My Definition of the Term: Courage
Leo, the most courageous man I ever knew
I would like to introduce you to a man I was privileged to know some years ago. His name is Leo, and we worked together at a battery manufacturing plant in the mid 80’s. I must be honest with you: at first, I didn’t like him. He struck me as somewhat arrogant and cocky. Not at work; no, there he was cordial and pleasant; but away from work that’s where he seemed to me to be very unpleasant.
We bowled against each other in a weekly league each winter and played softball against each other every summer. A very competitive man, he seemed to have to win. Never playing dirty, or doing anything that I could say was against the rules, he just played hard at every turn, and worked so hard at winning that I thought he was not a very nice person.
Then at work one day I heard that he had had an accident. He was working late at the plant one evening cleaning his area. One of the machines he was cleaning was a rock crushing machine. He shouldn‘t have been working in the area alone but it needed to be cleaned and he was there. Using a hose and water to clean it up, he sprayed the area down and began cleaning. The machine was on, its wheels turning as he swept and mopped the area. A momentary lapse in his attention while cleaning the machine and he slipped and fell in.
I wasn’t there that day, but this is what I was told occurred. I have since spoken with him concerning the event, and he said that from what he remembered, what I heard was accurate. He slipped, and fell in the upper chamber of the rock crushing machine. He went in feet first, and he desperately tried to grab something; anything to prevent being pulled in all of the way. His hands brushed against a chain hanging from above the rack which ran across the ceiling, and he grabbed it and hung on with everything he had. His feet were dangling below him, and became entangled in the jaws. How he did what happened next, I’ll never know. As the jaws chewed his legs away, he hung on with a strength born of desperation. The jaws of the machine crushed and mangled away his legs up to his knees. Somehow, he pulled himself back up onto the platform, and lay there, bleeding to death with no lower legs left to speak of. Although he knew he was alone in the building, he began crying out for help.
The company nurse happened to be working late that day also, and was on her way to do something in another building. Usually, she went a different way, but today she detoured through the rock crushing building. As she entered the building, she heard someone shouting for help. She searched the room frantically for the source of the blood-curdling screams, and saw Leo lying in a massive pool of his own blood. She rushed over, and immediately determined what had happened. She found some cord nearby, and fashioned a set of tourniquets around his each of legs above the knees. She then rushed to the nearest phone and called 911, before trying to make him as comfortable as possible. She had no thoughts that he would survive; she knew that there was just too much blood loss.
Emergency crews arrived in record time, and took care of him in the best manner they could. They had no thoughts of his survival either. But they did their job efficiently, and rushed him to the hospital. There a battle ensued to save his life, if not his legs. It was a long battle, and in the end, his legs were lost. But miraculously, he survived.
He stayed in the hospital for about ten days or so before he was discharged. Less than two weeks later, he was back at the bowling alley in a wheelchair, bowling. When I first saw him, I was astounded. I could not believe that this man who was literally within inches of his life, who had lost both of his legs, was back out here bowling. I could see that it was painful beyond belief, but he would not stop. He would roll the wheelchair onto the approach and fling the ball in the general direction of the pins. His scores were bad, but he was competing, and that was what good enough for him. A few weeks after that, he was on crutches with a set of roughed out prosthetic legs, leaning against the ball return and bowling. He finished the year on his new legs, standing without the crutches. Looking back now, I cannot understand the pain he had to be going through, but he refused to quit. That word was not in his vocabulary.
I then saw him at the local racquetball court, somehow competing in a game that requires constant movement and quickness. He was winning, and not only on the courts. Softball came next, and again, he was running, catching, throwing, hitting, as if he had his own legs beneath him. He wouldn’t slow down.
Basketball, bowling, softball, racquetball, it didn’t matter. If someone didn’t know him, they would have never guessed that under those sweats were a set of prosthetics. After watching him and speaking with him, I began to know him better. I saw that he wasn’t the cocky guy I thought he was; he was a driven to succeed man who wouldn’t let anything stand in his way. Success was showing up and doing his utmost to compete; whether he won or not made no difference. What mattered was the competition.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we became the best of friends, but we became much friendlier towards one another. I must admit, the fault for the distance between us in the beginning was entirely mine. He played no part in my perception of his cockiness; that was my perception, based upon my own arrogance in sports. I realize now how much I put my thoughts on other people in my younger days, when in fact it was I who was performing the negative action. I was the one creating an issue where none existed.
Leo, your battle to overcome this accident was the single most courageous act I have been witness to. I know others have risked life and limb to do courageous things in the moment, but the everyday battle to not allow this to slow you down, or leave you in despair, is by far the bravest act I have ever known. My hat is off to you, Sir; and may you never allow anything to stand in your way in life. I hope myself and others may learn from your example of how to live our lives. You are the very definition of courage.