PTSD: The True Story of Joey Pants
The following contains some gruesome details, and I assure you all are true. It’s about what I remember of March 31, 2000. I always say I have P.T.S.D. This is how it started.
I woke up that morning angry as ever. Mrs. Pants (Sabrina) and I had a pretty big fight and I left the house to go to work livid. My grandpa, Maynard Unruh, had just died two weeks prior due to a heart attack. Sabrina and I were living in a trailer park in Williamston, not even married for a year yet.
I was working at UCI in Wixom with friends Joe Fuller and Howard Travis as a lineman (telephone pole climber). That day we met at the shop and got our job description from the boss: We had to move a power down guy to make way for construction in Livonia. Down guys are the wires that travel from the tops of poles to the bottom, giving them stability. You’ve seen the yellow protectors on the ground by the phone poles. I remember telling Joe and Howard, “There is no way I’m touching this. If you want it done one of you has to do it.”
We got to the site and backed our bucket truck up to see if it would reach the pole we had to work on. I tested it out and it reached. The next thing I knew, they were handing me the wire to flip it through our cable and hand it back to them for re-attachment.
As I was pulling the wire up, I heard a “click.” And then I couldn’t move.
“BUZZ-BUZZ.” The current began to alternate through me, standing me up with each buzz. I shifted my eyes to Joe and Howard who were yelling at me,”Let it go!” The look on their faces still haunts me today.
I tried in vain to get the wire off me but I was paralyzed from the current. I began to think about Sabrina and how she would live the rest of her life without me. How would she get over losing her husband and being a widow at 25? I looked at Joe and Howard. It was like a TV screen with bad reception, getting smaller and smaller with each buzz.
I thought I was going to panic, so I closed my eyes and kept visualizing Sabrina walking down the aisle. When I opened my eyes I saw the wire flip away from me forcefully, kind of like someone pulled me off it. I tried extending my arms to keep myself in the bucket but they didn’t move. I knew I was falling to the earth.
I slid through the bucket hole and flipped 25 feet to the ground. Right before I hit, I closed my eyes. I never felt the impact.
Then, darkness. Silence. Nothing. I was SURE I was dead. It seemed like I was there for a year. I finally started asking: “What did I do to deserve limbo, purgatory?” or wherever I was.
I remember hearing my grandpa clear as day: “Joe, your body took quite a shock.” I remember begging for a second chance. I’d sell my soul, WHATEVER, just don’t let it end like this. Then I heard him again: “You’ll find your way back to your body. Make the most of it.”
I opened up my eyes and it was like being born, seeing the sun for the first time. I kept thinking, “Where is Sabrina?” “Where am I?” “Why is my face wet?”
Then Howard’s face came into focus. He was yelling, “C’mon, wake up!” My face was wet from his tears. Then I looked at my hands and started to smell that burnt chicken smell. My right thumb was just dangling on my hand and a chunk of my left hand was missing. But I thought, “I’M ALIVE!” I jumped up to see if I could and it was a big mistake. It felt like someone had kicked me in a very sensitive area. I fell back to the ground, not wanting to know.
Joe had called 911 before I hit the ground. It seemed like the ambulance showed right up. It was a team of five and they were warning me that electricity will burn you alive from the inside if it’s still in you. I said, “I’m not gay, but you need to get my pants off now, something is really wrong down there and I want to know if I should even try to survive.”
Sure enough, they cut my pants off and I heard a “Oh no” and my stomach dropped. One of the EMTs said I had some problems that they might not be able to fix. I looked down and the only way to explain it what I saw is it was like a mushroom that had been in a microwave for an hour.
Five percent of my body had third-degree burns. I still have the underwear with the burn holes.
I kept telling Joe, “Call Sabrina.” He couldn’t get a hold of her. Defeated, I laid back and shut my eyes. I opened them up to a bunch of doctors looking at me. One said, “I think we’ll have to amputate the left hand.” Quickly, another doctor said, “Send him to U of M. Their trauma burn unit is the best in the country. They are more prepared to deal with this type of injury.” I agreed.
The next thing I knew, I was in a helicopter with this neck restraint that made breathing tough. We landed at U of M and the first nurse I saw only had one eye. Really blue, almost angelic. I told him, “If you can’t get this thing working, roll my ass off the top of this building.” He replied, “I’m a former cop who survived a gunshot in the face. If they could keep me alive, they’ll get your twinkie working again.”
Twenty doctors stormed the room as I lay there buck naked and losing weight by the minute. They put me on morphine and all I remember is going in and out of surgery.
