Tom’s Brain Injury

Digging-around-a-tree-trunk-600x337About a week ago, my friend Joe posted a great blog on his first concussion. I’m not sure how many he has had since then, but saying it was the first could explain a few things… Love ya, buddy! . So, after reading his blog I thought I would go ahead and share my story too.

Several years ago we had a large poplar tree in our south yard that had reached the peak of its useful life. Basically we have one really nice spot in our yard and we wanted to spruce it up a bit. We had decided to take the poplar out in order to put in a flowering crab tree and a small rose garden.

I considered having the neighbor dig it out with a backhoe, but that would have made a large mess in the yard. I could cut the tree down and then dig the stump out, but that seemed like it would take longer as a two part operation. I came up with the great idea of digging around the tree and cutting the roots back as much as I could, and then pushing the weakened tree over with my Dad’s tractor. The tree could then be used as leverage against itself, making the stump removal very simple. Brilliant! This was going to be a breeze!

So, on a sunny Saturday morning I began the process of digging. The tree itself was about 12 inches in diameter, so I figured if I dig about 5 feet out all the way around the tree, I would be able to cut all of the significant roots that were holding the tree down and then the fun part could happen. Armed with my shovel and my double-head lumberman axe, I went to work.

After several hours, I had the bulk of the hole dug out. At some point in the morning Tammi had taken the kids to Traverse City or something, and I had elected to stay behind and work. Before she left, I made all of the sincere promises (that felt unnecessary) that I would take great care and caution in my work, acknowledging that I would be home alone with nobody to help me if I cut my foot off. I promised her that I would be careful, would not use a chainsaw, and would definitely not go running to her if I did cut my foot off. (I’ll wait for the laughter to subside after that joke… Okay, moving on.)

I was amazed at how many roots were there! The tree was only about 12 years old, but it had grown very fast. There were roots larger than my calf that I had to cut through in order to gain access to those farther down. I used a hose to wash off roots and dirt as I worked so I would not swing the axe in to a rock that could make the axe deflect off and into a piece of me. I cut sections out and kept stacking the pieces out of the way in order to keep my work area as neat and safe as possible.

Finally I had reached the end. I had one root that needed to be cut. It was deep in the hole, and almost under the trunk of the tree. The root was about the size of my wrist, but I was sure that with one hard swing it would quickly be taken care of. So, in keeping with my practice of safety, I checked my body placement so  nothing would be in the way. I put one leg behind the tree so it was safe. The other leg, and the foot under it, was stable and not in harm’s way. To make sure that I was still in a good and safe position, I took a couple of slow practice swings to check my balance, and then a couple faster practice swings as well. We were good for launch.

I raised the double-headed axe over my head, and with all of the strength I could muster, and I am not a little guy, I swung as hard as I could for that root. I saw the axe come down to about waist height and then I felt a brutal blow to the back of my head and everything went black.

I don’t remember falling into the hole. One moment I was swinging and the next I am face down in a muddy hole wondering who just came up and hit me in the head with a ball bat. I was about to open my eyes and look around when I heard my shovel handle sliding into the hole with me. That was when I realized what had happened.

In my effort to create a safe environment for my labor I had placed my shovel in the ground behind me. Well, it was out of the way, but when I swung the axe around behind me, I was not aware that the axe head had hooked the shovel handle. When I made my Paul Bunyan super swing, I pulled that shovel handle down and cracked myself across the back of the skull. Yep. I hit myself in the back of the head with a shovel handle – hard.

So, I am still lying in the hole, face down in the mud. I can’t move because I had hit myself right above the spine, and all communications with my extremities were temporarily out of order. I couldn’t feel anything lower than my chin. I probably should have been concerned at that moment, but all I could do was laugh at how nearly impossible this type of an injury could be, and how unfortunate that it was not on film!

After laying there for about two minutes I began to regain feeling in my limbs and was able to get up. The axe had fallen in a place that I had luckily not landed on it, and even better, I could see that where my face had planted into the mud was about 6 inches from a pool of water in the hole that I could have landed in. God was looking out for me.

So, not to be outwitted by a dirt-moving hand tool, I put the shovel in a safe place (in front of me this time so I could keep an eye on it) and got back into position to deliver that mighty swing. It took a minute because where there had been one root I was now seeing 5, but I went for the one in the middle, and with a swing that was probably not quite as confident as the first, I was able to cut the root.

After that it was time for the fun part. I got the tractor (why not use heavy equipment after a head injury) and pushed the tree over and then pulled it out of the hole. Since I was still under my vow of safety and would not use a chainsaw to start cutting up the tree, I picked up that traitorous shovel and filled in the hole.

When Tammi got home she came out to check on the progress.  Being the detail-oriented person that she is, it did not take her long to notice the turkey-egg sized lump on the back of my gourd.  She asked what had happened and I shared my story of hand tools run amok with her hoping she would agree that it was at least slightly humorous.

I was glad that she did not fall on the ground laughing at me, but I was not prepared for the anger (Which I later realized was fear of what could have happened) that came out of her.  She reminded me that I had promised to be safe, and wanted to know if I realized what could have happened.  I explained that I was doing everything I could to be safe.  the hole was kept free of debris, proper placement of feet and legs to insure that there would not be a bloodletting, the refusal to use a chainsaw while alone, but I had never counted on being jumped from behind by an unmanned shovel!

As that day wore on, the effects of the concussion started to settle in.  My head got real fuzzy, speech was slow, thoughts were bypassed into the mental equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, and I developed a terrible headache.  All of those symptoms lasted for a little less than a month before they lifted.  During that time, I could see the concern Tammi had for my gray matter, and I knew I never wanted to do anything like that again.

When I went out to work that day, I had a plan, and I had a plan on how to be careful.  That shovel was completely harmless to me – right up until the moment that it wasn’t.  Something that had the potential to do good, had suddenly done something bad to me, and it was my hand that had put it in the position to do so.

We have things in our lives that are the same way.  They might be little things that seem harmless, but where we put them can turn them into something dangerous.  Friendships, emotions, priorities, activities, leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on… All things that are good to have, but if we put them where they don’t belong, even for a moment, they could have a disastrous effect on our lives.

A life of Relentless Growth must admit that things can go wrong.  I need to be constantly looking at where I am in relationship to the things that are a part of my life.  I can’t afford to get comfortable, or to minimize potential threats.  I have responsibilities to God, and to my family that hang in the balance.

Also, a life of Relentless Growth allows others to look into your life to see the things that you cannot.  Perspective is very important, and since we all see things a little differently, another person might see a potential threat that you are just blind to.  That is why God made us to be in relationships with others. Relationships not only are fun and help us grow, they are also for protection.  If Tammi had been there, I would not have been beaten down by a yard tool!

This summer I have a couple more trees that I am looking to take down, and while I did have a “memorable” experience with the method I used before, I will probably employ it again.  You can be sure that I will have a good idea of where that shovel is the entire time!  I’m also pretty sure that I will have some people there this time to help me keep an eye on things.  None of them will be hoping to see a re-enactment of the concussion… Right?

Hey! No video recording is allowed without the expressed written permission of the person in the hole!