Jackson County Times

Top Story News

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Climbing To Unpredictable Heights

What goes up must come down….often head first! By Sid Riley

Dr. Stephen Spence has a “pet peeve”. It is an avoidable malady from which he sees far too many people injured needlessly. They suffer with broken bones, serious head injuries, trauma and scars which may create months, years, or a lifetime of pain and suffering. His pet peeve is ….extension ladders and the fools who climb them.

My awareness of his interest in this matter came about a few months ago when I accidently took a two story plunge as my own extension ladder collapsed under my feet. I luckily took a mid-trip delay as I hit a roof on a lawn mower shed before continuing on to fall headfirst onto a concrete stairway.

A cut head, a broken rib, numerous cuts and bruises, a smashed hand, and a badly bruised back which was to turn a beautiful shade of blue during the coming days, were the only results from this “could have been fatal” fall for my 70 year old bones. I was lucky.

I remembered harassing my neighbor and friend, Roy Hutto, about ladder safety several years earlier after he fell from a ladder and ruined his rotator cup. Now it was my turn.

When Dr. Spence treated my injuries, he made one request of me. “Please tell my Dad exactly what happened, and warn him to never get onto another darned ladder!” Apparently Dr. Spence had already been arguing with his father, Walter Spence, on this subject.

“I see many, many serious injuries each year from these stupid ladders,” the frustrated doctor continued. “I see young me with injuries which will be them for the rest of their lives. I see old men suddenly converted into hobbling cripples. I see so much pain and suffering. I think the things need to be taken off of the market!”, he exclaimed.

At his urging, I began to investigate some other ladder related injuries which I was aware of…among people I knew, right here in Jackson County. Here are a few of those sad stories.

“Charles Mock had a great fall…”

The date was September 5, 2008. This was to be the last day Charles Mock would work in his fifty year career in auto parts sales. The stately Victorian home on Lafayette Street in Marianna where Charles and Ora Mock reside needed roof repairs. Since rain was forecast, Charles decided to get out his trusty extension ladder and place a temporary tarp over the area on the roof which was leaking. He had the feet of the ladder sitting on an uneven brick sidewalk, and the top against the shaky guttering along the roof.

While Charles was struggling to get the covering into place, nailing the edges to the roof, his wife of fifty five years, Ora, came out of the house. “Charles, get down from there right now…you are going to break your neck!”, she exclaimed in real concern. She could see the unsteady ladder move and jiggle each time Charles swung the hammer.

In frustration, Charles gave the covering one final tug and started down the ladder. Then things went wrong. The ladder slipped as Charles was climbing down and was only about six feet from the safety of solid ground….the ladder completely gave way!

Charles fell backwards as the ladder slipped violently to the side. “I went North and the ladder went West,”, Charles explains. Unfortunately, his right leg went through the open space between two rungs of the ladder, was caught between the sides of the falling device, and took several severe blows from the metal sides. His leg was severely broken and shattered before he hit the ground. All leg bones were pulverized just above the ankle, with the large bone protruding through the skin in a compound fracture which was bleeding badly. The injury had left his foot separated from his leg. They were only held together by the remaining skin and muscles.

Thus began a year of pain, suffering, and slow healing for Charles Mock, who had always enjoyed perfect health and had never spent a night in a hospital.

An ambulance was summoned from the Marianna Fire Department by Ora. Upon arrival at the scene, the determination was made that the injury was severe enough to warrant direct transportation to Southeast Alabama Medical Hospital in Dothan. Dr. Tim Haley was the physician on call for emergency treatment. The necessary diagnostic imaging was accomplished and a course of action determined. Charles had his first surgery that evening to provide the required stabilization of the bones and ankle. A second surgery was scheduled for two weeks later. Then a new demon appeared….MRSA staff infection!

“The infection was worse than the fall,” Charles stated. “I lost 20 pounds in one week. I almost died from that terrible infection, and it delayed the surgery I needed to finish the repair work on my shattered leg.”

Finally, in January of 2009, Dr. Alford completed the needed repairs, including numerous pins and metal plates to support the leg. After months of continuing medical visits and treatment, it became apparent that the leg still wasn’t healing. In September 2009 Charles had emergency surgery on the leg. MRSA had reappeared! Again the cleaning, IV antibiotics routines, and continuing care had to be provided. The pins and plates had to be removed in the large bone. Finally, the infection was gone, and the hardware was reinstalled. Again, healing began.

Today, after four surgeries and the passage of fourteen months, Charles Mock is still hobbling around his yard on crutches. Dr. Alford said that on a scale of one to ten, this injury would be ranked as an eight. They were able to save his foot from amputation, a fact which was in doubt on several occasions. However, he is currently getting better day by day, and is able to get around inside his home without the use of crutches. His outlook is cherry as he looks forward to being able to walk normally again. He expresses his gratitude to his wife Ora and his little dog, Samson, for their devotion and help during all of these months of suffering.

