I was standing in the elevator on my way to the control room from the electric shop the morning of October 11, 1995 when a strange call came over the radio. It sounded like Danny Cain, one of the Instrument and Controls Technicians on my team (or crew, as we used to call them before the reorganization). Most of what he said was garbled, but from what I could catch from Danny’s broadcast was that there was a man down on a unit 2 hot air duct. Danny’s voice sounded as if he was in a panic.
About that time, the elevator door opened and I stepped out. I thought to myself… “Hot Air Duct?” Where is a hot air duct? I had been running around this plant since 1979 when they were still building the plant, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where a hot air duct was at that moment. I may have been panicking myself. So, I did the only thing I could think of at the time….
I walked briskly into the control room and asked the Unit 1 Control Room operator… “Where is a hot air duct?” It must have sounded like a pretty stupid question coming from someone who rarely admitted that they didn’t know everything, but I have asked my share of stupid questions in my lifetime and most of the time, after the blank stare, someone gives me the answer. This time, the answer was “In the bottom ash area under the boiler.”
I quickly left the control room without saying another word. I’m not sure why I didn’t yell something out like, “Help! Help! There’s a man down on a Unit 2 Hot Air Duct!” I guess it didn’t even occur to me. I just darted out the door and down the stairs to the ground level (six flights of stairs). I kept saying to myself… “Hot Air Duct… Hot Air Duct…” I jogged across the Turbine-Generator basement floor and into the breezeway between the T-G building and Unit 2 Boiler. I picked up my pace once I was out in the open, and quickly made through the door to the spot where years before in 1983 I had seen Bob Lillibridge being swallowed alive by the Boiler Ghost (See the post: “Bob Lillibridge Meets the Boiler Ghost“).
Once inside the boiler enclosure, I realized that the Hot Air Ducts were the ducts that came from the Primary Air Fans into the Bowl Mills where the coal is ground into powder and blown into the boiler. The air is heated first by going through the Air Preheater which gets it’s heat from the exhaust from the boiler. It was pretty dark around the Hot Air Ducts.
As I approached I yelled out for Danny who immediately yelled in the same stressed far off voice “Help!” His voice came from the top of the second Hot Air Duct. I could hear a struggle going on up there, so I ran over to the ladder and quickly climbed up. When I reached the top of the ladder, I saw Danny Cain and Alan Kramer also, wrestling with a man that I had never seen before.
Alan was behind him with his arms wrapped around the man’s arms and his legs wrapped around his chest (I’ll call this guy Michael, since that turned out to be his name…. Michael Hyde) as the man flailed his arms kicking his feet. The three of them were rolling around on the top of the Hot Air Duct (which is a coal dusty dark place). Oh. Did I mention that it was hot? Michael was a contract worker and this was his first day on the job.
I didn’t wait to see who was winning before I picked sides. I decided that whoever this Michael Hyde person was, if he was wrestling with Danny and Alan, he wasn’t getting much sympathy from me. I grabbed the man’s legs even though I was still standing at the top of the ladder.
I wrapped one of my legs through the rungs of the ladder so that it weaved through one rung, around the next rung, and into the third rung. At this point, even if I was knocked unconscious, I wasn’t going to fall off of this ladder. We were 25 feet above the concrete floor. Danny said, “Hold him down! He’s trying to jump off the Duct!” So, while Alan and Danny wrestled with Michael’s upper torso, I decided to take care of his legs.
About that time, others started showing up down below. Jimmie Moore was one of the first to arrive. I yelled down to him that we needed our rescue gear. A stretcher and rope. Jimmie quickly coordinated getting our safety bags down to the bottom ash area. More people arrived. I remember seeing Jasper Christensen looking up at me.
About that time, Michael pulled one of his feet from my grip and gave me a swift kick on the right side of my head with the heal of his boot. I was knocked back and my hardhat went flying off into space. Jasper said something like “Don’t fall off of there!” Shaking my head to get rid of the pain, I assured Jasper that I couldn’t fall off of the ladder if I tried. I had my leg locked in the rungs.
