Captain’s Log- 26 July 2015-Disarming Tail Rotor Accident

Well, if I am going to have a crash, this is the one to have.  My computer crashed a while back and I have had to work at restoring my memory.  It is amazing what you can forget when you store it in places that are not your brain.  It is not like nothing has been happening.  So much has happened.  Here is something I wrote a couple weeks ago.

Preparing for the operation.  Deciding how best to proceed.  Dr, Warren and Dr. Mike and others get things ready.

Preparing for the operation and deciding how best to proceed. Dr. Warren, Dr. Mike and others get things ready.

I cut a man’s hand off today.  Well, at least what was left of it.  It had been cut off by a helicopter tail rotor only days before up at Garamba Park.  One of the park’s rangers, Dieu Donne, would have walked right into the swinging blades if the wind had not blown his hat off, causing him to reach up to catch it.  The blade hit him at least twice, taking all his fingers and most of his hand off with the first blade and hitting his arm, shattering the ulna bone with the next.  A big section of the bone was just missing.  He was taken to the hospital in Dungu to get blood and they sewed up the arm, as it looked too terrible to them to leave open.    Then he was moved to Bunia to the UN hospital, but when they found out he was not a soldier they would not treat him and, a day later, he was moved to our hospital in Nyankunde.  The wound on the arm had now become infected from being closed before being cleaned up  properly.   It was a mess, but now it was going to be fixed.  I asked Dr. Mike if I could watch or assist in any way and he said yes.  I was excited as I had not been in theater since Zimbabwe days when I flew Matableland Flying Doctors Service and I’ve been quite missing it.
As Dr. Warren stuck the needle into the nerve bundle above Dieu Donne’s collar bone to block the pain to the arm, I watched on the ultrasound as it entered into the bundle and came to within a few millimeters of the carotid artery.  I looked over at our patient who looked on like he was watching a TV show at home on the couch and thought, “Man, this should be hurting more than that”.   I asked Dr. Warren….”Does this not hurt that much or is this guy just  really tough?”   The doctor said “No, this guy is a real stud.”  I guess chasing down Sudanese poachers around the bush in the hot African sun for years as they shoot at you and throw grenades makes you pretty hard.  And this guy was said to be their best. Through the whole procedure he was stoic and tough as nails.  Dr Warren had another operation so we moved to the theater and when Dr. Mike started taking off the bandage that covered the wound the smell of infection was obvious.  The hand cut was clean but the arm was not so nice.   There was plenty of skin to make a good flap to cover the opening we would leave from removing the arm about half way between the elbow and the wrist.  It had to be done.  I watched Dr. Mike start getting scrubbed up and he explained how to put on gloves to stay sterile.  He did it with ease  and said, “There are gloves for you.  Put them on like I did. “  I got scrubbed and gloved like he said and then suited up. I even wore scrubs!   Blood has always seemed a bit like hydraulic fluid to me and I am just not squeamish when it comes to anything in the operating room.  That is nice.  And much of orthopedic  surgery is like carpentry or working on the plane for me.  Being an aircraft mechanic requires schooling in woodworking, sheet metal, welding, hydraulics (plumbing), basically repairing things of all types of materials.  We even do sewing in our Dope and Fabric courses to work on mostly older types of planes.  But,though we don’t get a lot of info on the human body, still many principles apply.
We worked for what seemed like a couple of hours. Mike saved as much as he could but cut away the damaged flesh and removed muscle from bone and cleaned everything  back to where the arm had been sliced through with the  tail rotor until finally the bone was ready to cut.  Then he looked up and handed me the wire saw and asked if I would like to do the honors.  I could not pass up the opportunity.  It is like many times in life where I hate to see things like this happen but if it has to happen, I want to be the one to do it. I have felt like that sometimes when an elephant has killed a person…. maybe with good cause, at least in his eyes.  But it can’t pass without consequence or it continues to happen and I have been called to shoot the offending elephant.  If it has to be done, it is a great adventure and I am happy to be the one who carries out the task.
We got everything ready to close and took the tourniquet off and blood sprayed all over Mikes shirt out of an artery that had not sealed well when we cauterized .  He stiffened but  skillfully found the bleeder and I dabbed up blood as the good doctor tied it off.   I held the arm while Mike closed the flap of skin over the cut area and sewed it neatly up.

Finishing up, Missed many of the good pix as it was necessary to stay sterile but you may be happy to have missed them as they  were quite "colorful. It was a nice job if I do say so myself.

