Lose your limb or your life logging accidents

Man Pinned Under Tree Amputates His Leg

Wed Jun 6, 2007 4:43 PM EDT


Alone in the woods with his left leg pinned beneath a fallen tree for 11 hours, a 66-year-old man used pocket knives to cut off his limb below the knee to free himself, a neighbor and authorities said.

Al Hill had been cutting trees last Friday when one fell on him. After freeing himself, he cried out for help, and a neighbor passing through this sparsely populated area heard him.

Eric Bookey then hiked nearly two miles to get a cellular signal and placed an emergency call to the town's all-volunteer fire department about 7:30 p.m., Fire Chief Luana Dowling told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Hill was eventually airlifted by helicopter to a hospital where he underwent amputation surgery, Dowling said. "He's a pretty remarkable person," Dowling said.

A hospital spokeswoman said Hill was in serious condition on Wednesday, and that he was declining interviews.






Living with a Below-Knee Amputation: A Unique Insight from a Prosthetist/Amputee


Bret was 29 years old and a logger by trade. He was married to a wonderful woman named Helen and they had 2 sons. The oldest boy was helping him to clear brush one hot July afternoon. One of the crew of loggers was working on a large tree where they were clear-cutting a stand of second growth fir that grew in the mountains outside of Boise, Idaho. Bret was running the bulldozer and grading a road so they could get the big trucks into the clearing to haul out the logs. The logger working on the large tree had only been logging with the crew since the beginning of the summer and had been trying to prove himself to the rest of the crew. As he cut his back wedge into the tree, he thought he felt it nudge the wrong way. He pulled out his chain saw and looked up at the 90-ft fir tree. It seemed stable enough and he really didn’t want to ask any of the rest of the crew for help since they would only give him grief at lunch about not being able to handle the work. He glanced around to make sure that the spot where he intended to fell the tree was clear and continued his cutting. A chain saw makes a lot of noise when you are holding it and he never heard Bret in the bulldozer behind him.

All of a sudden the chain saw stuck and he heard a sickening crack as the tree finally gave up its life and started to fall. Only it wasn’t falling where he wanted it, instead the tree fell backward so he ran perpendicular to the fall of the tree with the chain saw still running and stuck in the tree. Bret never heard the tree fall but he felt something vibrate and looked up just in time to see the main trunk of the tree come crashing toward the open cab of the bulldozer. Two seconds later, Bret was crushed beneath tons of tree and trapped in the twisted metal of the bulldozer. He never lost consciousness and never went into shock as he lay there with both feet pinned beneath the log. The pain was like an inferno erupting from his feet and he knew that he was in trouble. His son, who was only 10 at the time, came to his side and Bret went calm despite the pain. Bret was made of tougher stuff then even he imagined and the thought of what his son must be feeling to see his father in such pain gave him a strength and calmness that he never dreamed he could have. It took almost an hour for paramedics and rescuers to free him and load him on the helicopter for the flight to the hospital in Boise. By the time he received medication for the pain, it had been 2 hours and he was beginning to come unglued, but Helen was at the hospital and the sight of her determined strength calmed Bret. When he woke up hours later he looked down to see his right foot gone just below the knee and the left foot missing at the ankle.

Bret had grown up in Idaho living the life of an outdoorsman; hunting, fishing, and logging had been a natural extension of this life. Now it seemed that the outdoors life was over. How could he operate machinery with no feet? How could he heft the 13.5-kg (30-lb) chain saw that was his livelihood? What were his kids going to think of their crippled father? Helen was there with him now but how was she going to take to life with a legless man? These questions plagued him as he lay in the hospital, his mind fogged with morphine.

Bret was not a particularly religious man. He rarely went to church and although Helen was a regular at Trinity Methodist he only went on Christmas and Easter. Bret was not going to give up on the life that he had made for himself and as he wrestled with his demons he found that there was a spirit inside of him that gave him strength. When his 2 boys came to see him, he found himself making jokes about his legs instead of feeling sorry for himself. Where did this come from? He had always been an optimistic person who had a noncomplicated way of looking at things but this inner strength surprised him.

Bret knew nothing about prostheses and didn’t know anyone who wore one. After 3 weeks in the hospital, a man who described himself as a prosthetist (which to Bret sounded suspiciously like prostitute) visited him. The man talked with him for several hours about artificial legs and what he was going to be able to do again. When Bret asked him when he could go back to work, the man said that returning to the logging profession was probably not an option. The prosthetist said he would be returning in 3 more weeks to take casts so that he could make Bret a new pair of legs. Bret got angry after the prosthetist left. “What does he mean that I can’t return to logging? It’s all that I know and I’m not about to give that up. I will show him,” he thought to himself. Helen could tell that he was upset and comforted him the best that she could, but she was afraid that the prosthetist was probably correct in his assessment.

