Friday, April 27, 2007

Part 5 of The Man Who Fell ... "the morgue?!"

To catch up on the story, click on parts 1, 2, 3, and 4

At the assembly area there was a truck with a couple of “riggers” gathering chutes. With no little hostility George threw his bagged chute on the ground next to the failed reserve chute that the colonel had brought up. This caused one of the riggers to shout, “You’d better straighten them out!”

“They came out that way and they are going back that way!” George responded bitterly, “And I want two parachute malfunction reports filled out and I want a damned investigation!” He demanded.

At that, with the last of his superhuman will and strength used up, George collapsed and this time he could not get back up. At long last his team reacted and came to his aid. They picked him up and awkwardly placed his lanky frame across the back of the colonel’s jeep. By the time they made it to Womack hospital at Fort Bragg he was out of his mind and began to resist and struggle. He no longer knew any of the men with him and didn’t even know where he was.

t the hospital emergency room, before the medics could move him they had to restrain his combative body by tightly strapping him down on a gurney.
One of the doctors when told that the struggling trooper had fallen asked, “What, was he getting on or off the aircraft?” One of his buddies responded, “No doc, his parachute failed and I think it knocked his brains loose.” This retort turned out to be truer than he knew.

Georges’s memories of his experiences in the hospital are sketchy, mostly because his injured brain at the time would no longer consistently hold those memories.

There is one disturbing incident that stayed in his bruised grey matter and for good reason. When they first brought him into Womack, he dimly recalls the doctors working on him before his consciousness switched “off” again. When he woke up he felt cold, icy cold in fact. Curiously, he saw that he was lying on a stainless steel table with just a thin sheet over him. Turning his eyes, he noticed another guy on an adjacent table. He couldn’t see the man’s face but he could clearly see a toe tag dangling from his foot.

Putting two and two together, George realized he was now “parked” in the morgue. An unsuspecting guy bumped through the doors with a mop and bucket and began to swab the floor.
George watched him intently until eventually the fellow looked up and saw an obviously “living dead guy” looking back at him. Once again he saw a man’s eyes grow as big as pie plates. Needless to say, the surprised fellow stopped mopping and went for help. Evidently, against the army’s continuing insistence that he be deceased, George just refused to go along with that notion.

If George had been a normal man instead of the tough Green Beret that he was, perhaps things would have been different for him over the next 4 or 5 months. If he’d refused to jump when he saw the suspect parachutes waiting for him; if he’d just said his prayers when he saw it was hopeless during the plunge to earth; if he’d gone quietly into the darkness instead of fighting for life while lying paralyzed there on the ground; if he’d lain still when the colonel ordered him to; and if he’d shut up instead of responding so vociferously to the colonel’s commands… IF, IF, IF! But then again, if he’d done all those things he wouldn’t be George.

After the morgue incident, one of his next recollections was waking up, in a real bed this time, when a nurse came into the room. “She asked me if I’d like to sit up and helped me into a sitting position.” That moment with the nurse was the beginning of his active involvement in his physical recovery. Unfortunately, it was a rehabilitation that was done almost entirely on his own with very little help from the army.

When I asked him what it felt like during his recovery, George describes it as a “sickening hurt.”
And why would he not feel terrible? His body had sustained punishment that would certainly have killed the rest of us. The fact that he didn’t die has to have a lot to do with luck and his extraordinary will to live.

Consider the forces acting on him when he bounced off the ground at more than a mile a minute. His bones, tissue and fluids were hurtling through space, and then, instantaneously, reversed course into the opposite direction--a sure formula for death.

The g-forces must have been in the hundreds. His neck should have snapped, and probably would have if not for the rope of twisted risers holding his head mostly immobile, and as such, what almost killed him probably helped to save him. Also, George’s tightly tucked Parachute Landing Fall caused him to “roll” back into the sky instead of sticking into the ground like a broken fleshy dart. This masterful maneuver kept him alive but did not prevent some horrible physical damage. And who knows which of his many injuries he sustained from that 20-foot secondary fall?

Click to continue on to Part 6 of "The Man Who Fell." He's not quite done yet with getting back up and dusting himself off.

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