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Old October 3, 2007, 01:33 PM   #1
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My Ordeal - A firsthand lesson in Treestand safety...

If anyone's been wondering where I've been lately, I've had kindof a rough week.

On Saturday, Sept 22nd, I went into work for about 8 hours and then headed for the woods to bow hunt. I was tired and PO'd from work and really needed the relaxation of a nice evening hunt. I picked up my father in law and we were off. He decided to simply spot and stalk instead of getting into a treestand. I made the decision to go to my hotspot stand where I'd seen four the previous Saturday. This is a wooden built stand that I've hunted for more than 10 years and have taken 15-16 deer from in that time. It has never failed to account for at least one deer in a season.

I got to the stand at about 4:30PM and tied my bow off and started climbing. As I reached the top rung of the ladder, I grabbed for a limb that I've used a thousand times to haul myself into my seat. The limb broke sending all 240lbs of me tumbling backward approx 18ft to the ground below. I landed on my back on my pack and some wood. I was immediately out. I don't know for how long, but I know I was unconscious for a bit.

I came to and tried to get up. It was a definite no go. I could move my arms and my legs. My toes and fingers all worked, but I didn't have the strength to stand and even attempting to was excruciating. I suspected then that I'd broken my back. I tried yelling for help, but I didn't have the wind to yell very loud and my father in law was some distance away by that point. I think I passed out again somewhere along there.

I remember fumbling my cell phone out of it's case, but I don't remember who I called. Turns out I called my mother in law first who couldn't understand what I was saying and assumed it was an obscene phone call (Lots of gasping/heavy breathing, No caller ID). I called my wife next and finally got her to understand what had happened. She was at work about 20 mins from where we hunt. She headed toward me while trying to get my father in law on his cell phone. At this point I had passed out again.

I remember hearing my father in law coming through the woods to me that woke me up. He was on the phone with my wife and was directing her how to find us. He sat down beside me and asked if I could move, I told him barely but I was sure my back was broken. He sat down with me and talked to me, trying to keep me alert. I was in and out again.

My wife arrived and they got 911 on the way. They were trying to figure out how the EMT's were gonna get me out of the woods. As soon as She hung up the phone I remember hearing sirens in the distance. I think I passed out again. My wife headed out to the road to lead the EMS crew into where I was while my father in law stayed with me to keep me conscious. I remember him telling me a story about a mutual friend of ours doing this same thing 20 years ago and having to crawl 3 miles back to his house. At least I wouldn’t be crawling.

The EMT crew arrived and checked me over. They cut my shirt away and found a deformity around L-1. My hips hurt and my left hand was starting to turn purple. I was having trouble breathing. They put a cervical collar on me and strapped me to a back board and discussed briefly how they would haul my rather large carriage out of the woods to the ambulance. I heard the word helicopter mentioned for the first time somewhere around here. They discussed using the Gator they had along to cart me out. They actually got it stuck trying to get it in to me so that was thankfully out.

The three men and one woman of the EMS crew lifted me and carried me about 50 yds before they had to stop for a break. This was repeated a couple more times before we got back to the cornfield. Once I was out in the open they did a more thorough exam and became concerned about my breathing. They were convinced that my right lung was partially collapsed. They stuck a needle in my chest to relieve the pressure. They found out then my lung wasn’t collapsed. The needle in the chest thing really sucked.
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Old October 3, 2007, 01:34 PM   #2
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At this point they find out that both of UNC’s helo’s are occupied at the moment but they can get one in from Duke and take me to UNC. It was a go. 5 minutes later the helo was touching down and everyone was covered in dirt from the cornfield. They got me on the helo and while strapping me down, ripped the needle out of my chest. It hurt, but it immediately felt better once it was out of there too. Within minutes they were unloading me on the roof of UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. I remember asking for water and being told they couldn’t give me anything because I’d likely be in surgery soon.

They got me into the ER and I was in and out of consciousness through most of it. I remember them catheterizing me. I wish I didn’t. I remember meeting my Neurosurgeon for the first time. He said that they knew my back was broken, but that I still had use of all extremities and while I may need surgery I should recover without loss of function. He said they would do Xrays soon to confirm and then make a plan. I again asked for water and he said unfortunately no since I may be a candidate for emergency surgery.

Several hours, two brutal sets of xrays, an MRI from hell and CT scan later they determine that I have a severe burst fracture of L-1. My ribs are unbroken as is my left hand. Since I’m not losing any strength in my lower body and the surgery itself carries a level of risk of paralysis, they decide to postpone til the next day when the doctors are fresher. I finally got some water. The doctor described for me for the first time the surgery they would do. 8 titanium screws into the vertebra that’s broken plus the two above and one below. 2 titanium rods run through those screws plus a horizontal stabilizing bar connecting them. They will take my own bone fragments along with cadaver bone and seed the area around it to allow bone growth to fuse all this in place.

