I used to visit veterans who were patients at the local VA hospital. I talked with one guy. He was telling about his convalescence. At some point during our conversation, he asked me, “So, have you ever been in the hospital?”
I told him, “I was run over by a forklift.”
The vet’s eyes widened a bit. Then he asked, “How bad was that?”
I replied, “My right leg got crushed.”
He winced involuntarily. “Damn. That had to hurt.”
Actually, as I think back on that accident, I don’t recall having any pain. I suspect that my brain has wisely chosen to block that part of my memory. I do remember a lot of other things.
The forklift accident occurred on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009, at 8:30 AM. It was on the loading dock at work near Door 117. It’s funny how I can recall those specific details. Some things are etched into my mind with acid. It was cold that morning (the dock at the trucking company had no heat and the overhead doors were all open so that trailers can be loaded and unloaded). I was supervising the dock operation. Things were busy. It was “crunch” time. We needed to get our drivers out on the street.
A loading dock during crunch time is akin to an anthill. There is a great deal of activity, and it is difficult to keep track of who is doing what at any moment. I had to watch over about twenty guys who were racing around on forklifts trying to get freight out for delivery to our customers. If a person is walking
on the concrete slab at that time of day, they need to keep their head on a swivel. Constant vigilance is required.
One of my guys had just popped open the door of an incoming trailer. He called me over to where he was working so that I could look at the load. Whoever had crammed the trailer full at the origin facility had failed to properly block and brace the shipments. Freight shifts inside a trailer as it rolls down the
highway, and this load was a mess. There was shit (i.e., “valued customer’s freight”) scattered everywhere. I had to take a photo of this dumpster load to send back to the management at the origin so they could “coach” the idiot who packed everything.
I tried to get a clear shot of the scattered boxes and dumped over skids in the trailer. I looked behind me, and I was clear. I friend of mine was picking up a pallet with his jeep nearby, but he had seen me. As I looked through the lens of the digital camera, I saw that I was too close to the trailer door to get a
decent picture. I back up two steps.
That’s all it took.
As I stepped backward, my friend, who had already checked behind his forklift, started to back up. Things happened quickly.
Be advised that a forklift is designed to pick up heavy skids of product. To maintain balance a forklift is heavily weighted in the rear. The back wheels of a forklift, which are generally made of solid rubber, carry about 8,000 pounds of weight. That way, if the operator picks up a pallet of steel castings, for
instance, the forklift doesn’t tip forward. This also means that the rear wheels of the forklift will flatten anything they roll over, like my ankle.
Getting hit by the forklift was kind of like being in “The Matrix”, where the action scenes occur in slow motion. I remember it all in slow-mo. I watched the left rear tire of my friend’s lift roll over my right ankle as I went down. I remember falling hard onto the concrete floor and screaming.
Everybody in the building heard that.
My friend stopped immediately. He was not parked on top of my leg, thank God. I told him, “Don’t fucking move!” as I dragged myself from under his lift.
As with all accidents, a crowd gathered. Dockworkers rode by the scene very slowly to gawk. My friend got off his jeep and asked me, “Can you get up?”
I said, “No.” I was shaking. So was my friend. The guy’s face was pale. He was horrified.
Somebody called 911. Oddly enough, the hospital is across the street from where I worked. It took the paramedics less time to get to me than it did for the call to be made. In the moments that elapsed before the ambulance arrived, my buddy from HR, Terry, came to me to ask questions for the accident report. I asked him, “Now? You want to do this now? Really?”
Terry smiled and sighed and said, “Frank, it will work much more smoothly with workers’ comp later, if I can just get a couple of facts from you now.”
Paperwork always comes first. That’s somehow comforting.
The paramedics got to me and loaded me into the ambulance. I had never ridden in an ambulance before. I had never been hurt before. It was a day of firsts.
One guy started taking my vitals. I looked at his readout and noted my blood pressure: 220/140. Holy fuck. I asked the medic, “Hey, are those numbers okay?”
He was busy plugging an IV needle into my arm. He momentarily glanced at the screen and said, “For right now, yeah.”
Once they got me into the ER, things got blurry. Immediately, somebody started a morphine drip. Keep in mind that, although I have a long history of alcohol abuse, I have never used any other drug, not even weed. So, morphine was a whole new experience, another first. I think I would have liked it better if the stuff hadn’t made me nauseous. They eventually gave me a different painkiller. The doctors determined that the dry heaves weren’t going to help my recovery. However, for several hours, I was in morphine heaven.
They took x-rays and an MRI. I lay partially upright on a bed. The PA [Physician Assistant] came in with his pictures. He asked, “How are you doing?”
Why do people ask that? He probably already had a good idea of how I was. My foot and ankle were swollen and looked like a pink bag of gravel.
I mumbled, “Yeaah, fine. I think I sprained my ankle really bad,” The PA gave me a bemused look. Then he looked at his photos, shook his head, and said, “Well, the good news is that the bones are all going pretty much in the right direction.”
They kept me in the hospital that night. They wanted to watch for possible blood clots. The building actually housed two separate medical facilities. The entire second floor of the place was an orthopedic hospital, not connected with the rest of the operation. I was on the second floor. It was strangely convenient.
My surgeon popped in to say hi. He had just finished doing a procedure. He looked at my right foot and grabbed my big toe. He asked me, “Can you feel this?”
“Good. Good. I don’t think you have any nerve damage, and the skin isn’t broken. Come to my office in two days. We will do the surgery on the 10th.”
Then he smiled and left.
My wife took me to the surgeon’s office. I sat quietly while he looked over my x-rays. He gave me a wry smile and said, “You must have a million tiny fractures in that leg.”
I made whimpering animal sounds.
The doctor got serious. He said, “Well, maybe there aren’t a million fractures, but that foot and ankle are shattered. We are going to do our best to rebuild all that, but it will never be the same, and you will feel it every day for the rest of your life.”
I asked the surgeon about the operation.
“So, do you do this with a local anesthetic?”
He laughed, and asked me, “Have you ever been put under?’
“You will be.”
On the day of the surgery, as I was being prepped, the nurse told me, “While you are under, we will put a tube down your throat. When you wake up, your throat will be really sore, and you will be thirsty. We can’t give you water right away, but we can give you ice chips.”
I remember when they laid me on the table. The anesthesiologist told me that the drug might cause a slight burning sensation, but I would be asleep soon. She was right. As she administered the anesthesia, I started counting, and then I was gone, as in nonexistent.
I wonder if death is like that. What if death is just like being put under? There is nothing and nobody there, and there is really no “there” for anyone to be. That is somehow appealing in a twisted sort of way.
I was out for 2 and 1/2 hours (so I was told). As I returned from the void, I heard the distant voice of an angel. She was asking me, “Would you like an ice chip?”
I whispered hoarsely, “Oh, fuck yeah.”
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.