Huron County farmer speaks about farm safety after surviving ‘horrifying’ accident.
November 10, 2011 - lucknowsentinel.com - A couple of threads from a pair of worn coveralls almost killed East Wawanosh farmer Chris Palmer when they pulled him into a PTO (power take-off shaft) on his farm three and a half years ago.
You can't imagine how fast it happened. If I had jeans on, I would have died because they wouldn't have ripped off," he told members of the Huron Federation of Agriculture as the keynote speaker at their annual meeting in Seaforth last Thursday. Palmer, who had been farming for 34 years, said he was doing chores after supper during a typical day, which had begun with chores at 5 a.m., been filled with an off-farm job in Guelph and continued into the evening trying to keep up with work on the farm. During the accident, which took only seconds to mutilate his body and change his life forever, Palmer felt a tickle at his knee before ending up sitting shocked and naked on the other side of the PTO, which ripped off all of his clothing but the collar of his t-shirt. His leg was gone at the knee and he also had a broken wrist, elbow and ribs.
"Talk about horror – I couldn't believe it but the brain kicks in and you go into survival mode, taking stock of the condition you're in. My leg was gone at the knee but the tibia bone was still there and licked clean. My right leg was perpendicular to my body and I didn't know where my right arm was. All I could feel was my left hand and my left hand hurt," he said. Palmer said he quickly ripped off the collar of his t-shirt because he was afraid it would get caught in the PTO shaft again and drag him through it again. After realizing that he was still breathing, he decided he needed to try and go for help.
"I prayed to God to give me the strength. I remember grabbing the tread of the tractor tire and forearming my way out. I inched my way around the tire and out into the gravel. I got out 15 feet and stopped – I couldn't do it anymore," he said, adding that he knew his 78-year-old Dad was doing chores in another shed and tried calling for help but had no idea how loud or long he was able to call. "I couldn't do it anymore and resolved that I was dying and just laid down," he said, adding that he learned later that he lost 80 per cent of the blood in his body during the accident.
Palmer shared that he was amazed to find that he experienced something like the stories he'd heard about the light at the end of the tunnel at the moment of death.
"It happened to me. I was walking – yes walking – down a lit hallway and came to an intersection and remember thinking that after all I'd been through, I couldn't believe I still had to choose what direction to go. I chose left because I knew my house was that way and I wanted to go home," he said, adding that he woke shortly afterwards when his father touched his shoulder.
"My Dad woke me up and I said, 'Dad, I'm in trouble.' The poor man had walked for 100 metres seeing a white blob of meat and bones in the gravel and I imagine that every step he'd wondered, 'Is that my son? Is he alive or dead?'" said Palmer.
His father ran to the house to call 911 and alerted Palmer's wife Donna about the accident. As a nurse, she got towels and blankets and tried her best to look after him until the emergency workers arrived. "The first guy on the scene was OPP officer Vu Pham. He gave Donna his card and told her to call if there was anything he could do for her," he said. Palmer said that when the ambulance arrived, the paramedics had a tough time figuring out how best to load him into the ambulance because he was "a mess." But, he remembers every bump in the road to the Wingham hospital and being loaded into a helicopter headed for London. At one point during the helicopter ride, he stopped breathing and had a ventilator tube shoved down his throat, damaging his vocal chords.
"I can't sing very well anymore but I'm here," he said.
Shortly after Palmer arrived in London, another farmer from Kincardine was brought into the hospital after a manure spreader accident but he died. Palmer spent four months in hospital, being fitted with a prosthetic leg at Parkwood hospital and learning how to use it. He said he learned to walk again using a "Chevy" prosthesis but elected to buy a $25,000 "Buick" with computerized hydraulics in the knee when he left the hospital.
"All in all, the leg is $40,000 and only lasts about five or six years until I have to get another one. I'd rather get a new truck," he said. He said the more expensive leg allows him to go down stairs and sit in a chair with control rather than just falling.
"When you're in the hospital surrounded by other amputees, you're one of the gang. But, when I got home, it hit me that I'm different, set apart," he said. He said the first time he walked into his kitchen after the accident, he took off his shoes and it hit him that his foot was fake, made of carbon fibre and rubber. "A flood of sorrow passed through my mind but I realized my only recourse was to move on so I put my slippers on," he said, adding that he and his wife ended up dancing around the kitchen at his homecoming. "We danced and she cried and that was great," he said.
Palmer credited the support and prayers of family, friends and neighbours for the gains he's made during rehabilitation. He and his wife still enjoy walks together and by bolting a second pedal onto his mountain bike, he's still riding his bike with his wife. He was released from hospital at the soybean harvest and was determined to get into the combine and do the job. "I said if I can get into the combine, we're going. So, we got out the stepladder and we did it. I got some help from the neighbours and we got the beans and corn done. It was good for the neighbours to see I was out there trying," he said.
Palmer said he told his friends from the beginning that they should call him Stumpy or Limpy so the accident needn't cause any discomfort between them. After joking that the barn cats had likely been eating the bones and flesh ripped from his body during the accident, a friend cautioned him to watch for barn cats following him when he got home.
While he is not able to farm all 300 acres of his property anymore, Palmer said he recently got a job as parts manager for a farm equipment dealership in Lucknow, which was "the best birthday present my wife ever received." "We are blessed and you're all blessed as well," he said, adding that his accident has given him a platform to speak about farm safety. "We all know the dangers and the safety measures but a horrifying accident can still happen. All of us on a farm are just a heartbeat away from dying. We take chances and shortcuts and work excessive hours. My accident was preventable," he said.