The churning hum of lawnmowers has been nearly a constant drone in the background on most days this summer. NPPD’s communications department has regularly reminded teammates of the importance of being safe when mowing. Now, as summer draws toward autumn, is no time to become complacent. Summit fever is always lurking, ready to jump out and ruin what could be a perfect dash to the finish. Here’s a new blog posting by Sr. Communications Specialist Mark Miller to further remind us that lawnmower safety should always be top of mind.
In part of my life before public power, I was employed as a high school English teacher and track coach at Grand Island Senior High. The school building at GISH (the old part) is made up of three large wings, each with classrooms circling a large courtyard of trees and grass. A quarter-mile long hallway encompasses all three wings.
One summer day, I sat in Athletic Director Tex Harvey’s office at the intersection of the southeast corner of the main hallway and the building’s two gymnasiums. We talked about nothing in particular. At 34, I had “retired” after 11 years of teaching, and I really had no idea what adventures lay ahead.
Tex and I were just kicked-back, taking it easy on a warm afternoon.
Suddenly, the still air a school building acquires when children are not present was shattered by a guy hollering: “Call 9-1-1! Call 9-1-1!” I stepped into the hallway just in time to see one of the Social Study teachers running down the 100-wing hallway toward the AD’s office. “Bob,” I said, “slow down. You’ll have a heart attack and we’ll really need 9-1-1.”
He was a big, overweight guy, and he was motoring. “Call 9-1-1!” he shouted again. “It’s Carl. The mower.”
Tex helped the gasping, sweating Bob to a seat in his office. I jogged up the hallway toward the 100-wing courtyard. On the way, I passed Carmen, the school’s athletic trainer. “Something about Carl,” I said. “Mower.” She grabbed towels from the training room and ran alongside me.
We didn’t have to go far before we came upon Carl, one of the school’s janitors, sitting on the shiny linoleum floor in the hallway with his legs splayed out before him.
At first, it looked as though nothing bad had happened. In fact, the only thing immediately noticeable as being out of place was that Carl, despite strict building rules against it, was smoking. He was a slender, quiet, older gentleman who always wore grey overalls no matter the season.
Now, he held a cigarette to his lips, pinched between thumb and finger, and he sucked on it rapidly. He shifted his weight against the white block wall next to a door leading into the 100-wing courtyard and took another pull on his cigarette.
“What did you do, Carl?” I asked, kneeling beside him. He looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. “I (bleep)ed up,” he said. “I really (bleep)ed up,” he repeated, exhaling smoke. “What?” I asked. “My leg,” he answered. “I really (bleep)ed up.”
It turned out Carl had been mowing the 100 wing courtyard with one of the school district’s older riding mowers. He had a routine of when he came to a tree he’d put his foot out against it and spin the mower around the trunk quickly to get close and save time. He’d been doing it that way for years. He’d also disarmed the safety switch which was supposed to shut off the mower if it tipped over or he fell off.
Which, he said, is exactly what had happened. He put out his foot. Somehow he flipped off the mower and the “darn” thing (he didn’t say darn) ran over him, and “I really (bleep)ed up,” he said.
I looked at Carl’s legs sticking out like a ragdoll’s. At least there wasn’t blood all over the floor, which was a good sign, I thought. I knew that for a bad cut the best thing to do is to apply direct pressure to the wound. “Let me take a look,” I said. Carmen handed me a towel to wrap the wound.
I eased Carl’s tattered pant leg up above his knee. His calf muscle looked like a chicken leg that had been peeled skinless from the bone. The muscle was mottled, a purple-pink, with white bone shining out below. The leg muscle, skin and other flesh was so battered that it wasn’t bleeding much. Mostly internal bleeding, probably, I remember thinking.
I do not, as a general rule, swear, but this time it seemed appropriate. “Well, Carl, I have to agree. I think you really (bleep)ed up,” I said. “What’d I tell you?” he retorted between quick puffs on his cigarette. As if having someone accept and agree with his self-assessment of the situation helped calm him, he let out a long breath and slumped backward.
I wrapped the towel loosely around his leg, trying not to lift it. We waited for the ambulance. He smoked. There wasn’t much else to do. I’ll never forget the image of his peeled calf muscle or of him sitting there, a white towel spread across his leg.
Like I said when I began this story, it was my final summer at GISH. I left teaching and went searching for whatever life had in store for me beyond the classroom. It ended up being public power. Who’d have imagined?
I don’t know for certain how Carl’s recovery turned out. I did hear he kept his leg and foot. Whether he was able to return to full mobility, I can’t say. He retired from his janitor’s job shortly after the accident. As it turned out, it was the last summer for both Carl and me at GISH.