C. J. Petersen

Email: CJ@cjoutback.com

A True Story of Survival - September 5th 1997:

Sitting alone, my body is broken beyond human belief. Bleeding profusely and on the verge of passing out. I am alone .. as alone as any human could ever be. My clothes are torn and I can see my bones protruding from my right leg.. The thought crosses my mind that if I pass out now I'm going to bleed to death. Then I profoundly consider that as a favorable option. It would be so easy to sit up against this old adobe wall and slip into unconsciousness. The pain would be gone and I wouldn't have to face the future of whatever this will bring me to. My leg is so broken that I fear it will be amputated. I ride horses, train dogs, what would life be like in a wheel chair? Then, I think about who would find me dead. I think about my girlfriend, Kelley, if she came out here and found me propped up against this old adobe wall dead, it would ruin her life. I can't do that to her .. I must find a way to survive this. To choose death would be a selfish act.

Next to me at that old adobe was a hose bib. I turned it on and pulled the hose to me. I ran the water from my head down to my legs and back again. I did this long enough to 'wake up'. I then somehow had the presence of mind to turn the hose off. I started dragging myself backwards using my forearms. There was no skin left on my forearms, but I couldn't feel any pain now. I had to go about 40 feet to the inside of this old adobe hut. I was out in the desert - the ground was hot. I made it inside of the hut as there were no doors in the doorways. I knew there was a phone inside on a table. I couldn't use my legs as my left foot was broken and the ankle dislocated and my right femur shattered and the knee completely dislocated. I got to the table with the phone on it and sat up as tall as I could. I had no skin or muscle left on my buttocks. I could feel the phone! I couldn't sit up tall enough to see it. I pulled the phone toward me when the cords hit the end of their length and disconnected from the phone. I struggled to get the cords plugged back into the right receptacles but couldn't see what I was doing. Then as miracles do happen, I snapped them in. I 'brailed' out 911.

"Please, I need help. I'm at 727 S. 438th. Ave. My horse drug me through the desert and my legs are broken. I'm bleeding and I'm going to pass out". "What is your phone number?" "555-1212 please hurry!". I laid there alone and in silence, waiting for help. After about 10 minutes the phone rang. I struggled to sit up and answer it, it was the fire dept., lost. I directed them to the location. They were then on scene in about 1 minute. Three big firemen hurried into this old adobe hut and freaked when they saw me. They ran around like the keystone cops, and I said to them, "Please, just cut my boots off!" I knew my foot was broken inside my boot. The lower part of my right leg was folded up against my upper leg. My foot was at my hip. One man finally composed himself enough and started to cut my boot and what was left of my jeans. He asked me, "Why are you all wet?" I told him about my stop at the hose. Then a second fire dept. arrived and they were well equipped with all of the medical gear.

"What happened ?" "My horse drug me." "How did it happen, how long did he drag you?" "I think about 10 or 15 minutes, I was pulling railroad ties with my horse to build a fence. I had gotten off of him, walked over to the RR tie, took the rope off and suddenly my horse just bolted. The rope from the RR tie snared me like a rabbit around my left leg just above the boot and off I went. The rope was tied to his saddle horn." "Did you ever pass out or have any unconsciousness?" "No .. I kept my arms behind me like skids to keep my head off the ground. I felt every break, I saw every bush he drug me through." "How far did he run?" "I don't know .. maybe a mile. He stopped down the road at the neighbor's house first and I tried to get the rope off my leg there, but he started running again. I know their house is about a quarter mile down the road. He finally ran back home to the hitching post and stood dead still. I was then able to sit up and get the rope off of my leg. I drug myself up to the old adobe hut and sat up against the wall at the hose bib. That's where I got wet."

I could hear the firemen calling for a helicopter and it wasn't long before it landed right outside the old adobe. They had a hard time pulling my leg down and getting it on the stretcher so it would fit into the helicopter. I guess the helicopter slot was just wide enough for the stretcher, nothing could be hanging over the edges. I now had on a neck brace and some I V's going. I was transferred into the helicopter. It was about a 15 minute flight. I could hear the nurse calling to the hospital and referring to me as a trauma level 1, full code. I heard her description of my condition and I started to get really scared. Upon arrival at the hospital, I was met on the heliport by physicians in waiting. I begged them, "Please give me something for the pain." One kind Dr. said, "Honey, you won't feel anything in just a minute." He gave me a shot and I don't even remember going through the hospital doors. What an 'angel' he was.




