Mark almost had his arm ripped off. He lived to tell the tale and was kind enough to share his incredible story with me so that I could share it with all of you!
Mark believes in sharing his story so that he can help as many people as possible.
Here are the main things I got out of speaking with him.
1. Everyone can go through periods of depression but finding what really makes you excited about life can help pull you out of it.
2. Take care of yourself. We aren’t invincible. There’s no need to take unnecessary risks that could cost us our health or life.
3. Don’t believe in the negative self talk. You might feel like your life is doomed but it will only stay that way if you keep believing it.
Now, this is a long one so settle in …but it’s good!
Thanks again Mark!
The Story of How Mark’s Life Changed Forever
Dreading the next two weeks Mark gets into his car to head to work. It was his first day on for two weeks of evening shifts and the 21 year old knew what that meant; Messed up sleep with no time for his friends or sports. Sports were the hardest to give up for those two weeks because he had to miss them completely. Between soccer, baseball and hockey there was always something that he had to try to forget about. Mark was known for being lightning fast and was an incredible goal keeper on his soccer team. Stopping for even two weeks after years of play was difficult but what was he going to do about it.
Mark was a hard worker and in only a few months had dramatically increased his wages. He noticed that the more he put his head down and got straight to work (and kept his loud mouth shut) the more his bosses noticed. He had a reputation for not needing to be checked on which was great since he hated micro-managers. He made his motto “Do what’s best for the mill” and it was paying off.
Pension, benefits, good wage and besides having to work the evening shift he didn’t hate it. This was the first job he really took pride in.
As he walks into the mill from his ‘new to him’ Grand Am he feels distracted by all the things he will be missing out on over the next 2 weeks. He checks in with his boss and asks if there is anything else besides the normal duties that they would like him to do.
“Clean around the shaker. If you have time”
A large conveyer belt carried pieces of wood to a chipper that broke them down into even smaller pieces. The wood would come out of the chipper and go to the shaker 15 feet below. The shaker would separate the larger pieces of wood from the smaller ones.
The chips would make a huge mess and get all over the place. Under the conveyer belts, around the chipper and the shaker.
Mark put on his safety gear begrudgingly. He felt like it was more of a favor to his bosses so they didn’t get in trouble as opposed to something that was actually worth his time.
Mark was responsible for keeping at the machines clear of chips and sawdust as well as helping out any part of the mill that was falling behind. Once he finished his normal routine he went down to clear away the wood chips by the shaker. The wood chipper was the loudest machine at the mill and being right under it was quite a noisy place.
Mark didn’t want to disturb anyone else’s work so he just let the machines run. He thought about locking them out but that took time and he was just going to be quick.
He swept up around the chipper and brushed off the conveyer belt that lead to the shaker. Remembering the motto that got him his raises, he noticed a bunch of chips stuck between the two layers of the conveyer belt. He got down under the machine so he could move those wood chips.
“Do what’s best for the mill”.
He knew that his bosses wouldn’t notice that he had cleaned there but it would need to be done at some time and he was there so what the hell.
First he tried with his right hand but he couldn’t quite get it. Next with his left. When he stuck his left hand in to brush away the debris the rubber on his gloves caught traction with the rubber of the belt and it sucked his entire left arm into the conveyer belt. A roller passed by again and again to move the conveyer belt back up to the shaker. At its first pass it cracked his forearm.
“Help! Help!” Mark screamed as loud as he could but the loud noise of the chipper masked his screams.
With each pass of the roller his arm became more and more numb. He had been sucked up so his whole arm was pulled in backwards and his back was rubbing across the moving belt. At first it was just hot but it eventually it ate away at his safety vest and his t-shirt.
He felt his arm less and less but his back more and more.
“Stop the machines! Help! I’m down here!”
The belt felt like a knife slowly scrapping the skin off his back layer by layer. No matter how he tried to move or what he tried to do he couldn’t pull himself away.
Mark knew that no one would be coming to check on him. It’s what his bosses loved.
After 20 minutes of screaming as loud as he could his voice turned to a scratchy whisper. The pain in his back was unbearable.
No one was coming, he couldn’t even feel that he had a left arm anymore and blood was pouring out of his back. He felt sleepy from the blood loss so he began preparing himself to die.
This part of the mill was open to the outside. It was a crisp clear night, not quite autumn. The stars were shining bright. He made his peace.
“Please God, make it stop.” Besides cries for help these were the only works he said aloud.
It was nothing short of a miracle when the machine suddenly stopped.
Mark tried to pull himself out of the conveyer machine but he was weak from the blood loss and couldn’t move his arm. Now it was quiet but there still wasn’t anyone around. Even if someone was nearby his voice was wrecked and he wasn’t sure he could yell loud enough to be heard.
He just had to wait and hope that someone found him. He knew that since the conveyer stopped that the wood up top was going to start piling up. He knew that eventually it would mess up someone’s work and they would come to see what the problem was.
10 minutes feels like an eternity when you think you may die at any moment. That’s how long it took before he could hear footsteps coming his way.
“Who the fuck turned this thing off?” He could hear his co-worker shout.
