Sometimes not knowing how crazy something is, is a good thing
– Steve Wozniak, The Pirates of Silicon Valley
A few days ago, I mentioned the accident I had at my parents’ house in 1978. It was August 19, a Saturday, and my parents had left the house for one more grocery store bargain run, leaving me to watch after my younger brother, Frank and little nephew, David.
Oilers and Cowboys
Minutes before the accident I was sitting in the living room, reading the sports section of the Houston Post which had many stories about that night’s Houston Oilers – Dallas Cowboy game. To people outside of Texas it was just another preseason game, but not to Cowboy and Oiler fans. Since it was the only time the rivals would play each other that year, it was a game for bragging rights.
My brother, who was about 11, was running around the house making noise, and I was afraid he was going to wake up my nephew who had just gone down for a nap. I wanted to read the paper in peace, not deal with loud brothers or cranky toddlers deprived of their nap.
I was trying to get my brother to quiet down when he went out into the garage pushing the door open as far as the pneumatic closer would allow. Knowing that the slamming door would wake the sleeping child, I went to catch the door, but ended up putting my hand through the window in the door.
In the movies, horrific accidents are often shown in slow motion, and in fact, that is what I experienced. I could see the glass falling in ever so slow motion to the floor and my first reaction to breaking the glass was “Oh no, my father’s going to kill me.”
Pulling my arm back through the window opening I saw the thinnest ribbon of blood on the outside of my wrist, and thought, “Great, on top of my father being mad at me, I’ve cut myself too.”’
Turning my wrist over to look at the what I assumed to be a little cut, I instead beheld a gaping hole in my wrist and at that moment the slow motion ended. Blood was coursing out of me at an alarming rate, and I instinctively ran out the front door of the house.
Our next-door neighbor was in his front of his house preparing to do some lawn work, when I shot through the door screaming at the top of my lungs. I remember the smile on his face when he thought I was greeting him and how it disappeared when he saw the gushing blood.
I was well over 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds. In contrast, my neighbor was a small man, but he, I was later told, knocked me to the ground, and using some leftover electrical wire he had in his garage, created a makeshift tourniquet. His quick thinking saved my life that day.
From the time I went outside the house until I taken from the ambulance at the emergency room, my memories are faint. Either I was given a shot of morphine for the pain or I was in shock, but I remember very little.
I do remember seeing 4 or 5 doctors and nurses around me as I came off the ambulance and thinking “Wow, my injury must be pretty serious to get this kind of attention.” Like a grisly nightmare, I also remember the ER doctor cleaning the glass out of my wrist. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced and I repeatedly begged for a pain killer, but the doctor said I could not have one. When begging didn’t work I began to use every cuss word I knew, and I might have even invented some new ones. That didn’t work either.
I eventually made it to a room and was kept comfortable until I could go into surgery. It turned out that I would have to wait until the next day to get my wrist repaired. Not really feeling pain, I remember telling my father that afternoon how I was still looking forward to watching the Oilers-Cowboys game that night. It’s funny to think about it now, but I was heartbroken when I learned that Ben Taub hospital didn’t have TVs in the rooms.
My father, whose often strict demeanor hid a soft heart, left the hospital and made the 80-minute roundtrip drive to pick up a transistor radio at home so I could listen to the game. Though I faded in an out of consciousness that evening, I did hear Gifford Nielsen throw the touchdown pass that sealed the Oiler victory. Little did I know that an even bigger win was ahead that weekend.
The next evening, I was taken back to my room after surgery. All my family was there as were my closest friends. One of them came with his girlfriend and her friend, a girl named Becky.
I had a passing acquaintance of who Becky was, but I didn’t really know her. When I learned that she had come to the hospital with her friends I asked to see her. We made a little small talk, but then, not having had a real date in months, I thought I’d play the pity card and ask her out.
The surgically repaired wrist was taped to a board and elevated and the other hand had an IV in it, but I managed to put my hand on top of hers and I said, “Hey, when I spring this joint, let’s go out sometime.” Okay, it wasn’t exactly “what light through yonder window breaks,” but she agreed to go out with me.
Two days later I was back home and ready to call her, but it took a couple of days for me to muster the courage to call her. Less than three months later I asked her if she’d marry me. After thinking about it for a week or two, she agreed. She was 17 and only a couple of months into the fall semester of her junior year of high school. I was 18, and after the accident, unemployed.
Sounds like the perfect recipe for a long-lasting marriage, doesn’t it? Of course, neither of us had the faintest idea of what we were getting in to, but on this day in 1980, just a few weeks after she graduated from high school, we were married.
Today we celebrate 37 years as husband and wife.
I’m sure the prospect of their daughter marrying me scared her parents to death, but they paid for the wedding and were always very supportive anyway.
A year or so before my father in law died, he paid me the most incredible compliment I ever received. You must understand that Becky’s dad was a no-nonsense kind of father, who like my own father, had to grow up quickly during the Great
Depression. He was a man, that, as the old joke goes, “tossed around compliments like men toss around manhole covers.”
One day he told me that wherever he went he told people about Becky and me and the beautiful life we’d built together. In the years since Henry Birdwell passed, the family has grown to include 2 new daughters in-laws and a beautiful little boy who bears his great grandpa’s name. In December, we’ll welcome a new son-in-law and a second grandchild.
Thank you, God, for making something great out of broken glass and two very naïve kids.