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Story ID:232
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local Legend
Location:Butte Montana USA
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by Kathe Campbell

On the morning of the Indy 500 I fixed my husband, Ken, a breakfast tray and tended to his bath and medical needs. He was recuperating at home after two prostate cancer surgeries. It felt wonderful to be free of worries after his lengthy ordeal. As ranch foreman, I told him I was going out to beef up Smart Assí fence, for either a moose or elk had knocked it galley-west during the night. Smart Ass was our 800 lb. mammoth jack donkey who, along with three others on our place, had just earned the much coveted National Donkey and Mule "Hall of Fame" award. It was just all in a day's work atop our beloved 7,000 foot Montana acres.

Around mid-morning I drove my ATV out and loaded it with supplies, unchained the jack's gate, shut it behind me, and tended to my project. Smart Ass came over for a rub between his ears and then left to savor new sprouts of grass. In an unthinkable flash, he had me brutally covered on the ground, the only exposed parts of my body my head and right arm. Frenzy overtook me while attempting to free the other arm, but his 800 pounds had me trapped. I screamed and hollered for what seemed an eternity, even though I knew Ken couldn't hear anything above the roar of Indy race cars. My inside right forearm was being horribly gnawed. The beast then took another attack shredding my face and tearing my ear nearly off. Helpless and nearly voiceless, I reconciled to my demise with the same thought spinning around in my head like a broken record. "Oh Dear God, is this how I'm about to meet you?"

At some point I worked my left arm free. With all the strength I could muster, I shrieked in his ear and wrapped a shaky left hand around his nostrils to stifle his air. He didn't like that one bit and quickly got up, but not before rendering severe damage to my shoulder and neck with his hoof. And just as suddenly as it all began, this much treasured animal walked away without a bye or leave to resume his graze.

Lest anyone should think me a crackpot, a refreshing breeze hovered over my ravaged body on that hot morning. I didn't understand it then, but happily I do now. Ken and I have spoken about the phenonom often and always come to the same conclusion. An angel of mercy was hovering over this wretch telling me all would be well. More angels would intercede before the ordeal was done.

There was much speculation as to why our jack went amok that day. This animal had been raised with total loving care and training. He had earned dozens of show and performance awards and was everyone's favorite clown. A cattleman friend surmised he had eaten too much loco weed. Our veterinarian said he had seen stallions bite, but never attack in this manner. Yet, just a week later, another jack attacked his master in a neighboring community. Fortunately he was not hurt, but he, like us, had his animal destroyed. Was Smart Ass a bad seed? No, I'm convinced he was just being an over zealous man and found me attractive in some animalistic way.

Adrenalin and tenacity must have been on a rampage. Somehow I got to my feet, stumbled toward the gate and found presence of mind to chain it behind me. While holding the grisly remnants of my arm close, a feeling of utter relief swept over me knowing there was a fence between me and "that animal" I had loved so. Mercifully, shock overtook the fury of the morning, for I felt no pain and began cajoling myself into thinking I could steer an even course across our huge expanse of yard. With head reeling and knees buckling, I staggered onto the deck and opened the storm door where I simply ran out of blood and collapsed. Ken heard me crashing into the glass, came to the hallway and calmly called 911 and my neighboring nurse pal. Through blurry eyes I could see him hurrying down the driveway to direct the ambulance. He waited twenty minutes out on our road, unabashedly in his underwear with a catheter dangling for all the world to see. God bless him.

Things are sketchy thereafter until a day or two later. My records state a sixty percent blood loss and I was fading fast. I faintly recall beseeching the orthopedist on call not to take my arm off. If my family hadn't intervened, he would have amputated at the elbow. I didn't improve, for the doctor refused me blood stating it was tainted. Unbelievable and, of course, untrue. What was the matter with this man? Also about this time our oldest daughter, Molly, requested a by-pass, that is, harvesting a healthy vein from my leg to detour the crush. It's a common procedure, but the doctor declined persuading us the procedure wouldn't work.

On the third day my fingers were losing color and the family insisted on a second opinion. The doctor rejected the idea, arrogantly maintaining that he was the best there is. The war was on! One of the concerned nurses called Molly at home encouraging her to have me transferred and giving her the names of several surgeons. Mol made arrangements to have me airlifted to Deaconess Medical Center where there are arm and hand specialists. Another angel was on top of the crisis. Of course, there had to be one incredible last straw. The local doctor refused the airlift, even though the Deaconess surgeon felt every hour was crucial for a successful outcome.