If Mark could hear him then maybe he could hear Mark. He found the last bit voice left inside and yelled “Help!” as loud as he could muster.
“Get help! I’ve been sucked into the conveyer belt!”.
Jeff, who also went to high school with Mark, ran to sound the alarm letting the whole mill know that there was a medical emergency.
2 Rings for break time, 3 for medical emergency and 4 to have the boss come down to answer a question. Unfortunately the 3 rings happened for break time by accident so often that no one paid any attention to it.
Jeff frantically raced to his boss’s office and told them to call for an ambulance. Someone came and cut the belt just in case the machine turned on again. A millwright took apart the roller to help free Marks arm. The Firemen loaded him onto a board and when the paramedics got there put him on the stretcher and then in the ambulance.
“Do you think I’ll ever play baseball again?” He said to the paramedic trying to put an IV into his right arm
“Just try to go to sleep.”
“Do you think I’ll be able to use my arm?”
“I don’t know. You should just try to relax and fall asleep.”
As the painkillers kicked in Mark felt more than a tinge of uncertainty about his injuries. The way the paramedic pushed aside his question made him nervous. He knew he was very badly hurt but thought that a bit a surgery would fix it up. He would just forever be known as the idiot who almost killed himself on a conveyer belt. The idiot who almost had his arm ripped off.
He sunk into a deep sleep and awoke only a few hours later in the hospital. His entire left arm, back and the left side of his torso were covered in white bandages. The fact that he couldn’t see his arm made him anxious. To his right he saw his parents. His mother’s eyes were filled tears and his father’s face shook trying not to let his anguish show. This was a bad sign. His parents separated when he was only a year old and are never in each others presence.
“Why are they both here?” Mark thought to himself. He knew he was badly hurt and that they were of course worried about him but this just seemed so strange.
The doctor came in and asked Mark to wiggle his fingers. “There,” Mark thought to himself “It’s fine”. He looked down at his fingers only to see that the bandages weren’t moving. It felt like he was moving them but they didn’t even budge. Not the tiniest bit.
“We’re gonna get you ready for surgery soon. You need to say good-bye to all of your friends and family”
“Okay” Mark replied but thought that this was a weird way to refer to his parents.
About 30 people had shown up at the hospital to see him. All of them worried and most of them teary eyed or in shock.
His bosses came up to Mark and although they may have been prepared for him to be angry. All Mark said was. “Sorry”.
“Why are you sorry?”
“If I would have said this isn’t safe for me to do right now would you have told me to do it anyways?”
“No, we would have said wait until it is safe”
“That’s why. It’s my fault. I screwed up.”
Mark didn’t realize this many people cared about him. “Really?” he kept thinking to himself, “These people actually give a shit about me?”
Mark was lucky enough to have his own room. Having your own room means more privacy and more visitors. Unfortunately it also means that you’ve been badly hurt. When he woke up the next morning a nurse came in to change his bandages. The bandage on his back had already crusted to him and he was not looking forward to having it changed. Knowing a lot of nurses he felt reassured by seeing her come in. That is until he saw the way she handled her job.
That day Mark realised that not everyone who spend thousands of dollars on schooling loves the career they go into.
She moved quickly and peeled the large bandage that covered his entire back. Mark later found out that she was supposed to use saline solution to wet it and peel it slowly. She grabbed the top two corners and yanked down hard and fast. Mark let out a loud cry of pain. She did it again to get the bottom half. He screamed. Mark had a broken arm that had been trapped for 30 minutes and the skin scrapped off his back but this was way worse.
She finished changing the rest of his bandages with the same care she showed his back. She had a hard stern look on her face and seemed irritated that Mark was in pain. She gave him a quick wash and went on her way barely saying a word.
This made Mark realize just how grateful he was to have his own room. Now no one had to hear him cry out in pain. He didn’t have to feel embarrassed, ashamed or explain himself.
Although this was really tough on Mark he maintained a positive attitude. He kept reminding himself of stories where doctors would tell people they would never walk again and then 6 months later they’d be walking. Mark was certain he was going to be one of those cases.
In a period of 10 days Mark had 4 surgeries. Just before his last surgery the doctor came in to see Mark.
“So are you the doctor that’s going to fix my arm?”
The surgeon starred at his feet. “I don’t know.”
Though he didn’t say anything Mark felt angry. “Doctors are supposed to be confident. Doctors are supposed to know what they’re doing. They’re supposed to know how to fix people. What does he mean he ‘doesn’t know’?”
From then on Marks mood started to fall. They had to move him to a shared room which was a total disaster. The snoring was so loud! After a night of no sleep Mark wanted to go home. The doctors ok’d it and nurses would come in to care for him at his dad’s where he was staying.
Cooking, cleaning, grooming. Mark couldn’t do too much for himself. Although he could wash his upper body his entire back was a scab making it impossible to bend forward.
Having someone clean him felt humiliating.
People would say things like “You must be enjoying your time off especially since you have people cleaning and cooking for you.”