I decided at that point that the best thing I could do to keep from being kicked in the head again was to remove this guy’s boots. So, I grabbed both of his legs and squeezed them as hard as I could so that he would feel a little bit of the pain he had just inflicted on me. At the same time, I began unlacing his work boots and dropping them to the floor.
Danny explained that Michael had had some kind of seizure. He had fallen down and was wobbling all over the place. Then when it was over and he came to, he tried to jump off of the duct.
Michael continued to struggle. He wasn’t yelling or saying anything other than grunts. It was as if he was in a total panic. His eyes were filled with fear. After I had removed his boots, I continued to have one arm wrapped around both of this legs squeezing as hard as I could to keep him from pulling one away and taking another kick at my head.
At this point, an interesting idea came into my head… I suddenly thought it would be a good idea to tickle his feet. I had two reasons for doing this… First… It was pay back for leaving a boot heel impression across the side of my face and Second…. I thought it would distract him some from his panic. Sort of as a counter-irritant.
More of the rescue team had arrived and Jimmie threw a rope up to me that I threw over a pipe so that a stretcher could be raised up. Either Jimmie Moore or Randy Dailey or both then climbed up the ladder and made their way around me to the duct so they could put Michael in the stretcher. At this point, Michael was still panicking. He was still trying to escape our grasp.
The stretcher was placed alongside Michael, and with a “one two three” we raised him up and set him down in the stretcher. We started winding the rope in and out of the stretcher to tie him down. As soon as the ropes went around his arms, Michael stopped struggling and became calm.
It appeared that the moment Michael felt safe, the struggle was over. We raised him up from the hot air duct and then lowered him to the ground. As soon as he was on the ground, the Ambulance from Ponca City, Oklahoma arrived. Evidently, as soon as the Shift Supervisor had heard “Man Down” on the radio, he called 911 in Ponca City 20 miles away to have an ambulance sent. The timing couldn’t have been better. Just as we were untying Michael, the EMTs arrived.
The EMTs from the ambulance put him on their own stretcher. I picked up his boots from the ground and placed them alongside him on the stretcher and he was carried away. After all that panic, I just wanted to go back to the Electric Shop office and calm down.
This was a happy ending to what could have been a real tragedy if Michael had been able to jump off of the air duct. We heard about an hour later that when Michael Hyde had arrived at the hospital in Ponca City, he insisted on having a drug test taken to show that he had not taken any kind of illegal drug that would have led to his bizarre behavior. He said that nothing like that had ever happened to him before. There must have been something about the heat and the dark and the smell (and maybe listening to Danny talk about donuts) that must have triggered a seizure.
To our surprise, a few months later, Michael Hyde showed up at our plant again. This time, he came with a couple of other people. They were from the Oklahoma Safety Council. During our monthly safety meeting, many of us were presented with an award for rescuing Michael. Even though my part in the rescue was rather small, I was very proud to have been recognized that day. We were each given a plaque. Here is mine:
Alan Kramer and Danny Cain had both been invited to Oklahoma City to receive their awards as they were directly involved in saving Michael’s life. Here is the plaque that Alan was given:
A plaque was also given to the plant from the Oklahoma Safety Council which as far as I know is still mounted by the office elevator on the first floor:
Michael said he wanted to thank each of us personally for rescuing him that day. I shook his hand. I told him that I was the one that was squeezing his legs so hard and tickling his feet. I don’t think he remembered much of that moment.
I have a side story to this one and I wonder if this is the place to tell it. I suppose so, as long as I keep it short….
A number of months after this incident occurred, I began to develop a sore throat on the right side of my throat. I thought at first that it was Strep Throat because it hurt quite a lot. I just waited around for it to either go away or develop into a full blown cold, so I didn’t do anything for a few months. The pain was localized at one spot in my throat.
Then one day, my right ear began to hurt and I decided it was time to go see the doctor about it. When I visited my family doctor, he took a throat culture and surprisingly it came back clean. No strep throat. I explained that it was a constant pain, and now it had moved up to my ear as well. So, he sent me to Tulsa to an Ears Nose and Throat Doctor who was supposed to be real good.
When I went to him, after a couple of examinations, he came to the conclusion that I had a TMJ problem (TMJ is Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction). So, he sent me to a TMJ person in Stillwater. I went to him, and he x-rayed my head and gave me some medicine to try to stop the pain, but nothing worked.