They move me into a room sometime that night along with a fellow who’s just had his second brain surgery and isn’t quite himself. I was pretty looped out on strong painkillers from here forward so the next couple of days are a blur. I remember them bumping my surgery from Sunday to Monday because more emergent cases came first. Since I still had use of my legs I was less severe than some of those who were coming in. Starting Monday morning early I started having muscle spasms in my back. My legs were being drawn straight up into my body by these spasms. I felt like I was being torn in half every time one came on. They came about every half hour.

They took me down for one more set of xrays before surgery. Every time they do this they have to transfer me onto a back board and then a stretcher. Every time they do this I nearly pass out from the pain and the spasms that are triggered by the movement. Finally they prescribe a muscle relaxant which stops the spasms and pretty much knocks me out.

They came to get me for surgery sometime after lunch on Monday. I barely remember them rolling me out of the room. I don’t remember getting to the OR or counting backward or any of that. I do remember coming out of surgery in a world of pain with a morphine button in my hand. That button became my best friend for the next 24 hours.

I was in and out over the next couple of days. When I was with it enough my wife filled me in on a few details the surgeon shared with her post surgery. There was a lot of muscle damage done by the bone fragments. There was also a lot of muscle (more than normal) for them to cut through due to my size. Because of the positioning of the break and the density of my bones they weren’t able to drill the 8th screw in so I only have 7. One of the nurses informed the doctor as they were closing the wound that the stabilizing bar showed chemical markers for spore contamination. She should have disclosed this an hour and a half earlier, but did not. This lengthened the surgery time somewhat as the surgeon had to call the CDC in Atlanta for advice. He may have had to undo everything he’d just spent five hours doing. They advised to close the wound and use heavier than normal antibiotic protocols to prevent infection. Later on a check of records determined that the bolt in question had been in the autoclave long enough that spore infection was impossible. The chemical markers themselves were faulty.

I spent several days and nights in the room with the fellow who’d had brain surgery. That was an unceasing adventure. He was deaf so he was loud and everyone who talked to him was loud (as if that would make him hear them). Everyone who walked past my bed to his somehow felt the need to bump into it. I found myself screaming “Hello, Back Surgery!” a couple times. After several sleepless nights (I got so tired of hearing him yell, “Do you have any idea who I am?”) they moved me to a private room on the other end of the floor.

I believe it was the day after my surgery that I got a visit from two Wildlife Officers following up on my accident. They had spoken to my father in law and had been to the site of the accident. They saw the branch that gave way and the distance I fell. Their assessment was that I was lucky to be alive much less walking. They took a full report and wished me the best of luck in recovery. It was a nice visit.

By the second day after surgery they had me fitted for a turtleshell brace and walking around the hallways in the hospital. It was painful at first but got easier. I’ll skip the description of the heroic efforts it took to get my bodily functions back under my control. Suffice it to say it was unpleasant. By Thursday and Friday they started talking discharge. They would have let me go home Friday night, but I was tired from walking and really just wanted to sleep. They postponed my discharge for Saturday. By 2:00PM Saturday I was headed home. I really was cursing the Governor for his repeated raidings of the highway trust fund to balance the state budget all the way.

Once home my progress has continued. I can now get myself out of my turtleshell brace on my own and can just about put it on independently. I have to do it by feel and it isn’t easy but it gives me a level of independence I just have to have. I still have to rely on my wife for help with bathing and some other personal care tasks. Hopefully those will become more independent as time wears on. I go back in Friday to get my stitches out and then at six weeks post-op for more Xrays and a checkup. Hopefully by then we can say bye bye to the brace. As it stands, if I’m not flat on my back I’ve got to be in the brace.

Through all this experience I have a newfound appreciation for the dangers of treestand hunting. I had a safety belt with me that day but never got into position to tie it off before I fell. If you’re going to hunt from an elevated platform, please use a climbing harness or be very careful when transitioning into your stand and getting settled/strapped in. I think I’ll be sticking to the ground for the immediate future. Bow season is out for me as is probably muzzleloader season. We’ll see how things go and I might be ready for rifle season in late Nov. I’ve still got a ways to go with rehab and healing before I can even think about getting back into the woods.

I happened to meet a couple fellow gunnies in the hospital though. My PT is a shooter and hunter. One of my neurosurgery team is a shooter and AR15 enthusiast. He told my wife he was going to write a prescription for a black rifle for me. It’s critical to my recovery. LOL.

This has been an ordeal, but as it stands I’ll get through it. To my fellow hunters please take this as a lesson. If you are already vigilant about treestand safety please continue to be. If you are somewhat lackadaisical, like I was, then please reexamine your practices before something like this or worse happens to you.

Last edited by rantingredneck; October 5, 2007 at 08:15 PM.
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Old October 3, 2007, 02:26 PM   #3
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OH...MY...GOD!!! So happy to know you are going to be ok, sorry to hear about all you went thu...I will definitely be very careful out there....
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Old October 3, 2007, 02:48 PM   #4
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One of my neurosurgery team is a shooter and AR15 enthusiast. He told my wife he was going to write a prescription for a black rifle for me. It’s critical to my recovery.

Good write up and very descriptive. Sympathy & good wishes for a speedy recovery.

