My Little Town 20121114: When Dad Blew off His Leg

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

This actually occurred after the former Mrs. Translator and I had married and moved away, but it still is quite a story.  Dad was an avid hunter, mainly upland birds, bobwhite quail in particular.  Our traditional Christmas breakfast, after the gifts were opened, was fried quail, biscuits, gravy, and grits.  Dad always fried the quail and my mum did everything else.

In western Arkansas there were lots of quail except in the rare year that was either really bad as far as the weather goes or if a disease outbreak had occurred.  In my 20 years of living at home and decades afterwards, there were always quail for Christmas breakfast.  In scarce years Dad would freeze enough to assure that there were plenty for Christmas morning.

Dad, in addition to being a deadeye shot, was also a gunsmith.  He also had impressive woodworking skills and often would buy gunstock blanks of fine American black walnut and create his own gunstocks.

He had a number of shotguns, but his favorite was a 16 gauge Parker side by side.  He loved that shotgun, and there is no telling how many quail and dove he took with it.  Dove is really good, too, but is very dark meat where quail is quite white.  Personally I prefer Browning over and under models, and he liked them as well, but the Parker was by far his favorite.

As an aside, it is sort of a shame that the 16 gauge shotgun has sort of fallen out of favor.  In its day it was ideal for short range shooting, like upland birds.  To be realistic, modern 20 gauge shotguns chambered for three inch shells probably perform as well or perhaps better than the old two and three quarter inch 16 gauge ones, but I like tradition.

One fall or winter day Dad had been quail hunting and came home that afternoon.  We got the telephone call from my mum that night.

As I said, Dad had gotten in from hunting one afternoon and took a nap for a little while.  He had been thinking about putting a new gunstock on his Parker, so he fetched it from the corner where he had propped it up and began to look at the existing stock and forearm.  He had a really nice piece of walnut and was scoping out how he wanted the stock to look.

He has rested the muzzle of the shotgun on his left thigh, about six or eight inches above his knee.  The only thing that he forgot is that he had not unloaded it.  His finger hit the trigger, and in milliseconds his life changed forever.

He took a full load (shotguns made in that era used the two and three-quarter inch shells) of number seven and one-half shot straight through his femur.  In addition, unburnt powder and wadding contaminated the wound.  His rectus femorus and fastus intermedius muscles were essentially completely destroyed.

By that time Hackett had proper 911 service, and my mum immediately called for an ambulance.  Whilst waiting for it to come, she put pressure on the wound to keep blood loss to a minimum.  Along with the ambulance the sheriff’s department also came, as is normal procedure for gunshot wounds.

They got Dad to hospital and stabilized him and the detectives quickly determined that there was no foul play, just a horrible lapse of memory on the part of my father.  They let my mum to straightaway to hospital to look after him.

Once he had been stabilized he was out from the morphine so my mum went home to clean up the gore that had been spread all over the room where he had shot himself.  To her surprise, it was not as bad as she remembered before leaving.  The detective had not cleaned up anything, and then she saw Hillary, their cat, washing up and licking his chops.  The cat had eaten a good portion of the flesh!

Even though that sort of was disconcerting for her, she finished cleaning up what mess was left and went back to hospital to be with him.  He went to surgery the next morning and Dr. Long did excellent work with his wound.  With the help of lots of titanium rods, brackets, and screws, Dr. Long rebuilt his femur, and using his vastus lateralis and vastus medialis rebuilt much of the lost muscle.  He was in traction for a long, long time.

After the surgery my mum asked Dr. Long if Dad would ever walk again.  Long told her, “I do really good work.  Physically, he will be able to walk.  But I have done lots of repairs like these and only five or six per cent ever walk very much after these kinds of injuries because the physical therapy is too painful for them to endure for proper recuperation.  So don’t get your hopes up.  He will probably be on a walker at best or in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.”

Indeed, the physical therapy was horrific as far as the pain went.  Dr. Long did not appreciate the strength of my father’s will, however.  Dad went to every physical therapy session and overachieved at them, although he got off to a slow start in the beginning.  They told him to do so many leg lifts at home betwixt formal sessions.  Dad had a unique way of doing that.