Our son, Tim, was the sheriff in a neighboring county. He and his wife and our other daughter, Katie, accompanied me as paramedics. With front seat reclined and my temperature rapidly fluctuating, the road trip in Timís big SUV was ghastly. Not even one aspirin was offered for the four-hour journey. My angels later remarked they didn't think I would survive the trip, but Tim slapped his red light atop the car and single-mindedly trimmed the time to three hours. I only vaguely recall that my darling angels were solemn and steadfast in their mission. Molly remained behind to take care of the business while Ken was encouraged to go home and rest, for I would be needing him sooner than later. My dear husband really never had a chance to recover in comfort from his own surgery.

We arrived at Deaconess amid a gala open house for their board, patrons, and staff celebrating a beautiful new wing and reception area. Stares of disbelief followed our little entourage as my angels rolled my bedraggled remains through the lobby in a stained hospital gown, ratty old blanket, and bare feet. If I hadn't been so sick I would have surely died of humiliation. Nonetheless, even though I was short of blood and my head was elsewhere, I'll never forget emerging from the elevator into a posh receiving area adjacent to luxurious private orthopedic suites. Just the flurry of activity and kindness made me feel so welcome, I was reduced to tears for the first time. More guardian angels, I pondered quietly while the nurses helped me don a gown more befitting my new environment.

Dr. Settergren arrived immediately, examined my arm, and ordered x-rays and plasma. Katie asked about a by-pass and he looked stunned. "Of course," he replied, "that's what I do for a living!" He patted her hand reassuringly and rushed off to study x-rays. She smiled for the first time in days. Later that evening the by-pass was performed. We all had expectations for a miracle, even though some of my fingers were now black.

The next weeks consisted of a dozen or so debridement surgeries, daily therapies, visits from psychologists, prosthesis personnel, and my blessed Salvation Army Captains. There was a persistent thumbs-up attitude from my family, even though I was losing one finger at a time. Each day I assessed my options feeling that three, or even two fingers, would serve me well, but it wasn't to be. My angels never left my side and were my strength right up to, and after my arm was amputated several inches above the wrist. I think we all knew it was inevitable. Excessive delays caused by the narcissistic doctor on call had closed the window of opportunity forever.

In the aftermath I spent a good deal of time grieving over my loss. What's left is so ugly, and yet I am forever grateful to Dr. Settergren for making the by-pass work at mid-arm. I also spent time grieving for all the things I felt I would never do again, or so I surmised. Keeping books and typing 120 wpm in our office for years. My oil paintings and needlework that had garnered "best of show." A free lance story for the Hurst magazines that had just produced my first big check. How was I going to play bridge and pinochle with our regular gang? Will friends be uncomfortable around me? How will my clothes look with a big ol' hook hanging out? And what about my hair? All these things so superficial, because all of a sudden the grandkids were calling me, "Granny Hook." I dearly loved it.

Last year I took hook in hook, so to speak, and have now crocheted several sweaters. My neighbor pals took me in tow one day and announced, "Okay, Kath, enough is enough, we're going to play bridge today!" And we did . . . and I did . . . and I beat their pants off. God must look out for old broads like me, because during the first year after all those surgeries, my hair began to come in naturally curly and the casual look has kept me sane.

Tim built me a computer, put me on the internet, and tutored me ever so carefully. I have renewed old friendships and laugh and scratch with relatives we haven't seen in years. I still manage to keep a great house, even though many of my culinary concoctions land on the floor. And yes, I cry. But, in-between I continue to feed my soul on our mountain and thank God every day for my life. Ken recovered nicely, but now, both our seventies miseries have emerged in the form of rheumatoid arthritis and, of course, my wretched phantom pain.

Although the doctor was found guilty of mal-practice and thankfully no longer practices medicine, the jury did not award us even one thin dime. Our devastation was appealed without success. So we take our lumps in life and go on. We continue to be active in our business, for lawsuits and pharmacy bills are out of sight. We play with and ride our remaining geldings, and I've learned to ride farm and play toys with a left-hand throttle. We also talk about Smart Ass often, recalling his great days and wishing we knew what was going on in his head that ill-fated morning. On the brighter side, my littlest angels think I'm a terrific candidate for "show and tell" with my numerous prostheses. Who'd have ever thunk it!


If you believe, make friends with angels who are with you. Call them ... praise them ... listen and take their help in your earthly and spiritual affairs.

Osage Warrior


Pix: Smart Ass acting the part for phographers, A Palm Sunday pageant at our church, July 4th parade.