Thursday, March 10, 2011

Those Pesky Mormon Elders

When I was 13, I had a major event happen that made a lasting impact on my life. Many people come in contact with Mormon missionaries at one time or another in their life. Most of these contacts are brief, yet many times lives are changed from these contacts. My life was also changed in a big way by meeting the Mormon elders this particular day and way.

June 1, 1968, the elders and I came in contact, although in a slightly different manner than one usually might meet the missionaries. School had just gotten out the day before. My brother and sisters and I had been entertaining ourselves for the last day or two by racing our bicycles around the driveway that surrounded our home, yard and garden. Part of this course led out to the county road for a couple hundred feet and then back on the driveway to the start/finish line. I would guess the entire length was 700-800 feet. We had an old clock in the shed to time ourselves.

On this particular Saturday evening, I was getting ready to make a run. Mom called us in for dinner and I yelled back, “OK, I just want to go around one more time.” I took off for a life-changing rendezvous with the missionaries that wasn’t in their  appointment books and come to think of it, it wasn’t in mine either.

Out where our driveway met the graveled county road, there were two tall poplar trees planted on each side of the drive. A line of trees also ran parallel with the road, in line with the poplar tree on the west side, effectively obscuring the line of sight of the road by anyone on the driveway.

I guess we had never considered the possibility that someone would dare drive on part of our racecourse, even if it were the county road. Therefore, as we tried to beat the fastest time up to that point, we didn’t come to a complete stop and look both ways before venturing out of the driveway. In fact, we had the pedal to the metal through the entire length of our little course. Big mistake. A cop looking for stop sign violators would have had a grand time scribbling out tickets on that particular Friday and Saturday.

Anyway, in a hurry to obey the dinner bell and set a world speed record for the Juniper Road race circuit, I came barreling around the turn at around 15-20 miles an hour. The Mormon elders were living a half mile down the road at Cook’s old barracks. They were probably going 35 mph when we met, head on.

I don’t remember a thing. My sister Jill heard the collision and ran into the house screaming. My dad ran out to where I was laying, looked at me, and went back to the house. At impact, my momentum threw my head forward and my forehead most likely kissed the hood of the car. I would guess my left thigh hit the handlebar that had just been thrown into reverse with a momentum shift of around 45 or 50 mph. The impact from the car threw me back 35-40 feet in the direction I had just come from. This was not good for my race time. This was not good for me nor any of my limbs including the one on top of my neck.

Dad told mom I was dead. She fainted. The family revived her and then went out to have a look-see. My forehead had a major bump on it protruding 3 or 4 inches out and foamy blood was coming out of my mouth. I was lying on my back and my left femur had a compound fracture. The leg was twisted around so my toes were in the dirt (I wasn’t wearing shoes.) I had some other broken bones and injuries but my head and leg were the serious ones.

Mom walked out to the road with my dad and when she saw me not breathing, she knelt down and started coaxing me to breathe. Eventually, I started gasping for air. Dad and grandpa found a sheet of plywood and loaded me on it. They called the ambulance but had no idea when it would arrive so they loaded me and the plywood in the station wagon. My folks and our neighbor and bishop, Vern Cook, headed for town.

After they had driven 6 or 8 miles, the ambulance caught up with them. The ambulance service at this time was all-volunteer. It consisted of farmers and fertilizer salesmen who were willing to haul casualties into town, kind of a scoop and run operation.

The ambulance driver was a big, excitable guy who took one look at me and went crazy. He was looking at the bone that was sticking out of my leg and torn pants. “We’ve gotta cut it off right now!” he yelled. He neglected to mention that he was talking about my pants leg.

 My 5 foot 2 inch mother thought he was going to cut my leg off so she jumped in front of the 6 foot plus 250 pounder and prepared to fight a bare-knuckled round or two.

         You are not going to cut it off!” she exclaimed. Vern told me later that even though the situation was very serious, he couldn’t help but laugh at the big misunderstanding.

