It was December 8, 2000, and I had just picked up Ernest, my helper for the day. I was a contractor working on a roofing job in Palacios, Texas. On the way to the jobsite, we stopped by a local propane company in Port Lavaca to fill the 10-gallon propane tank I used to melt and seal the thermoplastic membrane used to waterproof the roof.
When we arrived at the jobsite at 8:00 AM, Ernest set up the ladder and began to carry tools and supplies onto the roof. I secured the ladder behind him and took the freshly filled propane tank up and set it in the middle of the roof. Ernest and I then begin to install the metal trim around the perimeter of the building, as the roof surface had already been completed and was waterproof. It was time to finish the perimeter waterproofing.
After I had installed several pieces of trim, as had Ernest, he continued to install the trim while I went to get started heating the thermoplastic membrane strips to the metal and to the roof to seal the perimeter. I grabbed several membrane strips and took them over to the edge of the roof, then returned for the torch and propane tank. I walked up to grab the tank, and when I touched it, it exploded.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back about ten feet from where the tank exploded, watching a cloud of propane vapor rising high into the air. I was numb, and I knew I was hurt severely. I touched my mid-section and it felt cold. Liquid propane is about -50 degrees and I was splashed with it. There was almost no blood, but I knew it had to be bad.
Ernest was some distance away and was unhurt by the blast, but it scared him enough that he jumped off the ten feet high roof in order to get help. A woman in a house across the street came out after hearing the explosion. She asked Ernest if we needed help, then she went back inside and made the call.
The EMS station was about a mile down the road. They arrived quickly and began to assess my damage. One of the men said they had heard the explosion and began to get their gear ready as they waited for the call. They said they knew someone had to have been hurt from the loudness of the bang.
As one of the technicians examined me, the other two, along with Ernest, set up another ladder. They got their transfer cage to the roof to get me down and into their ambulance. I was slid down the ladders crossways, loaded onto a gurney and into the back of the ambulance.
The trip to the hospital seemed to take forever. There was no hospital in the fishing community where the accident occurred. I was taken to Bay City about 50 miles away. I could feel every little bump, and there were many. As the minutes passed, I could feel the numbness going away, and the pain was nearly unbearable by the time we reached the emergency entrance. I began to fade out.
It seemed like only seconds until I reached the operating room where three surgeons were waiting. They had been called in advance and were ready for me when I arrived. I was told to count backwards from 100. I recall getting to 97.
I awoke in a bed. I was alive. I had monitors and tubes hooked up it seemed in every place where something could be hooked up. And I hurt.
I don’t remember a lot about the next few days as I was drugged heavily. I remember eating a little once or twice and nurses were constantly fiddling with me. Every time I would doze off, someone would wake me back up to check my vitals and give me pills.
Day four, I was moved to a private room. I was given a small amount of food. The hospital food actually tasted good. I was still in a lot of pain, and the morphine, for which I had a control switch, only took the edge off the agony. It never subsided completely.
My surgeon came in every day and made changes to the nurse’s routine and medications. It was shortly after I was moved into the private room when it was decided my intestines had shut down. There was also a bright yellow liquid staining my bedclothes. The urologist who had helped put me back together in the operating room was called in. The yellow liquid was not urine. I overheard the doctor tell one of the nurses my intestines needed to be stimulated or they might begin dying. This would necessitate more surgery.
I was also bloated from the food I had eaten that my body could not process. A tube was inserted down my throat, and I remember three things. First, is the nastiest and vile liquid which gushed into the container which fortunately was mostly sealed.
Second, I remember the huge relief when the pressure was released. I felt like I was going to explode like a balloon about to pop. The relief was welcome.
Third, I felt extremely hungry. I was always hungry, but it’s hard to eat on a full stomach, but now that my stomach had been emptied, I wanted to eat. But my intestines were shut down. No one was going to give me food at this point. The tube was left in my stomach and a pump added. My stomach was continually pumped for several days.
I remember the mention of at least three types of enemas, but the one that sticks in my mind is the ‘slushy’ enema. All food was cut off for four days while my intestines were stimulated. I ate a total of one cup of crushed ice over those four days. I wasn’t going to die from starvation because of the IV, but I was getting damn hungry.