The next 24 hours were like a dream sequence. I could hear instruments clattering, I could hear Doctors and Nurses talking, but only when they attempted to wake me enough to answer their questions. "Cheryl, can you wiggle your toes for me?" I think I did. I heard one Dr. say, "The nerve is intact, we'll try to save the leg".

10 hours of surgery, 6 different surgeons of their own specialties, 9 pints of blood later and I was then in intensive care. They treated me like a burn patient. I had grated off my touche, all the skin from my forearms, fingertips, palms of the hands and my back. I had fractured my left hand, left foot, and multiple fractures of the right femur. Total dislocation of the right knee, midfoot dislocation of the left foot. A few huge open lacerations in various locations. One Dr. said he could insert his hand up to his elbow into one of the lacerations on my 'backside'.

The Drs. kept me in intensive care for 3 weeks in a 'drug induced coma'. I have absolutely no recall of this time period.

When I became conscious of my surroundings, I remembered the accident in every detail. I still had tubes protruding from every orifice in my body. I could not eat, and every small move was filled with pain. My butt hurt SO BAD!! Well, I didn't have a butt, but if I did, that's where it hurt the worst. You don't realize how important your butt is until you lose it. I really put a new meaning to, "I lost my ass".

I started having horrible re occurrences of the accident. Each time the outcome was worse. I cried all the time from physical and emotional pain. I was on heavy doses of morphine with a button I could push every 20 minutes that would give me an extra shot of morphine. I used to watch the clock so that I wouldn't miss the opportunity to take the extra drugs. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't move! If I did manage to sleep, I would re-live the accident and crack my head open or get wrapped around a fence post or hit a big boulder and wake up sobbing.

My Mother was a trooper and so was my son. My room was full of cards and flowers and gifts. It was nice to know how many people cared enough to be so thoughtful.

I had casts on both legs. Bandages everywhere. Let's don't talk about my hair .. on my head and on my legs!! I could only take 'spit baths'. The nurses were great. One brought me a t-shirt and some lipstick once (like that's going to help!) But, so sweet of her to do it. I couldn't even hold my silverware. I couldn't open the milk carton. My fingertips had been ground off and it hurt to touch anything! Nothing tasted good, all I wanted was a Big Mac and Fries.

I had two more surgeries that month. One to try to clean out some more of the rocks and gravel from the Sonoran Desert that was left in my *^&#@*&%!! And another to sew up a laceration that they left open down the back of my left thigh about 12 inches long.

Then after 1 month in the hospital, the Drs. decided to move me to a long term care facility. I was scared to go. I didn't understand? I had a 100% pay insurance policy with no limits. I was still in such pain and couldn't move yet. They had put me on an anti-depressant drug and it helped me cope with the nightmares and I knew I had to be strong and get through this. And so it was.

I was moved to an Old Folks Home. They put me in a private room at the end of a hallway, so it was quiet and I tried not to think about where I was. A physical therapist started coming regularly. First I had to sit up. My butt was still in bandages and being changed 2 to 3 times a day, and now they want me to sit on it? The next 4 weeks were very hard times. Sitting up, getting into a wheel chair and finally standing in the parallel bars and taking a step. Within about 2 weeks, I was able to walk with a walker about 10 feet. It felt like I had just run a marathon. My hands were still not healed and it hurt to hang on to the walker.

Then the orthopedic surgeon came in one day and said he was going to remove the pins in my left foot that were placed there to heal the fractures. He took a pliers and without using any numbing agents, he started to pull these huge pins out. I screamed in pain! I couldn't believe he would hurt me like this. I'll never forget how 'barbaric' that was. I cried so hard and asked him, "Why didn't you give me something?" His reply was that this is how he always does it, even in the DR's office. He didn't expect it to hurt like that. OH PLEASE!!

Now it is about 7 weeks past the date of the accident. I'm actually a little bit mobile (not without help). Halloween rolled around and my Son came in with all sorts of decorations for the room. He was so sweet. He lives in California and would drive every weekend to Phoenix to see me. Many of the people I considered to be my friends, I never saw or heard from. Then there were people you least expect who shine through. You sure find out who your friends are.

Just as it seemed that I was making some progress, I had a huge setback. I developed an infection in my right leg where I had fractured the bone so badly (into 8 pieces with 3 long breaks above that.) Pus just started pouring out. The orthopedic surgeon transferred me back into the hospital on Nov. 10th and proceeded with a surgery to try to arrest the infection. This would be the first of 14 more surgeries to come. Not to mention the many times they shot me up with huge doses of morphine and scraped the bone right in the hospital room. They may as well of given me a shot of tequila and a block of wood to bite on.

To Be Continued ..