Finishing up. Missed many of the good pix as it was necessary to stay sterile but you may be happy to have missed them as they were quite “colorful. It was a nice job if I do say so myself.

Later that night as Cher and I were relaxing, I turned to her and said, “Cher, I cut a man’s arm off today!” It was quite unbelievable.

Yesterday on the front pourch looking at photos Deo Donne is very happy and strong in his body and mind.  IT is great to see.

Yesterday on the front porch looking at photos of the surgery Dieu Donne is very happy and strong in his body and mind. It is great to see.

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18 Responses to Captain’s Log- 26 July 2015-Disarming Tail Rotor Accident

  1. Marilyn G says:

    Note to self: Don’t sit down to read Jon’s blog during lunch…

    Actually, I found the whole experience fascinating. I just wish Tata Dieu Donné had been fully briefed on the dangers of tail rotor blades before the helicopter landed. Extraordinary man.

    • Jon says:

      Yes Marilyn, That’s the troubling thing. He was very experienced in helicopter travel and safety issues. A laps of memory or casualness about safety can get us all and we need to be aware of that. Just read and accident report of a flight instructor who walked into a prop after getting out to let her student fly solo. We don’t always do what we know is right. Funny thing….or sad. Thanks for writing in. Jon

      • Marilyn G says:

        Wow. That’s sobering. Yes, we don’t always do what we know is right. We get too comfortable with danger. Hmmm.

  2. courtney says:

    Oh man, Jon, I miss you.

    • Jon says:

      Hey Courtney,
      Miss you to here. Where are you now. Last I heard it was Lebanon or somewhere East. Love to hear your news. Got some nice snakes today. blessings, Jon

      • courtney says:

        I’ve been meaning to email for ages. Sigh. Yeah, have just left Lebanon and am working on a few things in California for a while. No real news other than that, just been bumming around really. Do miss Congo, though. Took me a while to say that, but I really do. Sad Ango closed. Will write an email at some point, I have owed you one for years. All my love to Cher and the snakes and BoB!

        • Jon says:

          Hey California Girl, They are relocating displaced Congolese from CAR back in Ango and we have flown some supplies up that way to help SP. Could probably us someone like you there. Hope you are enjoying relaxing times on the beach and with friends. You still have lots of friends here! Blessings on you, Jon

      • Hi Jon,

        I’m working on a TV series in search of Bush Pilots. I’d love to arrange a chat with you asap about the project to see if you could offer a bit of guidance. I’m in Los Angeles, California. If you email me a time and day, along with the best info to reach you, I’ll call you via Skype. Of course, I can be contacted anytime as well. I hope to hear back from you soon. Thanks.

        Dorian Velinov

  3. Paul White says:

    You must get a gold star for this feat. Poor man, I hope he makes a speedy recovery and that he still has a good life. Just reading King Leopold’s Ghost at the moment which has some similarities although they were more barbaric.
    Well done Jon, a great experience and who knows, maybe it will come in useful one day but hopefully not ! Cheers Paul

    • Jon says:

      Hey Paul, I am hoping it won’t come in too useful but you never know. At least it is a good thing to know how to stop bleeding to a big cut. Even if it is temporary. Don’t want any similarities to King Leopold. Cheers, Jon

  4. Dan Fahey says:

    Hi Jon, wow. It is great work you and your colleagues do. Also very sad to see that the UN refused to help, which is why I thought they were there in the first place. I am back in California, for now. Hope all is well and best to Cher. Dan

    • Jon says:

      Hey Dan, Great to hear your whereabouts and that you are doing well. We miss you out this side of the world and all your news. You still connected here? Thanks for writing. Jon

  5. Helen Cadd says:

    I don’t know where your ability for this came from, Jon. It certainly wasn’t from Dad or me. It sounds like you should have trained to be a surgeon as well as a pilot. And Cher was born as a veterinarian–just without the degree. You are incredible and I’m so proud of you–but I almost got sick reading about your experience!!

  6. Rob Fynn says:

    Joooohn – always such an adventurer – Goodonya, dear old friend – long time no hear – don’t always have much fortune in replyig to yr blogs – hoping today, with huge hugs and love to you both from the Fothergill Pirates in France XXX

    • Jon says:

      Hey Rob, Always great to hear from you. We have such great memories of our time at Fothergill. Some of the best years of our lives. So you living in France now? The pix of Karina’s place is amazing. Are you all there? Rachael also live there? We do miss you all. Would love to come and visit some time. Or maybe you come here. A bit wild sometimes. Love you brother, Jon

  7. Kathy Love says:

    Wow John you are truly a unique human being!

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