Monday, May 5, 2014

DEEEEEE-STRUCTION : Part 7 When a Tree Loses It's Limbs It Calls onIt'sRoots for Strength

My foreman, Larry, had a saying for when things went wrong, "Deeeeee-strucion!" It sounded something like this : . The first time I heard about it they, Larry and our lineman, were talking about a shed the lineman had destroyed. He had been digging next to this shed to put in underground power lines. If you have ever ran a backhoe, you know that some controls can be very sensitive. The lineman had pushed the lever to swing the bucket-arm. "SMAAAAASHHHHH!!!" The bucket, In a tight alley, had swung right into the wall of a shed. I forget what the lineman's name is but i'll call him Jed, short for Jedi. (lol) Jed apologized to Larry. Larry sort of screamed, "DEEEESTRUCION!" in the voice of a monster truck radio advertisement. I don't know if he got it from that or from some old eighties hair band group but whenever things got smashed up or broken either Jed or Larry would exclaim, "DEEEEEESTRUCTION!!"

I have some pictures of what the official Sturgeon, the subcontractor company I was working for, incident report. I hope they aid in the storytelling.

December 13th, 2010 will live on for the rest of my life as a day of, "DEEEEEEESTRUCTION." There is a social worker who has told me that trauma memories are stored at a cellular level, meaning your cells remember traumatic experiences and recall them especially on anniversaries of the event. A lot of things she says, I take as superstition, including this until December 13th, 2014. It was a normal anniversary date for my accident. I spent it teaching snowboarding to my nephew, Ephraim. Not wanting people's pity, I didn't announce it on facebook or tell anybody. All day, I kept getting an additional phantom pain that I don't normally have. It felt like electrical pulsating about two times an hour. So maybe there is something to this cellular memory. ( ) Sorry for doubting you Ann (Social Worker). I'll give you that one but I'm still pessimistic about the tap therapy (lol).

I woke up twice that day in 2010. The first time, I did my normal routine. My alarm went off and I dressed myself for weather in the teens. I wore an under-layer of thermals, a hoodie, a pair of Carhartt jeans, some Carhartt heat insulated coveralls, a coat and some warm Bogs brand boots. I warmed up the car and made the short 5 minute drive to the yard, where we kept our trucks and materials. The gate to the yard had a padlock that I opened nearly every day, as I did my duty to warm up the trucks and fill out the truck inspection sheets.

 After the scary work of moving a corner pole phase, as talked about in the blog entry , I was looking forward to have the other apprentice come back and return to a three man crew. Mitch, the other apprentice, drove into the yard with his blue dodge Ram dually with the diesel engine. I greeted him with a huge smile and asked if he had passed his journeyman's test. He replied no and proceeded to tell me what they failed him on.

We warmed up our trucks and as was custom, drove them to our normal breakfast spot, The Moose.
I ordered my usual breakfast, French toast combo. As Mitch and I ate breakfast, I told him about my scary story of moving a corner pole in the bucket by myself. He seemed more concerned about his journeyman's test he had just failed. I filled out the safety report and Mitch and I signed it. This is the first discrepancy I have from the official safety report. We never made te safety report up at the show up. It was always at breakfast.

Larry didn't eat breakfast with us. A lot of days it was just me and Mitch eating breakfast and filling out the safety report. On those days, we would meet Larry outside the restaurant and he would sign the safety report there. That day was no different except, I believe, Larry asked about Mitch's test. We were all hoping that Mitch would have passed that test so we could have two journeymen on our crew. 

Everything else, continued to go according to normal. We installed a new pole a few feet from the pole we were going to transfer the wire from.  Until about 11:00 am, Mitch and I were up about 30 feet in the air and he recieved a message on the phone that said he needed to be in Salt Lake for a meeting before the board concerning his failed journeyman's test. He decided he needed to leave early that same day to get there on time. 

Here I was working as a two-man crew on 14,400 volts. We had set the pole, before the other apprentice left. Now I was to move the primary wire to the new pole. My foreman would help by using another bucket truck to lift the wire as I guided and tied it in to the insulator. 