Mark would feel so angry when people would say this. He was in constant pain, could barely move, would never be able to play sports again and after The Price is Right aired at 10am there was nothing good on t.v. Needless to say he wasn’t enjoying his time off. He felt miserable.
After a few months he got a call from a neuro-surgeon. He thought that he might be able to take some nerves out of Marks legs and put them in his neck and arm to get him some movement back.
“Let’s do it!” This is the break Mark was looking for.
But this surgery had the same effect as the last one. None.
216 staples in his legs, arm and neck and nothing to show for it.
Every day got worse. Every day he felt more and more despair. More sadness. He started wishing that he could disappear. He wanted to die. He planned how to do it. One day he would just drive off a cliff. People would probably guess that he killed himself but those that wanted could just pretend it was an accident.
Mark knew that his death would crush his family. When he was first injured he saw how many people cared about him and didn’t want to put everyone through that. He just assumed that he would be doomed to a lifetime of misery. He would never play sports again. What woman would ever want him? A Man with no job that couldn’t even tie his shoes. What would he do with his time besides get fat from sitting around all day?
Spring was coming and that means baseball. At least there’s something to watch on tv now. Marks coach from last year called him. “Why don’t you come out to our first ball practice and give us a hand? Just do what you can.”
Mark went but he wasn’t really sure what he was there for. He brought his bat, cleats and glove but didn’t know if he’d be using them. As he walked up to the diamond he realized that he had a left handed glove but no usable left hand. He felt like an idiot.
“Can you tie up my cleats?” Mark asked his coach with sigh.
“Really? Oh I guess…yeah sure. I haven’t had to do this since I coached little league!”
Mark was already regretting going but ran out to catch the balls that were being hit. He felt like a child. He had to wait until they hit the ground and were barely moving to be able to pick them up with his gloveless hand.
Everyone had gone up to bat and Mark felt relieved that he could go home.
“What about you Mark? Get up to bat!”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Mark rolled his eyes as he stepped up to the plate holding the bat with just his right hand. The pitcher threw the ball slowly towards Mark. He swung the bat awkwardly but hit it.
“See! Do it again.”
Mark felt some tension ease but still felt silly.
The pitcher kept throwing balls and Mark kept hitting them, a little harder each time. It wasn’t pretty but Mark was hitting ball after ball. It gave Mark the first feeling of happiness he’d felt in months!
Mark came back to practice the next week and his coach had a glove for his right arm so he could catch fly balls. He joined the team as a regular player and ended up leading the team in home runs by years end.
Joy started to creep into Marks life again. He felt happier.
A friend called up him up one day and asked him to join his soccer team. Remembering the glory days as a goalie Mark declined. “I don’t think I can be a goalie with just one arm.”
“I don’t know if you know how soccer works,” his friend said with a sarcastic laugh, “but in all the other positions you don’t use your arms at all!”
Mark joined soccer and became his lightning fast self again. Even though he wasn’t the star goal keeper anymore he did very well in the striker position and enjoyed scoring goals.
When winter came around Mark knew he could find a way to play hockey. Every game and practice he required a lot of help to get ready. He needed help with his skates and his pads. Then they would tape his left hand into the glove and his glove to the stick.
Mark had gotten himself in great shape and was enjoying all teams he was a part of.
As Mark began feeling happier he started to think more about how lucky he was. He still had days filled with depression and not a day went by where he doesn’t wish he hadn’t been so stupid but he really did feel lucky.
No one had turned the machines off that day. He asked for it to stop and it did. He believed that he had been sparred for a reason. He knew that he could help people.
He began speaking at different work places. He tells his story in hopes that he will prevent someone from hurting themselves or worse. He speaks at high schools in hopes that kids will learn from the mistake he made as a 21 year old instead of trying to make their own death defying mistakes. He talks about depression and how everyone needs to find that one thing that sparks them and use that to get out of it. His was sports but for someone else it might be family, movies, friends, cars, video games or even knitting.
Although he will never know if he made an impact in someone’s life he knows that if he kept even one thumb from being accidentally sawed off that he did what he was meant to do.
Mark also works with the mentally disabled. He knows that if he had been pulled in any further he would’ve had a brain injury.
It’s been 8 years since the accident and Mark still struggles with some things. He still feels embarrassed when he has to stop a stranger to help him do up his shoes. He gets mad when people think he’s being rude for not clapping. What takes some people 5 minutes takes him 45. Every day he wishes that he could use his left arm. Some people say “If I won the lottery…”. Mark says “If I had two hands…”
He speaks about his hand and arm as if they’re missing but they’re not. What’s missing is the function. It’s as if he’s had the strong arm of a young man taken away and had a skinny, brittle, torn up, shell of an arm covered in scars put in its place.
Mark has bad days but he no longer feels that he is doomed to a life of suffering alone. Now he has the wonderful fiancé he thought he would never have, a job that feels him with passion and the ability to play sports again.
Life may not always be good but a lot of the time it isn’t all that bad.
Story of Mark Johnson
Written by Liana Bakker
I went to high school with Mark. He was kind but always raring to joke around. I’m so happy that he is doing better and has found happiness in his life.
If you have any words of encouragement for Mark then leave a comment below