So that trip up his extension ladder cost Charles a valuable year of his life, forced him to endure unthinkable pain, created medical costs of over $250,000, and taught him a valuable lesson……. “That will be my last climb up a ladder”, Charles states emphatically.

“Kenneth Anderson, amputation was an option…”

It was January 26, 1996 and Kenneth Anderson was enjoying a day tinkering on the Anderson Farm, where Ken was born, located just south of Malone. He had purchased the farm upon his retirement after a long career working with U.S. Probation in Tallahassee. He was originally from Jackson County, having graduated from Marianna High in the class of 1950.

Ken was working alone that day as he was building a cook house as an addition to the farm. He was working near the roof of the house, and he had extended his old hook extension ladder to full length in order to reach the peak of the building. Just as he reached the upper level of the ladder, the ladder suddenly gave way as the hooks apparently had not properly seated on a rung to hold the upper extension in place.

Thus began Ken’s great fall, and an ongoing ordeal of pain and suffering.

As the ladder, with Ken aboard, plummeted to the ground, his leg extended outward, causing his right ankle to be caught under one rung of the ladder as the upper section slammed to the ground with Ken aboard. The impact immediately shattered his leg, leaving his foot dangling uncontrollably in never before seen positions and directions. He could feel the bone fragments grinding together each time he attempted to move.

After lying on the ground attempting to regain his composure and to assess his situation, Ken finally attempted to move. He was able to disentangle his broken leg from the ladder, even though his foot was now secured to his leg by only skin and a few muscles and tendons. “Somehow I managed to crawl to my truck, and I have no recall as to how I managed to get to an upright position to enable me to reach the door handle. After an eternity of pain I was able to get into the seat, find my keys, and start the truck. I placed the shattered right leg on the ‘hump’ of the truck floorboard, and used my left foot to operate the gas pedal and brake,” Anderson explains.

“I drove about seven miles to the Fire and Rescue station at the Marianna airport, and blew the horn. From there I was transported to Jackson Hospital. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was fortunate that Dr. Surgnier, the Orthopedist, was on duty. He already had me in the operating room when my wife, JoAnne arrived. I was given the option of amputation of the foot and being restored to walking in six weeks through use of a prosthetic device, or to undergo a year of surgery and healing and perhaps still have to have the foot amputated. I chose to keep my foot!

After a few days in the hospital I was finally returned home, and physical therapy began.

After a few weeks the home health nurse discovered an infection in the wound. I was returned to the hospital for further treatment. After several additional weeks with little healing progress, I was referred to Dr. Charlie Feagin in Dothan. Bone infection was found which was preventing healing. I was given the option of amputation of the foot and being restored to walking in six weeks through use of a prosthetic device, or to undergo a year of surgery and healing and perhaps still have to have the foot amputated. I chose to keep my foot!

The infection made it necessary for me to remain in Flowers Hospital for almost one full month while bad bone was removed each day and I was administered a routine of IVS full of antibiotics. Finally the infection was brought under control and I was ready for further surgery. First they removed bone marrow from my hip for placement in the injury area. Then they removed a muscle from my stomach and implanted it into my ankle area in order to create a blood supply. They removed skin from my hip for a skin graft to cover the stomach muscle on my ankle. An external metal fixator with screws into the bone was installed for support along with a full leg cast.

After months of crutches, boots, braces, and use of a walking cane….I was finally able to walk again! I now have plenty of scars and bad memories to remind me to respect ladders. I am very thankful for the ability to walk again.

I encourage anyone attempting to use a ladder to always exercise respect and caution. Full safety measures should be used and another person assisting is a good rule. As for me…..no more ladders, ever!

Final Words of Advice from Dr. Stephen Spence:

This article was written upon the urging of Dr. Stephen Spence. He urged the Jackson County Times to enhance public awareness of the frequent, life changing ladder related accidents which occur among the healthy young, middle aged, and understandably among the old in the population. He sees approximately five patients per year with serious injuries which were caused by falls from ladders.

“Multiply five patients per year times the number of doctors and you will see the amount of injuries is very significant,” Spence states. “After vehicular accidents, falls would rank second as the prime injury causing form of accident. A fall from a ladder can instantly convert a happy, perfectly healthy, productive person into a crippled, dependent, saddened person. It can happen to you at any age, although the opportunities for disaster increase as one ages.”

“One of the ingredients to this problem is what I call ‘dumb denial’. This is the person thinking ‘ This won’t happen to me,’ or ‘I’ve been doing this all of my life, I know what I’m doing,” Spence adds. “As we age, the possibility of having more serious consequences from a fall is increased, and because of the gradual decline in our reflex actions, vision, balance, and ability to control our extremities as we grow older, the likelihood of a fall also increases.”

“A person should always have a second person there to hold the ladder and assist the climber, and having the proper kind of ladder for the task is also important,” Spence concludes. “In my opinion, it usually isn’t worth the risk, and you are better off paying a professional to climb for you.”

No comments:

Post a Comment