It’s only thanks to Siri and a leather belt that I’m able to tell this story today. What started out as a day of simple yard work quickly turned into a life-or-death situation.
In mid-October 2017, I decided it was time to cut down an old mulberry tree in my backyard. Not in the mood to sharpen my old ax, I went to a nearby hardware store to purchase a new one. Little did I know that this simple purchase would ultimately be a life-changing decision and a blessing in disguise.
A swing and a miss
To paint you a picture of the scenario that day, the lowest hanging limbs of the mulberry tree were about chest level and drooped to the ground — preventing me from getting to the base of the trunk. With my new, razor-sharp ax, I swung from overhead at the limbs and, with little effort, one limb after another fell to the ground. The largest and last limb I cut down rested at about eye level. I knew it would only take two to three swings to get it out of my way, so I swung hard, thinking it might fall on the first swing.
As I repositioned myself for another swing, I realized something had hit me and that my left leg didn’t feel right.
Looking down, I saw blood on my jeans. Frustrated that I had cut myself, I figured it was a minor cut and that paper towels and duct tape would stop the bleeding and allow me to get back to work. So, I turned toward the house to get the supplies.
Taking a step, I saw blood spurt about 12-15 inches out from my leg. My jeans were now soaked in blood. The cut was bad, and that’s when I realized I needed help.
Stopping the bleed
At the time, my wife was on her way home from work and was still 45 minutes away. Plus, if she had she seen my situation, she would have panicked.
There was no one nearby to hear a scream for help, so I laid down and applied pressure to the wound with my hands. But the blood kept spurting.
Looking at my leg, I could see a large gash running parallel to my shin bone. Blood was soaking my jeans and pooling in the grass underneath me. I knew I had to call 911 but realized that if I didn’t continue to apply pressure to slow the rapid loss of blood, I would likely pass out in the middle of the call and bleed to death.
I was determined to not let my wife find my blood-soaked, lifeless body lying in the backyard, so I prayed that God would save me. I began evaluating what it would take to get help when I couldn’t move.
That’s when I took off my belt and cinched it above my knee as tight as I could. Fortunately, I always wear Bluetooth earbuds while working outside, so I was able to tell Siri on my phone to call 911 without using my hands. Having both hands free while making the call for help allowed me to tighten the belt around my leg as much as possible.
Looking back, the only emergency training I’ve ever had was a CPR class I took in high school almost 25 years ago. I’ve never been trained in trauma response or how to make a tourniquet, but growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, I learned how to be resourceful when hurt in remote areas.
I knew as I laid there in my back yard that I was bleeding to death, and a tourniquet was my only chance of surviving until help arrived.
A blessing in disguise
Living in the small town of Justin, Texas, was a blessing that day because the Justin Volunteer Fire Department was less than a mile away and responded in less than five minutes.
When they arrived, they were surprised to see me using my belt as a tourniquet. Evaluating my wound and preparing me for transport, the EMTs commented that I had probably severed an artery. They replaced my blood-soaked belt with one of their tourniquets. En route to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine, the EMTs could not stop the hemorrhaging, so another tourniquet was applied.
Dr. Gerald R. Stephenson, Jr, MD, a trauma surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine told me before going into surgery that I had saved my own life by using my belt as a tourniquet.
As a result of the incident, two arteries were irreparably damaged, leaving me with only one artery in that leg. The wound was over 8 inches long, 2 inches deep and laid open nearly 2 1/2 inches. Thankfully, because the ax was brand new, it didn’t have the rust, oil and grime that typically causes serious infections in this type of injury. It took nearly four months of physical therapy and at-home exercises to have the strength to return to my job as a commercial and portrait photographer.
It has now been nearly eight months since my “ax-ident.” I’ve slowed down a lot and am careful about the work I do and the hours I am on my feet. The damaged muscles and nerves significantly impaired my range of movement and feeling below my knee, but those things are slowly returning. Still, it could take upwards of another 18 months to completely recover.
At 44 years old, I still love hard work and it isn’t uncommon for me to cut down a tree, build a fence or take on some other project around the house. I still have the blood-covered ax and will continue to use it and other tools, but I do take a little more time to ensure I am doing it safely.
When I look back on that day, I’m grateful I had the basic knowledge of how to make a tourniquet so I could hang on until help arrived. Although it’s not knowledge we ever hope to need, it could save a life one day — maybe even your own.
This blog post was contributed by Eric Priddy.
In a moment of crisis, would you know how to Stop the Bleed?