They got me to the hospital. I was in a coma although I guess a few days later I started thrashing around and they had to tie my arms and good leg to the bed. A nurse had gotten too close at one point and I hit her, giving her a black eye.

A few years ago I found this in the local Tri-City Herald newspaper archives

 Our stake president, Keith Barber came in to visit me and asked me if I knew who he was. I looked at his familiar face and said "Yes, you're Dwight David Eisenhower."

Five or six days later I woke up. The first thing I remember was on June 6. I saw a newspaper laying on the bed stand in front of me with the pronouncement that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. Around this time, I also remember my mom talking to me and being very relieved that I was talking back.

I spent the month of June in traction, flat on my back. It was miserable. I remember gazing outside the window at people walking and driving by the hospital and feeling so sad that I was immobile.  One day I looked out the window at a motorcycle that was orange and had a green gas tank. I thought that was the coolest color combination. To this day, when I see a color combination of orange and green, I think of that day.

I yearned for freedom and the opportunity to be outside in the sunshine. I wanted to go home and change sprinklers which was an emotion I had never experienced before.

During my stay, they brought in a roommate who had gotten a piece of metal in his eye. He had both eyes bandaged shut and couldn't see a thing. His large wife would come in and visit him every day. An hour or so later his much slimmer girlfriend named Rose would come in and visit him. She would pull the curtain shut between the two beds. The curtain effectively cut the line of sight but did nothing to cut down the hugging and kissing noise level. I didn't really understand what was going on over there but I figured something wasn't quite right. All I knew is he seemed to value his privacy a lot more when his girlfriend was there than when his wife was visiting. Never once did his wife pull the curtains shut.

We had a nurse who was very nice and helpful but her cheeks looked like they were sucked in a little. Since she was so nice, my blind roomie asked me after she left our room one day what she looked like. The best description I could come up with was she looked like she had just swallowed a lemon because of her inset cheek situation.

Soon after, she came back in the room. This turkey of a roommate immediately said "Hey, do you know what Ben said you looked like?"

If I hadn't have been strapped to the traction frame and bed, I would have immediately jumped over and given him a knuckle sandwich that he wouldn't have seen coming. I was mortified that this turkey would tell this kind nurse that I said she looked like she had just swallowed a lemon. I knew my room service was about to head for rock bottom.

Luckily, in a flash, I was inspired to interject and say "I said you looked like you were much too young to be a nurse." Now admittedly, I lied. She didn't look all that young. But I never regretted it.  And she enjoyed the compliment.

I should have paid him back by asking his wife the next time she was in about the young, slim chick named Rose that popped in every day a bit after she left. I wonder if he would have thought up a response for his wife as fast as I did with our nurse.

At the end of the month, they wheeled me to a room where they proceeded to put a body cast on me. It went around my chest and trunk and enclosed my entire left leg to my toes. It was the old plaster of Paris casts which weighed a lot more than the fiberglass casts of today.

On the much anticipated morning of the day I was to get the body cast, they wheeled me down to an operating room and pulled the covers off. I had been without clothing for the past month and was now lying stark naked on my back for the doctor and nurses to do their thing.

I didn't even care. I wanted that cast on and was not going to halt the progress by complaining about a lack of decorum. I think I might have moved one hand down to try to cover the goods.

There was a metal pin that Dr. Pettee had driven through my left knee right after the wreck. Through the month, there had been weights hanging on a pulley pulling on both sides of that pin. I spent a lot of time each day of that month wondering how they were going to get that pin out after I was done with the traction phase. I was sure they would knock me out or at least give me a local anesthetic.

No such luck. The doctor pulled out a pair of pliers, positioned himself so he could push against my leg while he pulled and yanked on the pin. I was aghast! It hurt! He didn't get it on the first try. He had to reposition himself several times as he tugged and pulled, trying to get my lower femur to release the pin.  Finally, he pulled it hard enough that it slid out.

After 45 minutes or so of slapping gauze, material and wet plaster on me, they got the wet cast wrapped around me and I finally got a sheet pulled back over me. I was relieved the exhibition was over. A couple of guys then rolled me back up to my room.

