Yeah, getting from A-Z can be a pain. But for most of us lucky folk, a little discomfort and a numb ass is as bad as it gets. Read on to discover just how much worse it can be…
Struck by a 110-MPH Amtrak Train
Darryle See: I’d lived next to railroad tracks for a decade — I crossed them all the time. On the other side of them is a road down to the beach, and I was going down to the beach for a jog. I remember walking out of my house, but I don’t remember being on the railroad tracks. Next thing I remember is, I’m laying next to the railroad tracks, covered in blood, with horrible pain and not knowing exactly what happened.
I don’t even know how to describe the pain. I just tried to move — I sat up. I don’t know how I was able to, but I did. I went to try standing up but I couldn’t move my legs, so I panicked immediately. I tried to look around for my phone. I had my headphones plugged into my phone listening to music, and they were still on but there was no phone anywhere near me. All I could see was blood all over me, going down my chest, so I just started yelling for help and trying to flag down cars that were on the road near the railroad tracks.
I was conscious the whole time, but my memory blacks out for a little while. I was told that police officers were the first there, and they were talking to me, but I have no recollection of that. My next memory isn’t until the EMTs were loading me into the ambulance.
I had a fractured pelvis — both sides of my pelvis were broken. I also had the T1 and T2 vertebrae in my upper back — those were clean breaks — and then in my neck, the cervical vertebrae, C3 through C7 were shattered into numerous pieces. There were also two broken ribs and internal bleeding.
There were several news stories about it at the time, but they didn’t begin to cover the extent of the injuries. They got very undetailed reports from what they thought happened at the scene, and all the stories made it seem like I walked away basically unscathed, with a couple of broken bones. They were trying to interview me, but I was very pissed off at the time. I was angry, I was hurt and I was in no mood to be interviewed by anyone.
I heard over and over from everyone in the hospital — and everybody I ran into for weeks after the incident happened — “You’re lucky to be alive.” But I certainly didn’t feel lucky at the time. It happened on a Friday, and I didn’t have the surgery till Sunday. The neurosurgeon told me, “You’re not paralyzed yet, but there’s still a risk of paralysis during the surgery.” So the first two and a half days I was just dreading it. I couldn’t see a point in living if I was paralyzed. I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, so I got tired of hearing people tell me I was lucky. I was like, “You guys get hit by a fucking train and see how lucky you feel!” I feel lucky today, but not at the time.
I also got asked, “Do you believe in God now?” I heard that one so many damn times. At the time, and still currently, I’m a non-God believer, and I just felt like people were trying to push a belief down my throat that I don’t share with them.
The surgery was successful. They kept me in the hospital for seven days. I was an awful patient; I was just like, “If I’m gonna be in pain and be miserable, I wanna go be miserable in bed.” So two days after my surgery I was like, “When can I leave?” They had me on a morphine pump at the time — they said, “Well, you need to be off the morphine pump for 48 hours before being discharged.” So I said, “Take me off the morphine pump.”
The doctor suggested I be put in a rehab facility — essentially a nursing home to do my physical therapy. I shut that down quickly. I told them, “No, I can do physical therapy, but I’m not going to a nursing facility to do it.” My grandfather, who I was living with at the time, was more than happy to give me rides to the facility, so they cleared me to go home.
Two weeks after being struck by the train, I was able to walk with the assistance of a walker. Walking unassisted probably took two months. I would try walking unassisted from the bedroom to the bathroom, only like 10 feet, but that was still very difficult and I still ended up holding on to the walls.
Learning to walk again was absolutely terrifying because I was fully aware of what had happened to my neck and the vertebrae in my back. I was afraid to fall, because if I re-injured myself I might have become paralyzed. I remember standing in the shower just scared. I was scared to go up and down stairs for a while. But my biggest fear that winter was slipping on ice and falling. It ended up happening the following winter, but I landed fine where it didn’t really hurt.
I remember the first time driving across that specific crossing of the railroad tracks after it happened. I broke out in a sweat and started hyperventilating because, even though I don’t really remember being hit, I associated pain with those railroad tracks, so I freaked out.
Every day I’m still in pain. The neurosurgeon said that the vertebrae in my neck all have arthritis now, so I have the pain from that, and then also, the way he had to do the surgery with the fusion, my neck doesn’t go completely straight up and down now — there’s a tiny little hump, so my neck’s leaning forward a little bit. It stretches my muscles all day, so I have muscle pain in my neck all day as well.
