Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Survival Story

This post is dedicated Kent Sturgis, a publisher who owns Epicenter Press. Kent was kind enough to give me some advice about this blog and my writing. So it's quid pro quo time. Click on the title of this blog post and it will take you to Kent's website and some GREAT books you won't see anywhere else. Honor the independent press and order from Epicenter.

A Survival Story

Once upon a time, there was a man we'll call Dan who was working on a fishing boat in the Bering sea.

Dan was in the main cabin working on an electrical problem, a panel was open. The circuit was live and he was linked to it with one of his tools. At the same time, a rogue wave hit the boat... busted the window.... and a flood of seawater threw Dan's back flat against the open electrical panel he was still connected to. Water and electricity do not mix.

"You know those old cartoons where Wiley Coyote sticks his finger in a socket or something?" he asked me.

"You know how suddenly Wiley goes into this electrical spread eagle pose.... shakes and stutters, yells Yai-Yai-Yai-Yai-Yai? Well, that was me! I was pinned to that panel like a stuck pig being electrocuted!" he laughed.

His crew members, an airlift and many years of medical treatments saved him.
When we met, 10 years had passed. Now 45, he was in the living room of a low-income house north of Seattle.

His body was mottled with festering boils and sores left, he said, by the electricity. "It happens in some people struck by lightening," he told me. "The electricity re-wires your whole immune system"

And his left arm was amputated just below the shoulder.

"Electricity fried it right off," he said.
"Worst part was, I was left handed. Go figure. That's the arm I lose. Took me a while, but I finally learned to do everything pretty good with my right," he said. "Until this happened."

Which is why I was there.

The law firm sent me to see him because he was hit by a police car two days earlier. The police car... sirens screaming, lights flashing... was chasing a stolen car through an intersection.

The police car T-Boned Dan's car on the driver's side door. His left arm and shoulder took the brunt of the hit. He had a broken collar bone, torn rotator cuff and two fractures.

"Fingers still work though," he said, as he flapped his left hand in the sling he now wore.

"Wanna see my stump?" he added.

"Sure," I said, "And I'll have you know that's the first time a guy's ever used that line on me".

He laughed loudly, tension loosened. With the assist of a public health aid who was present, he was wrangled out of his shirt and photos were taken of new injuries and old. My camera zoomed in on the boils and burns covering his chest, neck. Then the stump of his right arm.

As I moved around him taking photos, I asked him how it was he kept it so together.
He had a great sense of humor, a calm disposition, a quiet strength and some kind of resolve I did not understand. Had I gone through what he did, I told him, I might walk off a cliff.

"Attitude is everything" he said.

He told me, as bad as it gets for him, "there's someone out there who has it worse. "

He talked about all the children in the burn unit at the Children's Hospital. He spoke of brain injury victims in Harborview. He talked about other fishermen he knew who died at sea.

We parted with a shake of his remaining five fingers. And I didn't lose touch with his case.

His left arm healed, the insurance company for the police paid his medical bills and his pain and suffering. He remains in the same house, the same space, the same mental place.... with grace.
Much much grace than I would ever have under that kind of pressure.

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