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My personal website: Cornered Cat
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Old October 3, 2007, 04:38 PM   #5
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'WOW' pretty much sums that up. I wish you the best of luck during your recovery. That is quite an ordeal for you and your family to go through. I am going to start deer hunting shortly and will keep this story in mind.

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Old October 3, 2007, 04:40 PM   #6
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Wow! Sorry to hear of your ordeal - thanks for the good write up and your experience & advice.

I myself am a member of the metal club (got a rod & some pins in the arm) and remember the day it happened (Fighting a wild pack of Hell's Angels !! <cough> mountain biking) - begging and pleading for my water bottle... but nope. Even at the hospital whining for water - nope... I mean I was ready to fight someone if I didn't have to hold my broken arm with my good one for some water.. arghh.. And the morphine... yeah I've determined that stuff is pretty worthless. All it did was make me really, really hot and tired. Sure didn't do much for the pain, it just put my into a sweaty coma...

Here's advice from the 1000th person - work yourself raw in rehab. Easy to read, hard, and incredibly painful to do in real life. While it's nice being helped by, and getting sympathy from all the pretty nurses/ physical therapists, it doesn't do any good. I should have worked far more harder in rehab to get more of my strength back, it took over a year mainly because I started riding again, not because I went to the gym like I should have been doing.

Anyway, for whatever it’s worth, that’s my advice... kinda of like military training for real life - "The more you bleed in training.... " – now just apply it physical therapy.
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Old October 3, 2007, 04:50 PM   #7
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You made me laugh and wince with pain all at the same time. And you certianly have made the case for the safety harness!

Thanks for sharing the agony and best wishes for a successful recovery.
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Old October 3, 2007, 05:28 PM   #8
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Red get well soon dude

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Old October 3, 2007, 05:35 PM   #9
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Get better soon buddy. I appreciate you taking the time to write this for us. Some of us need a little reality break every once in a while.
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Old October 3, 2007, 06:38 PM   #10
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Been there, done that, only from 10 feet up and I was lucky. I walked away.

Red, Godspeed on a speedy recovery. And do what I do now, stay away from treestands. Tripods and gound huts/blinds......hpg
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Old October 3, 2007, 09:37 PM   #11
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DDDOOOMMMMMM. Now everybody knows why I quit climbing trees a few years ago. Man, what a story, and glad to hear the prognosis is good. Hope you get a TRICKED OUT TACTICOOL BLACK RIFLE after all that, brother! Get well, and keep us up to date. Better days will come. CB.
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Old October 3, 2007, 09:44 PM   #12
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Glad you're ok dude. It sucks you had to go through it, but at least you'll still be functional.
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Old October 3, 2007, 10:04 PM   #13
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Wow ! What a nightmare. Sounds like it's a miracle you're still with us, let alone walking. Best wishes for a speedy recovery. Hang in there.
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Old October 3, 2007, 10:06 PM   #14
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wow, sorry to hear that, hope you get well soon.
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Old October 3, 2007, 11:44 PM   #15
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many Blessings

I'll say a short prayer for your recovery. You're blessed to have lived and I am thankful for your story, too. Instead of a statistic, you get to tell us all about the ordeal. Glad you're still with us. No dying without permission!
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Old October 4, 2007, 04:48 AM   #16
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Prayers for a speedy and full recovery. Glad to hear that you didn't lose any function. God Bless.
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Old October 4, 2007, 06:30 AM   #17
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Good to hear you are doing well. What county did it occur in?
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Old October 4, 2007, 09:52 AM   #18
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Good to hear you are going to recover, and that you will be able to hunt again. Sorry that this had to happen to you though. I wish you a speedy recovery and hope to hear of your future hunting trips.
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Old October 4, 2007, 10:26 AM   #19
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Wow... just wow.

I am glad you will recover.
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Old October 4, 2007, 11:38 AM   #20
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Good to hear you are doing well. What county did it occur in?
Orange Co., North of Hillsborough
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Old October 4, 2007, 08:17 PM   #21
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Very frightening

I'm just in shock & awe of this happening. That's insane. Couple inches or couple more foot-lbs of impact energy and you'd be paralyzed. I'm very glad you're going to recover. Hope that goes well. Also glad you shared it as a warning to all; thanks.

So, don't take this the wrong way...

OK, class, what part of "Always Use a Harness" did we not understand?

Last edited by FirstFreedom; October 4, 2007 at 09:52 PM.
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Old October 4, 2007, 09:39 PM   #22
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glad you made it through ok brother!
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Old October 4, 2007, 09:48 PM   #23
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You did good. Not too long ago I read about a fellow falling asleep in his stand and falling out. He broke his back as well but ended up paralyzed.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Maybe it will help someone else be a bit more careful.
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Old October 4, 2007, 11:25 PM   #24
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That is somethin else my man its a good thing you had a phone on you and people looking out for you or things wouldve been pretty bad.

Heal up quick eh.
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Old October 5, 2007, 06:39 AM   #25
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RR, just curious I know several of the medics that work in Alamance.
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