The original report says my foreman was in the air with me. 
Later on the report would be amended to say: 

The next step was for me to cover it with rubber hoses and a blanket, that way if any incidental contact were to occur it might have a chance in protecting me. Once that was done, I felt a relief. I felt safe. The rest of the work could be done at a safe distance. 

After lunch we put a new transformer on the pole 

and I descended for some parts. 

I ascended in the bucket.

It was cold and rubber gloves made my hands even colder. I assumed the situation was safe because of my rubber cover and I felt like my minimum approach distances, the distances recommended by OSHA to be safe to work at near high voltages, would not be breached. Before getting to my working position, I called down to my foreman, "Can I take off my rubber gloves?" An answer in the affirmative caused me to rejoice. Class 2 gloves were difficult and stiff to work with, especially in the cold.

 I cut one secondary supply service, wires at the voltage used by the customer, into the transformer with no problem. We had jumpered these light pole services, with long jumpers, to supply the street lights with power the Friday before. 
I remember being a little nervous about how to cut the wire while holding both sides of the wire. Then I remember looking down to throw the scrap piece on the ground. My foreman was cleaning all the scraps below the pole so I didn't want to trow it on his head. I looked over my shoulder to the truck, thinking I could throw it near the bed so he wouldn't have to carry it far. That was all I remembered from inside the bucket.....

I believe if it was in fact a "fishing rod movement," it was because one end of the scrap piece got caught up on the cable below. I think I yanked on it and the wire came springing up after coming free. If that is the case, it was a dumb move to thrash. There was probably a sense of complacency and a feeling of being safe because of the cover. In no circumstance could I see myself doing a "fishing rod movement!" l may be dumb but I'm not that dumb....
The report talks a bit about the time where I was unconscious: 

My memory kicked back in, I barely opened my eyes. I thought everything that had happened before had been a dream. I tried to get up to get ready for work again. My arms wouldn't move.  I realized I was strapped on a stretcher being carried. Then I could hear a chopper. I asked, "Where am I?" A man's voice responded by asking me my name and address. I began to respond, "Samoana Matagi." He asked me again and pain started to permeate from my hands. I screamed, half irritated by being asked the same question, "SAMOANA MATAGI!" Then I started moaning and screaming. A man's voice kept asking me questions. I moaned, "Why are my hands burning?" and screamed till blackness.....

I have always thought that we should have had a four man crew. In my opinion, when an accident happens, there are a lot of people responsible. When the office noticed the journeyman on our crew had quit, they could have sent a journeyman to keep the crew at four. The foreman could have always  called the office to request a lineman from the union hall. Of all the people responsible, the one I had the most control over was me. 
I failed to stand up for my own safety. There were so many ways I could have avoided the accident. I could have worked with gloves on. I could have not held the neutral while throwing the scrap piece. It's good to learn from your mistakes but not good to dwell on them. Accidents happen and hindsight is 20/20.
 There was one expression that could describe the whole incident; DEEEEEEEEE-SRTRUCTION! ( My life was destroyed physically, mentally, and even spiritually. I was 15 inches from not losing my hands at all. Electricity travels at the speed of light. It took the electricity, 14,400 volts, milliseconds to destroy my hands. The wires that caused the burns barely glanced.
I was also a few chest compressions away from losing my life. Thankfully, Larry saved my life. The chances of the wire not hitting a six foot long protective rubber sleeve are so slim, add that to the chances of me surviving, and the chances that it would have happened to two brothers, it all makes me want to believe in destiny. I believe part of my destiny has been to steal back life, figuratively, a bandit with no hands taking back life that was taken from him.

1 comment:

  1. The brain is a very stubborn thing. It the case of an injury involving amputation the brain remembers the last thing the limb felt. When My finger got snipped I did extensive study of phantom pain. There are ways to trick the brain in to forgetting the injury. Stress is a major contributor to the onset of phantom pain. Muscle tension is anther. Self guilt is another. Diet has a lot to do with nerves and nerve endings. Phantom pain is not fair, It is not fair that you experience phantom pains as you do. Perhaps one day you and I can talk about it.