It was Friday afternoon and I had plans. We had an hour and forty minutes to get the job done before the end of the day. The rush was on … “Let’s go guys, I got plans, I don’t have time for overtime.”
Have you ever taken a shortcut? If you are honest with yourself, you would answer “yes.” I think we all have taken a shortcut at some point in our lives, be it at work, at home, while driving, etc.
In my case, it was on the job.
Previously, I traveled and worked various jobs in construction, all the way from laborer to electrician. I was excited when I got a new job as a union maintenance electrician for a local pulp and paper mill. That meant no more travel, a good income, and stability for my family and me. However, in one second, all of that was about to change forever, for me and for everyone I knew.
The job that day was investigating why a 200 amp, 12,500-volt power line was shorting out. This line had shut down a section of the mill the night before. Now, I was no slouch. I was a healthy, 6’3” 240 lb. man who loved his work and my overall attitude was to “get the job done.”
But in this case, that go-getter attitude almost killed me.
While the power house electrical crew and others watched from the ground, a consultant and I were 40 feet in the air in a bucket truck, running a test on the power line. The conversation on the ground and in the bucket truck was typical for a Friday afternoon…
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“The weather is supposed to be nice.”
“Let’s go guys…”
Then in one split second, everything that was “me,” everything that was my identity, was GONE. As I leaned over the bucket rail to stretch my back, I felt a sharp pain and heard a buzzing sound in my
right ear, and I let out a blood-curdling scream.
That 12,500-volt power line I was working with? It was supposed to be de-energized, but shortcuts and “I have plans” got in the way. I had leaned back and touched it with my right earlobe. SNAP!
Every muscle and organ in my body convulsed and contracted, and my heart stopped beating. I collapsed, falling back into the power line and hitting it a second time with the back of my head.
In less than a second, life changed as I was being cooked alive.
Fire and electricity was shooting out of me in 15 places that resulted in electrical burns over 37% of my body (I found that out later). My first memory was in the emergency room, feeling the searing heat as though I was still on fire. The smell was something my wife will never forget. It was the smell of my burned flesh and hair.
When I could understand what was going on, they told me that I had suffered permanent brain and spinal cord damage from the high voltage electrical trauma. They said I would never walk again. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to be alive.
When I was finally released from intensive care, I had my first of many surgeries, well over 50 in total (costing around $6 million in today’s money).
Fast forward to today…
I have a new zest for life and an attitude to match. I spend time camping and four-wheeling with my
family. I play an occasional game of golf with friends. Sometimes, I can take a motorcycle trip with my wife.
However, it all comes at a steep price … I do all of this with only 40% use of my legs and a few extra
pounds in metal parts. I wouldn’t say I’m very “efficient” anymore.
Above all, in my “recovery” from my accident, I have developed a lifelong mission. I intend to promote safety and spare others the trauma I had to endure.
My full story, The Impact of an Injury… What are YOU Risking?, talks about the ripple effect an injury has on a person, their family, coworkers and community. Now I travel the United States and Canada sharing my story. My presentation is focused on sharing the impact my injury has had on all those around me.
When I was injured 24 years ago, I was coaching my kid’s basketball, baseball, soccer, and swim team. I was a scuba diver and search and rescue volunteer with my local sheriff’s department. My family and I spent a lot of time water skiing and snow skiing. After the accident, all that went away.
It was years after the accident before I was able to enjoy some activities with my kids again. By this time, they were both in college and living busy adult lives. I could not handle stressful situations and I was challenged with memory loss from the electrical shock. This forced Jeanne, my wife, to become the decision-maker in our home. She also became my caregiver. Responsibilities I never intended for
her to carry. Responsibilities that could have been avoided if I had stayed focused, not taken shortcuts
and used my PPE.
At the time of the accident we had been married 17 years. Twenty-four years later, I know God gave me my true love. We have researched the chance of marriages lasting through accidents of this magnitude and the statistics are scary. Usually the stress and pressure will break the relationship. The healthy spouse can’t take care of the needs of the injured spouse or, more often, the injured spouse pushes the healthy spouse away, not wanting to be a burden the rest of their lives.
These emotions are real, as we know from experience. This is why Jeanne now travels and shares her
story. She talks to groups helping challenges of living with an injured spouse. She also travels with me and shares in a presentation we do together. She explains how your spouse expects you to come home the same way you left, “without even a bandage on your finger.”
The reality of a serious accident is something we live with every day. Choices I made changed our lives forever in less than a second.
You have the option to be patient, eliminate shortcuts, and use your PPE or not! You have the choice to say “no” when someone suggests you do something unsafe or against the rules. You have the responsibility to speak up when you see someone taking a shortcut.
My wife asks the question of her audience, “Who are you working for?” Is it the employer or the people at home who you are trying to provide for?
The reality is that it can happen to you. Don’t let it.
Learn more about Gary Norland’s incredible story at garynorland.com.