I staggered away from the table saw, my ears ringing, my stomach churning. Warm blood reached my elbow and flowed to the sawdust-covered cement floor, but I dared not look at the hand. With the palm of my undamaged hand, I cradled the mess, terrified at the sight of the red blood, white bone, and yellowing skin.
“Tim, what happened? Tim? Tim!”
I heard a voice yelling my name. It was Jeff, the only other person in the shop, and out of blurring vision I saw him running toward me.
“Go. Go get help! Call an ambulance! Hurry!” I screamed out to Jeff, and he ran out a side door.
Now alone, I lay on a large roll of plastic to stave off the dizziness I started to feel. I had just finished a year of college and landed my dream job—working for the U.S. Forest Service in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado. Not only that, but a week before I had received my mission call to Melbourne, Australia. I was to finish my summer job in Colorado, then report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
Where are they? I wondered. I started to get up, thinking I would go outside, get in the truck, and drive myself to the hospital. With dizziness fast returning, I lay back down on the slippery plastic and closed my eyes. Soon I heard the wail of an ambulance.
“He’s in here.” I recognized Jeff’s voice.
Opening my eyes, I saw Jeff and a uniformed man and woman from the ambulance standing over me. Almost simultaneously, the man grabbed my cut hand and the woman took my pulse on the other arm.
“You’re going to be all right,” he said as my hand was surrounded with white gauze. I was glad the wound was no longer my responsibility and was relieved the injury was out of view.
“How old are you?” The woman now spoke.
I whispered the answer. My throat was dry, making it difficult to speak. She asked more questions about allergies, past medical problems, and current medications I was taking. I responded quickly until she got to her last question.
“What family member do you want me to call that can come to the hospital?”
I thought of my family, more than 600 miles away. Mom would be eating lunch at work and Dad would be sleeping after working a graveyard shift as a security guard. My younger sister, Erin, would be in school.
“There isn’t anyone that can come now. I don’t have any family in Colorado,” I replied. As they lifted me into the ambulance and drove toward the hospital, I remembered times that summer when I hiked into isolated wilderness areas to repair eroding trails and didn’t see anyone for days. When I came back into town, I always felt detached and alone, the way I felt now.
“Tim.” It was the woman from the ambulance. Her voice sounded distant. She continued, “Is there someone else I could call—like a minister or a priest?”
I thought of the small branch in Gunnison. The members had been friendly to me during the past few months, but as an outsider, I didn’t want to bother them with this problem. I looked down. The blood had saturated through the white gauze. I winced when I thought of the ripped flesh inside.
“Phone Willy Akers or Bud Smith,” I said at last. President Akers had just been called as branch president, and Bud Smith was his counselor.
“I know Willy. I’ll call him when we get inside,” she said with assurance.
The ambulance was stopping in front of the small hospital. I saw the doctor at the door waiting for me to be wheeled inside. Once inside, I looked around at the small emergency room as they placed me on an examination table and started an IV. The doctor spoke calmly to the nurse as he unwrapped the dark, red gauze. I looked away.
Finally, he finished and directed the nurse to wrap it again. Without a word, he left. I could hear his voice on a telephone in the next room and knew he was speaking about me. He stopped talking after a few minutes and entered the emergency room.
“Tim,” he started, speaking slowly, “you’ve cut yourself pretty good, and I don’t have the equipment or expertise to do much for you. I just called for a helicopter to fly you to a limb preservation unit at a hospital in Denver. They will do everything they can to save it there. Meanwhile, I’ll give you some pain medication to make things more comfortable for you on the way. Do you have any questions?”
I managed a weak no, then thought about what he had just said. The words “save it” kept repeating themselves. I had never had a cut that required more than a few stitches, and now I was faced with the possibility of losing my hand.
“It’s a good thing this happened while I was home for lunch or you wouldn’t have caught me,” President Akers said as he entered the small room. Brother Smith followed close behind. “They tell me you get to go on a long helicopter ride too.” I nodded, too weak to speak.
“Would you like a blessing?” Bud asked. I nodded again, and in the curtained partition of the two-bed emergency room in a small hospital, I was promised two things: my hand would be all right, and I would be able to fulfill my mission to Australia. President Akers went back to work, and Brother Smith stayed with me until I was loaded on the helicopter.
“Now I’m really alone,” I thought as the machine flew above Gunnison. I knew a few people in this small town of 6,000, but in Denver, a city of half a million people, I knew no one.
But I was wrong. When the helicopter landed and I was wheeled into the doors of the hospital, a missionary couple from the Denver South Mission greeted me. Their gray hair and warm smiles reminded me of my grandparents.
“Your branch president’s wife called and asked if we’d visit you sometime this week, and we came right over,” Sister Jeffreys explained. They sat by my bed until late that afternoon when the surgery team had assembled and was ready for me in the operating theater.
I wanted Brother and Sister Jeffreys to stay, but knew they would not be allowed in during the operation. I said good-bye and watched them leave down the long hallway.
“Hello. I’m Lile Hileman, one of the anesthesiologists here,” a man said, approaching my bed. “I was supposed to get off at 4:30, but when I saw you were the only Mormon besides me here, I thought I’d ask if it would be all right if I stuck around as your anesthetist.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” I joked for the first time since cutting myself.
“For you, I’ll learn fast,” he said, laughing.
It took the surgeons more than 14 hours to repair the damage, and I was in Denver for just as many days.
The day after the accident, my mom flew to Denver from our home in Orem, Utah, and she was greeted at the hospital by the full-time missionaries. For the three days she was in Denver with me, she stayed in the home of Church members she had never met.
After my mom returned home, and during the ensuing weeks, I continued to receive visits from the Jeffreys and Brother Hileman. In addition, half a dozen members of the Denver South Singles Ward showed up three times each week to cheer me up. The night before I left, they all “kidnapped” me from my room and took me to an ice cream shop close to the hospital.
I flew home, and after six more operations and months of therapy, I was able to use my hand again. Although my mission call was delayed six months, I served two years with an added vigor, for I now could teach the people of Melbourne about their caring brothers and sisters they’ll always have as part of their church family.