The next day they had me stand up on crutches next to my bed. Since I had been flat on my back for the last month, the blood rushed out of my head and I about went down in a heap of plaster. But I stayed up because I so badly wanted out of Kennewick General, ASAP.

A day later, I was able to leave the hospital. I had become good friends with the nurses there and after arriving home that night, I cried because I missed them. I was a 13 year-old man and was bawling like a baby.

On the first Sunday morning when I went back to church, we pulled in as all the Boy Scouts in the ward were pulling out to go to Scout camp. That was another bummer of that summer.

The next couple of months, July and August, were hell. Every day I stewed in that bloody smelly cast. It was hot. The weather stayed in the 100 degree plus range most of the time.

I was on crutches, lugging around a 100 lb. concrete enclosure, at least it seemed like that. I threatened several times to anyone who would listen that I was going to cut the cast off. At one point, I decided I was allergic to plaster of Paris and went out and got a hacksaw and started sawing. My folks put a quick stop to that. The hot summer nights found me laying in bed with major itches up and down my body. I soon stretched out a hanger, stuck it inside my cast and push it down past my chest and stomach. I could then scratch my leg, sometimes going clear down to my ankle and foot with the hanger.

Summer of '68

One day during this miserable period, I was standing outside leaning on my crutches, I was lighting firecrackers to pass the time. All of a sudden, I lost my balance and began falling backwards. Since I couldn’t bend my leg or torso, I realized I better just hang on for the ride. I tossed the firecracker on the way down, wrapped my arms around the cast on my chest and tilted my head forward so I wouldn’t smack it on impact. I was well aware that I had had my quota of head injuries for that year and didn't want a cast on my noggin as well.

When I finally came to rest, I found my cast had cracked clear around my midsection. We took a trip back to the doctor for repairs and more plaster.

There was a great day in August of that year. I don’t know what day it was, I just remember how wonderful it was when they finally took the full body cast off. I felt like I could fly, even though I was still on crutches. That night, after almost 3 months, I was able to take a bath. Getting clean after three months of hot summer sweat soaked into a body cast was the best. I still remember sitting in that tub, enjoying the warm water, and peeling large sections of dead skin off my bad leg just like a snake sheds its skin.

The leg looked shriveled and malnourished. It took me a year to get over the limp but eventually I was able to participate in athletics and any other activity that materialized. The wide scar that wrapped around my thigh stayed numb for years. Since then, I often get a major charley horse or cramp in the muscles that were torn when the broken femur bone cut through them.

After the accident, I would often get a sharp agonizing pain in the front of my head for 20 or 30 seconds. This continued for decades but doesn’t happen much anymore. Frontal lobe injuries can affect judgment skills, short-term memory and cause goofy personality characteristics. I am of the opinion that many of my crazy judgments and actions after the accident may have been influenced in one degree or another by the smack my forehead took on the hood of the elders car.

Many times I have been in the doghouse with parents, teachers, principals, parents, friends, bankers, parents, bill collectors, government officials, parents, church leaders, lawyers, parents, cops, judges, and even once or twice in the last 32 years with my dear marital partner Michele. Did I mention parents? I am always asked why in the world did I do this or that? I never had an answer. Now, after much soul searching, contemplation, meditation and looking for any excuse that will fly, I can answer their question as to "Why?"

Frontal Lobe Head Injury. Convenient excuse. Non-arguable, sympathy-evoking and maybe even true.


Brian and Jennifer said...

It's truly a miracle you're still alive! I need to learn how your parents had patience for the amazingly incredible things you did! And just a side note, I notice you refer to my grandpa as Vern. Is that what you've always called him? I don't care, but am just curious cause his actual name is Vernon. Also curious if you have good life insurance?

The McGary's said...

wow! That's all I can say:) Even in horrible situations you still make me laugh with your story telling. I think you should have called your roommate out, that would've been great:)

Lisa said...

I just realized that maybe all my problems come from this accident. I was only two months old and left motherless for three months while she was caring for her eldest. Hmmmmm.