After a month in the hospital Bret was released to go home in a wheelchair. He had a hard time getting around in the chair and their house was hardly accessible. He experienced his first real days of intense frustration. When he was alone during the day he would begin to curse the day of the accident and wonder why this had happened to him. His logging buddies came by and they would stay up late having a sip of whiskey, he asked what had happened with the guy who had cut the tree that fell on him. His friends said that the man had quit the next day and had moved to Florida or somewhere, unable to cope with what he had done. Somehow Bret didn’t feel any satisfaction from the news. He didn’t blame the man for his predicament. As a matter of fact, blame didn’t really enter into his thinking. What had happened to him had happened and no amount of revenge or bitterness would ever bring back his feet. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about what you do with what happens to you.

Most days the pain was bearable. He had pain medication to take the edge off but Bret was leary of becoming addicted to those pills and he didn’t like the way it left him fuzzy all of the time. He started to cut them out and only use them if he really needed them. The pain that really drove him crazy though were the “electric shooters” as he called them. They would come out of nowhere and send waves of electric agony through him that caused him to grab the chair and hold on for life. Fortunately, they only lasted a few seconds but there were times when they would come in a series and this was the worst time. That’s when he would turn to the whiskey bottle for a quick swig to get him through. Bret knew that if he kept on like this he was eventually going to go crazy and then the prosthetist showed up.

The prosthetist came in and asked how he was doing. Bret didn’t particularly like the man but asked him to get on with it so the prosthetist proceeded to wrap plaster bandages around his stumps. He explained to Bret that the longer stump was called a Syme’s amputation and the shorter one was a below knee. He said that he would take the casts along with all of the measurements that he had back to the lab and then send him the legs in a couple of weeks. Bret asked what he would do when he got the legs and the man simply answered that he should put them on and walk.

The next 2 weeks went by slowly, but one day a large package arrived from the prosthetic facility. Inside were two shiny plastic legs, one with some type of strap that went over his knee and the other was long with a removable door on the shank. It took Bret a couple of hours to figure out how to put them on and finally he had to call the prosthetist to figure out what to do with all of the socks he had gotten. He finally got them on and stood up with no cane or crutches. It felt good to stand even though there was a lot of pain in both of the legs, something he figured he’d get used to. Now it was time to walk. Helen took his arm and he took his first steps down the narrow hallway. He could do it; it was like walking on stilts, but by God he could do it. That night he walked up and down the hallway holding onto the walls to keep from falling. When he finally took the legs off his stumps were red and sore, but no serious damage had been done. For the first time since the awful accident Bret had hopes that he could return to his life.

Over the next several weeks Bret mastered walking on the prostheses and got himself a cane to use when he went out to the barn. Rough terrain was difficult since the feet were pretty stiff and anytime he stepped on a stone it would pitch him in the opposite direction. He had to call the prosthetist again to learn how to add socks as his stumps shrank. He now understood why they had sent so many. One morning when he had just added some socks and the legs were actually not feeling bad, he went out to the barn to feed the horses. As he looked for the pitchfork he came across his chain saw. The big Stihl with a 91-cm (36-in) cutting bar was like he had left it, worn but not a speck of dirt or grease on it and the chain was sharp enough to shave with. He reached over and picked it up. It started in an instant and he moved over to some logs stacked nearby. He spent the next hour cutting up the logs and actually working up a sweat. It felt good. Bret determined right then and there that he was going to go back to the profession that he loved.

Bret returned to logging after being off the crew for only 6 months. He worked with his brother and several other men and after a week he was pulling his own weight on the job. He even was able to run the bulldozer as well as all of the other heavy equipment that they needed. No one could believe how well Bret had recovered from what to most men would seem like a life-ending tragedy. To Bret it just seemed like a natural thing and wondered what the big deal was. He went on to raise his boys, who chose to go to college, which suited Bret fine. One day when he was visiting another prosthetist facility, one that didn’t mail the legs to you when they were done, he saw a brochure about handicapped skiing. He had always wanted to learn to ski and even though he was 36 years old, he figured he would try it. The local resort was hosting a “learn to ski” clinic and he attended. This was another natural for Bret and after the first day he realized that he loved this sport. He went on to compete in the Nationals in Colorado and won several medals.

I had the honor of making Bret several pair of legs over my career and was continually inspired by his good nature and easy ways. He took the worst that can happen to you and made the best out of it. It was unbelievable to me that his first several pair of legs were mailed to him from the prosthetist with no adjustments or instructions. He exemplified the “can do” spirit that I believe resides within each of us (Figure 7-1).