At times the right side of my face would hurt real bad, and at work if we took the temperature gun and pointed it at the right side of my face, we would find that it was about 2 or 3 degrees colder than the left side.
I went to a good TMJ person in Enid Oklahoma, and he made a mouthpiece for me to wear which seemed to lower the number of times each day that I would feel intense pain up and down the right side of my face…. all along, the pain continued to get worse.
To make a longer story shorter, through the years, the pain continued to grow until each time (about 6 times each day) my head would hurt, it would hurt from the top of my head down to my throat on the right side.
I never knew for sure if this was a result of being kicked in the head during our struggle that day, along with a combination of a bad dentist in Stillwater named Doctor Moore who wrestled with my teeth one day to the point that I wanted to punch him back. After going to many types of doctors (Neurologists, Endocrinologists, Oral Surgeons, etc) and dentists, having root canals, and medications and mouthpieces, nothing seemed to help. The pain continued to grow.
I finally had a name for my condition after many years, my dad pointed out to me that according to my symptoms, in the Merck Manual, my condition would be called: Trigeminal Neuralgia. I told that to the Neurologist and he agreed. There really wasn’t any treatment for it, only medication to cut down on the pain.
After 14 years, I decided I had taken enough pain medication and just decided to let the pain happen. It would only last for 10 minutes at a time, and medication didn’t really help that much anyway.
This past summer the pain became so frequent that every hour I was having 10 minutes of terribly excruciating pain that was leaving me almost immobile. So, I called the doctor to make and appointment. I had decided that this was too unbearable. On Tuesday, July 8, 2014 I called the doctor and made an appointment for July 17, the Thursday of the following week. On July 10, the pain was so bad that for the first time since I had this pain, I actually stayed home from work because I was not able to get any sleep.
July 11, 2014, After sitting up all night in a chair, I prepared to go to work. That morning, to my surprise, the pain had stopped coming every hour. That day at work, I had no pain. When I came home that evening, as I prepared to go out to dinner with my son Anthony, I felt the pain coming back. Anthony could tell, so we just waited a few minutes, and it was over. The pain wasn’t as harsh as it had been….. That was the last time I ever had an attack of pain on my face. It just went away and never came back.
It has now been over 6 months and I have not had one attack of pain on my face. After 16 years of pain, it just went away in one day. Could there have been a reason? I think so… You see, my mom had been doing something on the side. She had sent my name to a group to have them ask their founder to pray for me to God.
For years, my mom had supported a Catholic mission group called: Pontifical Institute For Foreign Missions. This organization was founded 164 years ago and the group was trying to have the Bishop who founded the Mission canonized as a Saint. In order to do that, they needed to have at least three miracles associated with his intercessory prayers. His name is Bishop Angelo Ramazzotti.
What this means is, that as a group, we ask that (pray to) Bishop Angelo Ramazzotti (who we believe is in Heaven with Jesus) ask Jesus to heal us (or something miraculous for a good cause). If the person (me, in this case) appears to have been miraculously and instantly healed, then an investigation is done to determine if it can be certified as a miracle.
If three such miracles have been certified after intercessory prayers have been asked of Bishop Angelo, then he could be Canonized as a Saint. To be Canonized means that he is more or less “Recognized” as someone that is in Heaven with God. It doesn’t mean in anyway that everyone in heaven has to be canonized. It just means that if you want to ask a Saint in Heaven to pray for you to God, then you can be pretty darn sure, this guy is good friends with God. Just like asking your own family to pray for you. You would be more inclined to ask someone that you know is more “Holy” if you really need to see some results.
Well, that is what my mom had done the week before the pain suddenly went away.
If the pain that I had for the past 16 years was caused in part by the kick in the head in 1995, and this condition I had is somehow used to help Canonize Bishop Angelo Ramazzotti, then I am glad to have been a part of it. All along, I figured that something good would come out of all that pain, I just never imagined what that might be. Now that it’s gone, it’s sort of like missing an old friend…. only….. NOT.
Sometimes it just takes a good kick in the head to get things moving.