Another problem was that every time the nurses had to change the bed pads, the pain shot through my body to the point of nearly passing out. I asked for a trapeze bed so I could lift myself straight up to allow the nurses to change the dirty pad. My pelvis was not only fractured in several places, it was broken in half. The twisting was what was killing me when the two halves of my pelvis ground together. Even in my weakened condition, I was still strong enough to hold my body weight up long enough for this task to be completed. The trapeze was a welcome addition.
Another cat scan was ordered to take another look at my injuries. Again, the twisting and moving from the bed to the gurney, a flat and cold board slid underneath me and then onto the cat scan table shot excruciating pain through my body. Then the procedure reversed with an equal, if not more severe amount of pain.
Finally, my intestines began to work on the eighth day and I made a big mess in the bed. I apologized to the nurses, but they took it in stride and with a smile. I don’t think I could have done that. Nurses everywhere have my respect.
At one point, the doctor prescribed some medication which made me hallucinate badly. The dream continued for two nights and was the same both nights. I dreamt that I had to roll twine into a ball. As the ball got bigger and bigger, the ball became impossible to manage, yet I couldn’t stop. I woke up screaming in frustration of not being able to continue with my task.
Ernest came into the room to visit when I was able to talk to him; probably on the 4th or 5th day. He had some questions about what I wanted to do about the roof we were working on. I asked him to do whatever he needed to do to complete the job and keep track of his hours. I gave him full use of my truck to get the job done. He completed the perimeter with flashing cement and coated the roof to finish the job.
On the ninth day, my doctor came in and checked me out. That was the first time I remember actually looking at my injuries. I had a row of metal staples about eight inches long between my navel and groin area. It looked nasty. The tissues on my legs and stomach had solidified into a giant blood clot. I lay my head back down. I didn’t want to see any more.
Now that my intestines were working again, and I seemed to be doing better, my doctor commented that he really thought I was going to die. The morphine was finally beginning to do its job to my satisfaction. My doctor called a therapist in to get me walking, and it was she who gave me my first shower.
I don’t remember her name anymore, but she was a tiny gal. She assured me that she would not let me fall. With the help of a walker, her holding onto me tightly, and with a strap high around my waist, she got me into the shower and removed my hospital gown. She scrubbed me without saying a word and cleaned every square inch of my body. I fell in love with her immediately. The warm water felt so good against my body! And when she cleaned my private parts I began to feel alive again. There was no way there would be any reaction she would notice, though I felt the blood stirring.
I was also put back on food again, starting with a liquid diet. That day I had the best meal I have ever had in my entire life. It was only beef broth, but after not eating for too many days, it tasted better than any steak I have ever had, and I do love a good ribeye.
I got hungry several nights, and at this point I couldn’t seem to get enough food. The liquid diet wasn’t staying with me very long, and I talked one of the night nurses to sneak me in some popsicles. They were wonderful.
This little therapist gal came in every day, and we walked to the door and back at first. Then we made the trek into the hallway and finally down to the end of the hall after the third day. I say we walked, but with my walker and my pretty therapist holding onto me not so tightly now, I managed to scoot my feet along to make my way down the corridor.
By the 12th day, my doctor decided there was no more that he or the hospital could do for me. I could go home. I didn’t feel I was ready and chose to stay an extra day. I still didn’t feel strong enough, but went home anyway.
A few days after getting home, a physical therapist began coming in twice a week. I was pretty much healed up, but I was a long way away from being well. I could not walk without a walker, could not get out of bed without assistance and though I ate plenty, I didn’t seem to have any strength except in my upper body. I had worked hard all my life and was very strong because of the work, but the only strength I had now was in my upper half. The bottom half seemed all but dead.
My intestines were not only working again, they were working overtime. I had a lot of digestive problems. I could not eat anything that was remotely spicy or hard to digest. And food was going through me like there was no tomorrow. A good friend suggested chlorophyll tablets. I took his advice. He suggested taking about a dozen at a time. They weren’t going to hurt me and just might do me some good. I took a batch of the pills twice, but they couldn’t work. I would poop them out undissolved in two hours. They were not getting a chance to help me. They were going through my body so fast they wouldn’t even dissolve. My thought was that maybe food was also going through me so fast that my body couldn’t absorb enough nutrients to feed me. This may also be the reason I was so hungry all the time, regardless of how much I ate, which was a lot.
I went back to the doctor. He prescribed a little fast dissolving pill, which taken over a month, slowed my intestines down to a more normal rate. This did the trick.
