I had seen the porcupine wood chipper shred some big logs in the 10 months I’d been working at Swanson Bark Wood Products in Longview, Washington. It’s a powerful machine, but I’d never really worried about an accident before. I like industrial work – doing something physical helps pass the time. Plus, I needed a job.
In this part of the States it gets really cold in January, and this year was no different. I was working nights, so was wearing a couple of T-shirts, a sweatshirt, a hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, steel-capped boots, jeans and thermals.
It had been a regular shift. I was picking wood out of the shed and feeding it into a big container called the hopper. It has three chains at the bottom that move and pack logs into the porcupine. It makes wood products – mulch, sawdust, soil blends – for gardeners and landscapers. The porcupine itself has eight-inch spikes that spin quickly to divide the material and cut through the bark.
When I hit the moving conveyer that comes out of the chipper, I had enough sense to swing myself off, so I wasn’t moving. I was holding on to the conveyer when they shut down the machine. It was the first time I had looked down and I saw I was losing a lot of blood. I could tell from its angle that my ankle was broken, and I couldn’t breathe; we didn’t know it at the time, but I had a collapsed lung. While it was scary, I felt more shock than pain.
People called 911 straight away. Co-workers from other departments came over with rags to put pressure on the wound. It was hectic, but my colleagues were fantastic. They were talking to me, holding my hand, keeping me awake, keeping me calm.
My sister is having a baby in May and I’m the godfather. It will be my first blood niece. I think that was at the back of my mind during it all; I wanted to be there for her.
In hospital, the extent of my injuries became clear. I’d broken several ribs, my pelvis and my ankle. The back of my knee was ripped apart, they had to wait for the muscle to grow back before doing a graft. I’ve also got a bruised liver and nerve damage down my leg.
I was released from hospital after several weeks and am back home with my family. Using a walker, I can already go short distances. Eventually I should walk normally again and return to work. The company said I can work at the cash register or in the retail department.
I’m actually feeling pretty great. I shouldn’t be here and I was damned close to not being here. There was something like a one in a million chance of me surviving. The machine made deep slashes in my hard hat. I don’t carry much weight, but if I was any bigger, there’s no way I’d have made it, because the blades would have done more damage. I feel God sent me an angel. Two years ago I got a tattoo across my chest with those words: send me an angel. I was going through a rough patch in my life and needed some help. I feel like I got it.
I think this will put my life into perspective. It’s given me more drive to go and get what I want. Down the line, I want a house and a family. I’m a person who looks to the future.