August 5, 1995. Budweiser, horse manure and frying food were the scents that drifted through the arena on the summer breeze. The sounds of scraping, twisted metal amidst screams, cheers, and roars of approval, created a background symphony.
“Could I get two Pepsis?”
I felt the icy chill of the water once again as my hands plunged into the depths of the tub chilling all of the beverages. Then the crowds diminished as another tournament began.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming was our destination. In order to finance the trip we were selling candy and drinks at the Demolition Derby with Tooele County 4-H. Most people came and bought things between the rounds of demolition. During the actual derby, business was slow so most of those I was working with left the booth to watch the proceedings. The stands were filled, so the surrounding corral panels of the rodeo grounds were the only good seats left.
I remember thinking as I lay in that hospital bed, how the events of the day should have foreshadowed something like this. My day had begun particularly ominously. That morning I attended the funeral of my uncle, who three days previously had died of cancer. About 12 o’clock, I left the family dinner to go to work as a lifeguard. Usually I sat uninterrupted in a chair, gazing at the pool, acquiring enough sun to die of skin cancer, but on that day, one of the swimmers encountered a severe bloody nose, the first blood related first-aid emergency of the year. I left work around 3:00 P.M. and then proceeded to join the others to set up for the demolition derby. After people began buying, my main duty was to retrieve cans of soda from a large tub filled with ice. It tore at the skin of my hands and shredded my nails, but after a while, numbness took over and I didn’t feel anything.
Bash by bash and crash by crash the night progressed until finally, the last round was up. All the survivors of each individual fight were thrown together for the championships – the round that would determine the triumphant car. Evan I, not an avid sports fan, could not miss the excitement this promised. I climbed the rungs of the panel and perched on the top. The excitement of the audience spread and almost without thought I was standing, whooping and cheering as though my fate were somehow wrapped up in the outcome of the match.
Within minutes, it was over and the winning car was driving his victory loops; flinging mud from the tires, blasting radiator fluid from a punctured radiator, and spewing smoke from a damaged engine. The crowd roared, some in approval, some in open dismay. I stood again, bracing myself against the other bars of the fence and waving my hands wildly in the air. Then there was a snap and time froze. The next thing I remember was lying on the ground with excruciating pain shooting through my ankle. I wanted to stand up, but the entire fence along with the five other occupants of it was on me. My knee felt scraped, but my ankle was my greatest concern.
“Get it off me!” I screamed. I sat up and tried to lift the heavy panel, but to no avail. Gradually, everyone else climbed off and someone lifted the panel. Attempting to sit up and assess the damage to my ankle, I was forcefully shoved back into the dirt.
“Lay down,” demanded the commanding voice of someone who had seemingly just appeared.
A crowd of millions, it seemed, had almost instantaneously surrounded me. One man leapt from the stands and tore off his shirt, which he wrapped around my knee. I wanted to see what was going on but was shoved down each time I attempted to.
“Somebody shoot me!” I cried, but mostly people just stared, wide-eyed. Within seconds, paramedics were around me shouting commands such as “Stand back! Bring the back board! Clear out!” Then their questions centered on me. “What is your name? What is your phone number? Does this hurt? What happened?”
I responded to each of their questions, but remember wishing they would leave me alone, let me look at my leg, and permit me to stand up and walk away.
Moments later I was strapped to a backboard and loaded into the back of an ambulance. I was very wet because while fishing for soda we had decided to have a water fight. That, combined with the effects of shock made my entire body convulse.
“Calm down and relax,” the woman inside the ambulance instructed. She didn’t seem to understand that I am naturally always cold and at the present time I was sure I was in the second stage of hypothermia.
At the hospital, I was placed on a bed. I could feel warm blood dripping down my right leg and soaking the sheets as well as the shorts I was wearing. I was still shivering and eventually had to strip to my underwear to maintain body heat.
Finally I was left unattended in my room since the hospital staff was administering to other patients. I sat up to peek at my leg. Then I realized why everyone was more concerned about my knee rather than my ankle. A six inch gash had been torn in the flesh right below my knee. It was deep enough that I could see my bone and all of the fat cells in the layers of muscle. The top of the cut was folded back so it appeared to have a two inch by six inch chunk of skin missing. The doctor came in, and without numbing it, began prodding around inside to see if I had indeed lost any of the surrounding tissue. If he would have shoved rock salt into the hole to bridge the gap, I doubt it would have hurt more. When he determined that the skin was intact, he left to go work with another patient. The nurse then numbed the area and began cleaning it. I didn’t feel anything except pressure from the water and a dull ache. Then my favorite doctor returned two hours after my arrival and began stitching me up. He didn’t smile and even when I said something I thought was pretty funny, especially considering I could barely see straight, he didn’t even look up. 38 stitches later – six inside and 32 outside – I was loaded into a wheelchair and taken to another room to get X-rays on my ankle. It was severely sprained, but not broken. My entire leg was bandaged in an ace bandage and I was sent home.
I don’t know exactly how I was cut, but reflecting on the experience, I assume my leg landed on a large cement block that held a nearby street light stationary. Then the weight of the fence and the other people on it pushed my leg down tearing the sin on the edge of the block. Years later, I still have the memory, the scar, and a sickening feeling correlated with demolition derbies, but I can walk and run and except for crushing dreams of a career as a leg model, it didn’t have much of an impact on my life.