The accident changed my career path. I was a cook for 11 years, and after that accident, I just didn’t find cooking fulfilling as a job anymore. When I was in the hospital I was a horrible patient, and the nurses and all the doctors, they treated me great. No matter how much of an ass I was to them, they were wonderful and helped me tremendously. I thought, That’s not a bad way to spend your time, helping people in need. So I’m currently a nurse aide right now, making my way through nursing school.
I’m no longer angry about it. I’ve accepted that it happened, and like I said, I still have my pain every day, but it’s not debilitating — it’s more of a nagging kind of annoyance.
“Mangled” by a Boat Propellor
Ron Schoors: My best friend has a couple boats with tenders in the marina. We were going to take the tenders and go to a nearby island for his daughter’s 13th birthday. He was in front of me in a 17-foot, soft-sided hard-bottom dinghy, and I was in the smaller 14-foot, soft-sided hard-bottom dinghy. He had his daughter and four of her friends and his wife on his boat; I was alone on mine. I just followed him in case one of the girls got bored or seasick.
The water was rough, and the water from his boat was creating rougher water. I tried to get on the outside of his wake, and as I got on top of his wake, another boat came around and made a 360, creating a giant wave that capsized my boat. I knew I was about to get thrown out of the boat, and I went to throw the throttle into neutral, but it slid into full throttle, so now I’m at 33 mph. I hit the water face first. I was tumbling around in the water thinking to myself, “Man, I’m dead.”
Then all of a sudden I popped up. There were already literally hundreds of people standing on the shore, everybody’s got their phones out and are screaming. When you let go of the steering wheel of an outboard motor boat, it automatically goes to the left, so the boat was doing clockwise circles. I hear my boat, and I turn around in the water, and here comes my boat coming at me. I was able to swim backward and get out of its way. My buddy threw me a life vest, and here came the boat again. I got out of its way twice.
All of a sudden the girls on the boat screamed “Look out!” and I turn around and the boat was coming straight at my head. So I threw my right arm up to block my head and my face, and I dove straight down underneath the water, hoping I could get out of the way, but with a life jacket, I didn’t go straight down. I felt the motor hit my ankle, and then it just worked its way up my body.
They tell you when you come to a near-death experience that your life flashes before your eyes. Well, that’s not a falsehood. I saw it: I saw everything from when I was a kid up to current time while I was floating around underneath the water, thinking I’m dead. My buddy threw me another life vest, and all of a sudden here came my boat again, and he threw his boat into full throttle and bounced off my boat, which made my boat take off in another direction.
This guy pops up out of the water and tells me, “My name is Tyler, I’m with the U.S. Coast Guard. Remain calm — you’ve been in a serious accident, and I have to get some tourniquets on your shoulder.” I kept just asking him, “Where’s my fucking arm? Because I can see blood squirting out of my shoulder.” He kept telling me to remain calm. I said, “Dude, I’m calm. This is as calm as it’s gonna get!”
I was totally coherent. I knew everything that was going on around me. Then he asked me my name and said, “Ron, you’re gonna have to hold this. This is against protocol but I’m the only diver in the water right now, the rest are getting their gear ready.” He hands me my severed arm.
So I’m holding onto my life vest and my arm, floating. I knew my arm was cut off, but I was still looking at it in disbelief, going, “No way. Why is this happening to me?” So they got me in the rescue basket, then I asked one the divers if they could straighten my leg, because it felt cramped. And he looked underneath the water and said, “We haven’t even looked at your leg yet, but it’s mangled.”
One of the other paramedics said, “I don’t understand how this guy can even be talking. He should be dead.” I said, “Hey, I’m hearing your shit. I’m not dead yet.” They said, “You’re gonna be fine.” And I started laughing and told them, “I love Vietnam War movies, but when those guys get blown to bits, that’s what their friend tells them right when they’re dying — they’re gonna be fine. So don’t tell me I’m gonna be fuckin’ fine, you got that?”
I don’t remember the ride to the hospital at all. They must’ve given me some good drugs. When I saw my wife in the hospital, I did the whole, “Honey, I love you. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. They say I’m not gonna make it. If I do, I hope you’ll be beside my bed by the time I get up, or if I don’t, I just want you to know I love you.” The bad thing about it is, that day my wife was actually moving out of the apartment because she and I were getting a divorce. That’s why I was with my buddy — because I didn’t want to see her moving her stuff out.
I was in a medically induced coma for two and a half weeks because my right leg was shattered right above my ankle and below my knee, which was broken, and then I had a compound fracture in my femur. I had several big gashes above in my loin, my arm was completely severed flush at the shoulder and the propeller hit me across the back of my head. So I was in the hospital for a total of five months.
