23 March 2012

How I Broke My Legs

In person this story is hilarious.

It was late '89.

We were doing a 72 hour alert while covering for some unit of the 11th ACR while they at Graf doing their gunnery quals.

I had been awake for three straight days.  Yippie!

Being short a man on the tank I was filling in for the loader on the maintenance tasks.

The last task on the list was to check the oil; then I could sleep!

To check the oil you have to rotate the turret so the gun is pointed to the side, this exposes the "bitch plate" which is an armored cover over the engine.

We were a quart low on turboshaft so climbed up from the back deck to the turret to grab a can.

The TC saw this and assumed I was finished and he rotated the gun back forward.

I didn't notice the turret rotating, grabbed a quart and hopped right off the side of the turret.

It should have been a short jump.  It wasn't.  The back deck was no longer there, but a nice deep ditch was!

I fell a total of about 25 feet.  Through a crust of ice at the bottom of the ditch.

The TC immediately asked where I'd gotten to.

"I fell," I replied.

"Fell where?"

"Down here, I think I'm stuck!"

The TC and the driver began figuring out how to get down to me and help.

Right about here I noticed a boot sticking up out of the ice.  Right away I noticed that it was an expensive boot because I had just spent a lot of money buying a pair just like it!  My first thought was that someone had lost their spare pair off the top of some vehicle, and figured that both boots had to be around here someplace!  Free boots!  Free, expensive, boots!

So I grabbed the boot in front of me and tried to pick it up, but it was stuck on something.  Thinking that maybe it was tied to the other boot and that was stuck down in the ice, I felt down around the boot.  Odd, it felt like there was a leg in it.  A body?  Ewwwww!  But I felt further.  The leg, as it turned out, was MINE!

I had a dizzy moment here, but I was not in pain.  I did some talking around this time, but I am not clear on what I talked about.  I don't remember going from the ditch to the top of the tank again.  I remember a bit of the ride to the medic track.

The medics were professional and hardly turned gray at all when they saw my twisted legs.  They strapped me down and secured me so I wouldn't move around and make it worse.  The pain was starting about here, so that was important.

What happens next is a classic military moment.  They wanted me out of there, since this was a serious fracture and there was a good chance an artery would be nicked by a bone.  They called for some form of transportation.  We couldn't get a helicopter because of the weather and the dark, they couldn't drive the M113 because it was too rough for me and they couldn't get a normal ambulance in because of the terrain.  I would have to wait for the weather.  "OK, can we get some morphine for him?"  "NO!"

Turns out the bad old days of the druggies running the dark corners of the Army were still fresh in the minds of many.  Guys who served in the '70's all confirm it to me.  They would not bring drugs out to the dark scary field out of fear of being beaten, or worse.  They all but called the medics liars.

So I got to spend a very long time writhing in agony, strapped super tight to the stretcher.  I screamed, I cried, I begged.  I passed out.  I would awake, lucid for a few moments without pain thinking the whole thing was a bad dream.  Then the pain would start again.  More begging to be put out of my misery, more screaming, more crying.  I am assured it was not more than a couple of hours.

I remember being moved from the track to the chopper.  I remember the change in lighting from the landing pad to an emergency room.

I woke up.  No pain, but now I knew it was coming.  I sat up.  I was no longer restrained!

Someone in scrubs walked in.  I pulled my pistol out of my shoulder holster, pointed it at the poor hospital person (found out later it was a real doctor) racked the slide and said, "MORPHINE!"  Without batting an eye the person in scrubs opened up their cart, prepared a shot and gave it to me.  As I passed out in the sweet relief I noticed he was taking my gun away.  Did I mention we had ammo because we were on the border and things were stupid tense for some reason?  The doc assumed that I was not pointing a loaded gun at him and had a bad moment when he checked it after taking it away from me.

I've related some of the next part here before.  The breaks were really bad.  Six on the right and eight on the left, evenly split between the tibia and fibulas.  They scheduled surgery and put me back together, and were forced to use a specialist from the German economy.  That man was an artist!  I have a limp and only lost 15% motion in my right ankle.

This was enough to get me out of the Army if I wanted.  At this point in my Army career, I wanted out.  So I did a year of physical therapy at VA hospitals instead of Army hospitals.

I'm much better now.


  1. OK, after reading that I'm feeling a little gray myself. Ick, to say the least. I'm sure glad you eventually got the care you needed!

  2. Makes the time my little brother broke both his ankles rock climbing look pretty minor. Sometime I have _got to_ figure a way for you two to meet up, but you live in FL and he lives (exists? Can't call it "living") in CA.

  3. Perhaps if your brother would like to visit the United States some time? Or should I ask him in Spanish?

  4. The problem is coordinating things. He's tied to his job and can't go a-galavanting at whim. Distance is also a big factor.

    And he'd be the first to allow as how _I_ am the linguist in the family. When we go to a Chinese restaurant and I order in Chinese he looks at me like I just flapped my arms and flew up to the ceiling.

  5. I assume that they never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever let you know the name of the stupid bastard that wouldn't let the medics give you morphine? Because they'd have to keep me far, far away from him if it had been me.


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