had no cell phones, as they weren't invented yet. One of my hiking mates had to run 6 miles to the trailhead, then drive several miles to a ranger station to summon for help. This action saved my life.
I lay in the hot sun for 6 hours bleeding, until the blessed sound of an helicopter was heard. Fortunately, they found a place to land and, a half hour later, my rescuers appeared with a stretcher to haul me to the chopper. (Eventually, I would need to have two blood transfusions to replace the blood that I'd lost.)
They asked me which hospital to take me to, giving me two choices, so I selected Harborview in Seattle, not really knowing anything about it. I would eventually stay there for five weeks, until September 5th.
After the chopper ride, an ambulance delivered me the remaining 3000 feet to the ER. My insurance was charged more for the ambulance ride than for the chopper ride. I was covered by worker's comp, so it didn't matter to me.
The ER docs did some stuff to my foot, and put me on a cart in a hallway next to a telephone, where I could call my then-girlfriend (now my wife of 39 years).
Then they took me into surgery around 8:30pm, and gave me a spinal block, to my great relief. I was unconscious until the next morning. They had put a bolt into my heel bone to put it together, and in doing so, had to cut a long incision along my swollen foot, kind of like cutting a large tomato. They could not close the incision due to swelling, and it was to remain open for over a month.
I awoke the next morning in a large room with 2 other patients, which had a majestic, sweeping view of the harbor (hence the name, "Harborview" Hospital). I wasn't in any condition to enjoy the view, though. Having an intense urge to use the restroom, with much pain I got out of my bed and hopped on my left foot to do so. When I returned, a nurse was waiting for me, as one of the other patients had ratted on me for my unauthorized act.
The next week I became very ill because of the staph infection to my foot, but I recovered in about a week. Many people came to visit me, which was a great blessing. My girlfriend visited me almost every day during my five-week stay, contributing to my later decision to marry her. One of those days, she fainted while watching a doctor snip away the yellow infected flesh from my foot. When I was released from the hospital, they gave me some sterile cloths and surgical scissors so that I could snip away the yellow flesh myself, until it was clean enough perform a final skin graft to close the wound once and for all.
I had had about six surgeries in all, and several follow-up visits to Harborview. They also had to snip the tendons under the toes of my right foot, for some reason, so they're incapable of wiggling. One plastic surgeon offered to perform a surgery to make my foot more attractive, but I declined, wanting it to retain its grotesque appearance as positive proof that this all did happen.
After the second skin graft (performed here in the Port Angeles OMC, the hospital where John Elway was born almost 20 years prior), I had to keep my right foot elevated at all times, so I was given a wheelchair to accomplish that. I still needed to take a couple more classes at the UW to finish my electrical engineering degree, and took one in the fall quarter and another in winter quarter. The first month of fall quarter, I was still rolling around the campus in the wheelchair, and the UW let me use a special private room in the dormatory. But they made me move to another room after I was able to get around on crutches, saying that they had another person who needed it. A few weeks later, I was able to start putting weight on my right foot, and was walking without too much need of crutches not too long afterward, which was a great blessing. This was about the time I applied for a job at Boeing, and was accepted, to my surprise. On March 26th, 1980, I began my 34 1/2 year career there. It was the first and only full-time job I've ever had. I'm glad it's over with, though.