My leg ended up with six metal plates, 28 screws and three and a half feet of titanium rod. They were actually gonna amputate my leg at the hip, but my wife fought with them and told them, “He’s always said that with all these medical issues he has, if anything happens and he’s gonna be a burden, he will take himself out. He does not wanna live like that.” So she pleaded with them to at least fix my leg — that way I would wake up knowing that my arm’s gone but I would still have my leg.
They did 28 hours of surgery to reattach my arm. During that time of getting my body to accept my arm I died twice. My body wasn’t taking my arm back. They told my wife, “If we keep trying, he’s gonna die.” She told them not to worry about it. So I woke up two and a half weeks later with no arm and my leg in a big cage.
I did all the rehab, and they told me with my leg condition I’d never walk upstairs again — they kept encouraging me to find a place to live. I told them, “You don’t understand. It takes me two and a half minutes from my front door to have my feet in the sand at Ocean Beach [in San Diego].” So I fought with them to find me stairs to practice on, and once they found them, I said, “Before I leave here, I will walk up and down at least twice a day.” I’ve always been a fighter and a survivor — I’m not gonna let it take me down. Learning to walk again was hard. I’m supposed to use a cane but I only have one arm, so if I hold a cane, how am I gonna hold anything else? It was baby steps.
I was so sedated on drugs for the first month in the hospital I wasn’t able to fully grasp everything that had went wrong. I knew bits and pieces, but once they weaned me off of the painkillers, I started remembering things. My wife had been sending out a daily email to our family circle on what was going on so I started reading all those things, and once I did, I was in shock.
I went into a very dark depression for a while. I got out of that, thank God — I just decided one day, I’m not gonna let any of this get me down. But I did a lot of crying. It was very emotional reading everybody’s responses on Facebook. Just to see the outreach and people all praying for you and positive thoughts, I was amazed. My landlord brought to the nursing home a 30-foot long banner that said, “Get Well Ron” that the whole community signed. They call me the Mayor of Bacon Street, the street I live on, because everybody knows me because I walk around all day long and I’m super social. That made recovery a lot easier, knowing that I had such a support system behind me. It kind of blacked out the horrifying thoughts
I’m not a religious person, but on the way out of that boat, I prayed to God. I ain’t gonna lie about it. I said, “Hey God, if you’re up there, I went to church all that time as a kid and as a teenager, so if you’re real, please help me!” I don’t know if that worked or not, but people say the power of prayer works.
My wife stayed and helped me through a lot of the recovery, and then I told her, “I don’t wanna be a burden on you. I can make it; I’m a fighter. Go be happy.” We’re still good friends. We’ve known each other since we were kids.
I do have a prosthetic arm, but I’m so amputated and it’s so flush with my torso that the arm is [only] for looks. I can’t even hold a bag of groceries with it. It’s not like the fancy bionic arm that the soldiers get — it takes two people to put it on, and it’s uncomfortable. I’d rather be without it. A lot of times people don’t even notice I have one arm until they’re talking to me. When I need a bit of help and people ask me why, I’ll shrug my right shoulder and say, “I’m a little short-handed!”
Then there’s the phantom limb pain, which the doctors said might or might not get better, but I’ll have it all my life. That’s the most annoying, painful, excruciating thing that God could do to a person. I can change the position of my nonexistent arm by mentally concentrating, and that can change the position of it, because the nerves are still there. Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and I’ll get an itch on my right forearm. How do you scratch that itch? Sometimes the pain is so bad that I actually have cried over it. It’ll hurt, it’ll throb, it’ll feel like somebody’s stabbing it with a knife.
The whole getting used to one arm thing is the worst thing I’ve had to deal with so far. It’s a very big adjustment: Cooking, making your bed, putting your clothes on, everything. The hardest part about losing my arm is, try wiping your ass! The first time it came time to do that in the nursing home I was like, “Hey wait, my left arm doesn’t even reach!” I’d never tried it before. It’s like you have to take yoga to figure out how to do that.
Ran Out of Gas While Flying Blind in a Storm
Jeff Bauer: I was flying a twin-engine airplane from Salt Lake City to Sun Valley, then to Challis, Idaho and to Salmon. My company contracted with UPS to deliver packages to small towns. The only other passenger was our company’s director of maintenance. On the way to Sun Valley, a snowstorm suddenly hit.
We sat in Salt Lake City for an hour waiting to take off, burning off fuel, but I had four and a half hours of fuel for a two-hour flight. I took off, and we didn’t even need to go into Sun Valley because there was no cargo to pick up, so we continued into Challis. When I landed there, there was no fueler. But we were fine — I still had an hour and a half worth of fuel, and Challis to Salmon is only a 10-minute flight down this narrow valley.