I have been a survivor all my life by necessity. I wasn’t going to let this get me down. I would get stronger. I would do whatever I needed to do to get back into shape. I did the exercises my therapist instructed me to do. I was in constant pain, but I did the work. Often, walking only consisted of a walk to the bathroom, then around the kitchen/living room.
In between my exercise sessions, there was very little else I could do. This gave me plenty of time to think. To think how lucky I was. If the top half of the propane tank which hit me just above the groin when the tank separated in the middle during the explosion had hit me anywhere else, I’d be dead. If the propane had ignited, I’d be dead. If the lacerations on the inside of my legs had reached an artery, which they barely missed, I’d be dead. There are so many other ‘what if’s’ which could have easily resulted in my death. But they didn’t.
I was so lucky, however bad this incident was. An accident over which you have no control can happen at any time, and they can and will happen in an instant. This got me to thinking. I was strong enough to survive something like this. My life of hard manual labor saved me. You only live once and I very nearly lost it all.
Now, if I am going to die, I will have lived as well as I can. This experience has mellowed me considerably and has changed my life forever, for the better. Though my wife, now my ex, has moved on, it doesn’t matter. She is happy I think, and I have found someone else to share my life. Someone once said, “Only you can make you happy”. I truly believe that. If you are not happy, you have the power to make your life better. Do whatever you need to do to be happy. Don’t let anything stand in your way. You only have one chance at life, and if you are not happy, you are wasting your life. You never know when fate is going to blow up in your face.
Weeks with my physical therapist got me to where I could stand, lift a foot off the floor and walk. I still needed the walker, but I was walking more than scooting now. I was going outside too. It was January, and I really don’t remember it being all that cold, but I was eating a lot and exercising too, so my body was generating an enormous amount of heat so I didn’t get cold, even dressed lightly. I walked out to the mailbox which was normally a one minute or less stroll. That took fifteen minutes. I was moving along! I practiced getting in and out of my truck unassisted. Good thing there was a grab handle just inside the door. I wouldn’t have made it without it.
My son-in-law needed a new job and I needed someone to take care of the work end of my contracting business. After I was able to drive my truck safely, I began going to the jobsites to check on his work. I had given up my walker for a cane. Climbing the ladder was good exercise. I was intense on getting back to my old self—the tough SOB I once was. And maybe, just maybe, not so much of the SOB I had always been.
The explosion ripped my stomach open from hip to hip. Both legs were ripped open on the inside near the femoral artery. My pelvis was shattered in two large places as well as broken in half. My backbone was also severely aggravated. My bladder exploded from the impact. Finally, one of my testicles was ripped out and destroyed beyond repair. The tissues around the entire area had been damaged significantly due to the trauma. Much of the area was hard like a very large dried blood clot. It’s no wonder I very nearly died.
A year later, I could do light work. Two years later, I could do moderate work, but not nearly enough hard work I could return to my business. I decided it was time for me to retire. My lawyers had a field day with the people who filled the propane tank, the manufacturers of the propane tank and the pop-off valve which didn’t pop off to relieve the pressure in the tank. So, I retired. Over time, my son-in-law couldn’t handle the work, or at least couldn’t make me money, so I eventually shut the company down.
I did finally return to doing some small jobs from time to time to supplement my income. A couple years ago, I decided I just didn’t have to do the work anymore and completely retired. But a person like me retiring is nothing like most people retiring. I imagine most people retiring to a life of leisure. That may or may not be the actual truth of the matter, but I certainly have not retired to a sedentary life. I maintain nine acres, an orchard of about 80 fruit trees of all kinds, take care of a large garden, and am constantly doing a re-model around the house. I’m also fighting critters of all sorts, large and small. Maybe my biggest job now is taking care of Ellen, though this gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction as well. It’s my primary job, but it’s no chore.
I found I like flying. I began flying a couple years before I met Ellen. Travel is a main thing we have in common. Las Vegas is my favorite destination, but Ellen and I have traveled to several exotic locations, as well as numerous areas of the continental USA, and Alaska and Hawaii.
Travel makes Ellen happy and it makes me happy, so we do it. Like I said earlier, if you are not happy, it’s your own fault. You only live once, so live life to its fullest. You will die one day, and you never know when that might be. You may as well die knowing you got all you could out of life.