I woke up in a room with my mom. My hands were all wrapped in white, stained blood red. They did “compartment” surgery to get blood flow to my hand, avoiding amputation. They took my left groin and grafted it to my hands. They took skin from a dead body and covered up the almost foot-long burn on my right thigh. Some of the skin was used to hold my junk together as most of the current conducted through my zipper, through the tip of my Johnson, and the left cojone. They say it was the size of a softball. It ripped open and they used this dead guys skin to save my balls. Literally!
If you think this sounds like too much information, it gave me a greater understanding of what the human body can handle. What MY body can handle.
The worst was seeing my wife. She told me I might not make it through the night, but I knew better. Even though I was down, I was still ready to fight.
My grandma came to see me and she was smiling. In a morphine daze, I asked her, “What are you smiling at?”
I was at U of M for eight days. While I was there, MSU beat Florida for the 2000 national championship in basketball and I still don’t remember the game. My cousin Penny worked at U of M and would come see me every morning before her shift. We formed a strong bond and even today I am still grateful for her visits.
The Foley catheter came out on the last day. As Sabrina and I were checking out and filling my prescription, I saw this hot nurse walk by. I could see right through those nurse pants. Then I felt it… Chub-Chub! I never been happier to get a woody.
In the coming months, I rehabbed my hands, got my swimmers tested and went through the hell of workers compensation insurance.
They wanted me back to work ASAP, climbing poles or whatever I could do. I didn’t want the injury to control my life, so I went back to splicing cable. I did all right for a while, but the more I was around poles and heard the buzz, the more scared I got. For a while I thought I was dead and just going through the same episode over and over.
9/11 is the last day I remember working as a cable guy. I had enough and told the insurance company I couldn’t do it anymore. They made me go see a shrink, and there I discovered post-traumatic stress disorder. It WAS controlling my life. The quack told them putting me in that environment was not helping matters.
They put me at Timber Ridge retirement home with mostly dementia and Alzheimer patients. I got to hang out, entertain, learned how to play bridge, but every day no one remembered me from the day before. I told workman’s comp. I was going to look for a place to volunteer and they let me.
I came to WMMQ and begged to be an unpaid intern. I was going to Spec’s Howard and everyone kept telling me to go into radio. So I did.
On October 18, 2002 I graduated Spec’s with a 3.77 GPA and got a job at WJIM AM as a part-timer. Soon after, WITL and WVFN.
Workman’s comp. wanted to settle my case in early ’04. We had our day in court. The judge was so impressed she gave me the videotape of our court proceeding. The next day I was hired in full time to Citadel. One day earlier would have cost us 30 grand.
January 15th 2005, I started at WMMQ as the afternoon guy. The rest is a work in progress. In September of 2011, I started on the morning show with Deb Hart.
I still can’t talk to Joe Fuller or Howard Travis about the accident without them breaking down. They suffer from that day more than I do. I hope someday they can move on, like I am trying to do and have been been trying to do for the last 14 years. Today marks the 14th year.I also wanted everyone to know the sacrifices my family and my wife made to help me through hell. My wife had to wipe me after I went No. 2, she had to de-burr dead skin off my body parts, she kept me fighting when I wanted to lay down. Her attitude from the get-go set the pace for the rest of my recovery. I’m in debt to her for eternity and will remain forever faithful. My dad drove me to U of M for my check-ups and my mom took me to all of my physical therapy sessions. She would always take me to Arby’s after for Motz sticks. It was an amazing time of bonding with my family and brought me closer than ever with my dad.
I’m very lucky to be here. The most humbling moment of my life came after, when a widow of an electric accident asked me, “What was the last thing going through your mind?” and I told her: “My wife.”
After that I wrestled with, “Why did I survive?” for a while. I still don’t know. I guess I’m just lucky and it wasn’t my time. I’d love to say it hasn’t changed me, but it has.
If I had to go through it all again, I would tomorrow. I got a second chance to make my parents proud, and I have checked off so many life goals that I’ll have to make a new list.
What breaks my heart is how many soldiers have killed themselves as a result of their PTSD. It’s sad a lot of our soldiers meet this unheroic end. Calvin Coolidge once said, “the nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” When more soldiers are dying at their owns hand than are being killed in battle WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
My PTSD is like a cold compared to our men and women who are coming back. These soldiers followed orders, but there is no order for shaking PTSD. Some soldiers admitted they had it and were de-ranked because it’s considered a psychological weakness. The military’s attitude towards PTSD is in serious need of adjustment.
I have accomplished more with my life since I have had PTSD than I ever did without it. It can kill you or it can drive you. You are the one that chooses. I’m giving thanks today it hasn’t gotten the best of me. Thank you for reading my story. Thank you for listening.
Thank you for the second chance.