Dad loaded his own shotgun shells, so he had lots of lead shot available and the heavy cloth bags in which to put it.  After he was able to lift his leg well with no added weight, he started out with a pound of shot in a bag, putting it on his ankle and lifting that.  When he was able to do that, he would add another pound and master the added weight.  He continued doing that until he could lift 20 pounds of lead on his ankle.  Dr. Long told him that 20 pounds were enough, and Dad continued to work out his new thigh with that weight.

He was on a walker for a while, or crutches.  He was in a wheelchair for only a comparatively short time.  After the walker and crutches he graduated to a cane, and used it on and off for the rest of his life, mostly off and less and less as his injury healed.  He did have to have a special shoe made for his left foot because he lost around two centimeters of length from that thigh, but with the built up shoe did very well indeed.

We did not live that far away, so the former Mrs. Translator and I were able to monitor his progress month by month.  He looked pretty pitiful at first, and the pain must have been intense when he did those leg lifts, judging from the look on his face.  With time, though, the pain became less intense and it was easy to see that he was doing well.  I am not sure that he was ever completely without pain for the rest of his life, but he never let on that it hurt.  He did not use pain medication, either, except at the very beginning of his recovery.  He always said that he did not want get hooked on narcotics, and he did not.  Sometimes he would take ibuprofen, but never anything stronger than that except at the very start.

To make a long story shorter, the very next quail season Dad was back out in the fields hunting quail!  His trips were shorter that year than previously, but it was a matter of pride for him to show Dr. Long that he was wrong.  One thing about Dad was if you told him that he could not do something he would do his level best to show you that you were wrong.  The following year he was pretty much back to normal insofar as his stamina went, but he had a limp for the rest of his life.  He did not use the cane hunting, but sometimes would when he was going to the store or other places.  It is not possible to hunt quail with a cane in your hand, so he just did not use it.

Later on when we were visiting after his recovery he had just awakened from a nap on the same couch were he had shot himself.  Hillary the cat was lying on the top of the couch, being lazy.  Dad joked, “You know, I still don’t like to go to sleep with that sombitch around.  He already tasted me, and I think that he liked it!”

Dad was a man of extremely strong will, great physical strength, and an almost superhuman pain tolerance.  Just about anything that he sat his mind on he could achieve.  The only real thing that he lost was his battle with cancer, which took him in 2005 at the age of 85.  Oddly, it was lung cancer that killed him, and he never smoked in his life expect for once.  He did work in the shipyards in Portland, Oregon during World War II, and I think that he had mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

This is not only a true story with some humorous moments; it is also a cautionary tale.  Firearms are inherently dangerous, and should be treated with the utmost respect at all times.  It is the “unloaded” firearm that causes the accidental shooting in many cases.  ALWAYS treat a firearm as if it were loaded unless you have personally (and recently) checked it yourself.  I think that the nap that he took after coming in from hunting and before handling the shotgun clouded his memory as to if he had unloaded it or not.  If he had just checked before he rested the muzzle on his thigh that incident never would have happened.

That is about it for My Little Town for tonight.  To bring folks up to speed, I have picked out six and a half pints of hickory nuts, four pints of pecans, and am up to one and a half pints of black walnuts, all for holiday cooking.  I have picked out all of the hickory nuts and pecans that I had, but still have, I estimate, at least another pint and a half of black walnuts to go.  They are slow, by far the most difficult nut of the three to pick.

Please feel free to comment on my tale and to add ones of your own.  I enjoy reading them, and from comments know that other readers do as well.  I shall be here for the rest of the evening for comments, except for perhaps a brief sojourn next door to say hello to my friend’s parents for a few minutes.

Finally, today is the former Mrs. Translator’s birthday.  I called her a while ago and wished her well, and she told me that she appreciated the thought.  Please join with me in wishing her the best for today, and for many birthdays to come.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Daily Kos, and


1 comment

  1. remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,


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