The report from Salmon was that the weather was decent, but it wasn’t as good as they were reporting. I got stuck, where I’m turning circles in that valley. I couldn’t go forward, and I couldn’t go back because of the weather. You could climb into the clouds, but you don’t have anything to tell you where the mountains are once you’re in the clouds.
I was flying visually, which means I’m responsible for my own terrain and traffic separation. Air traffic control can hear me on the radio but they can’t see me on radar, because I’m only about 8 or 9,000 feet above sea level and they need me to be at 15,000 feet. So I declare an emergency and get up so they can see me on radar and give me instrument approach clearance. That’s where the separation from terrain and other traffic is on them, but I’ve gotta follow pre-designated courses that the FAA has gone over and proven that if you stay on these courses on these altitudes, you won’t hit anything.
So I get on the course to get into Salmon, and it descends me down to 4,000 feet above the airport. That’s the lowest you can go under instrument rules while in the clouds. But I still can’t see anything: It’s just like when you’re driving on the road, and it’s a solid sheet of fog. Even if I tried to get down further, below these approach minimums, I may not be able to get out. And if you can’t see the ground, you’re just gonna hit something.
I don’t have enough fuel not to land in Salmon — I cannot get back to Challis, where I took off from. I’d used up all my options, and I’m pretty scared. I climbed back up to radar coverage, and that’s about when I really got tunnel vision. I started to blackout — my vision was coming in real tight. I recognized it because in flight school, you learn about that stuff. I kept telling myself, “You just gotta focus.” As I’m climbing out, I tell air traffic control, “I don’t have enough fuel to make it to any airport.” I’m in the clouds over the Rocky Mountains, so I can’t even see what I’m going to hit when I run out of gas. I was so freakin’ scared.
I couldn’t stop looking at the fuel gauge — it was bouncing around on empty. I remember just covering them up and the mechanic saying, “Why are you doing that?” I said, “Because it doesn’t matter, and I can’t look at that anymore.” I don’t know… it was so scary looking at it.
Our director of maintenance had gotten sick three times because of the turbulence — we’re just getting the crap kicked out of us in the storm. Anything that’s not strapped down is bouncing around and lifting off the floor. Suddenly, my right engine quits. Then about 30 seconds later the left engine quits, and I’m in the clouds. Now I’m a glider.
I reduced the drag on the airplane because if I hit something, I wanna be going as slow as possible, so that maybe I’ll see it. I’m just going along for the ride. I thought, If I do everything perfectly, I’m going to still hit something.
Did I think about dying? It crossed my mind. I was looking over at our director of maintenance, thinking, This guy’s gonna die, too. That really changes things. I had never thought about it before, but if you’re the one responsible and the person beside you is just along with you, it’s even worse. It was the most scared I’d ever been. You’re thinking you’re gonna die, and you have to think about it for a few minutes.
Then, we broke out of the clouds over a wide valley. Interstate 15 was below us. When I saw the ground, I no longer feared for my life: I got on the radio and said, “I’m gonna land on Interstate 15 right here — I can’t make it to any airport. So can you send emergency vehicles?” And my stress level went way down.
The highway was actually closed because of the severe weather: The winds on the ground were about 40 miles per hour, sideways, and the highway was icy. Landing wasn’t difficult, though — you just turn your nose into the wind, like a boat crossing a river, pointing upstream to go straight across. It was icy enough to where, when we touched down, we just slid. I’d flown in Alaska before and had plenty of experience with that. The airplane landed just fine, neither of us were hurt, and the police came. The mechanic and I were pretty happy, and he’s scared to death flying! He thanked me for saving his life, and he thanked me for a year after that.
After I touched down, there was the whole doom of, “Did I just lose my career?” But the FAA conducted a big investigation and cleared me.
It affected me my whole life, though: I had that almost exact same situation about a year later, where I got caught in that valley. But I hadn’t taken off until they gave me four hours of fuel — even though it’s only a 10-minute flight. My boss was mad because the fuel was so much more expensive there. I’m like, “Then you can come and get the airplane! I’m not doing it again.” After that, they left me alone. Now it’s easy for me to say no and justify it. My confidence level went up to where I trust myself. I give myself more options.
When people hear the story, they just say, “Wow, you did a good job landing on the freeway.” But that wasn’t hard, it was all the decision making before that. When I came out of those clouds I felt lucky to be alive. I cannot explain the difference from being in the clouds with no engines running to all of a sudden being able to see the ground. The feeling was amazing. It was like, “Oh, I have an option. We’re gonna live.”