D. E. Larsen, DVM
“I think we should caravan out to Bad Helmstedt,” Ed announced.
It was getting late, and the snow has been falling all evening. There was still a sizable group at the club but the reality of the evening coming to a close was upon us.
I looked at the label on my nearly empty wine bottle, Die Schwarze Katze. The Black Cat wine had become a popular label this winter. This January, we had endured more snow than expected for Schöningen, West Germany.
“Are you going come with us, Dave,” Ed asked?
“No, I am going to be lucky to get my car home,” I said.
Ed continued to badger the crowd. Guys with cars were agreeing, and available seats were being consumed rather quickly. In a short time, five cars were agreeing to the caravan. Five vehicles and all the seats were taken.
“Dave, we need you to go, or Jim and I won’t have a ride,” Huffine said.
“No, I have had too much of this stuff tonight, holding up the empty bottle of Black Cat wine. And the snow has not let up at all,” I said.
But the pressure continued, and I finally agreed to go. Bad Helmstedt was a small resort community that sat right on the East German border on the north side of Helmstedt. There was a large Gasthaus that always welcomed a bunch of GIs. There were usually a couple of old ladies of the evening working there. That was what interested some of the guys.
Stepping out of the Bahnhof Hotel, the cold reality of the evening’s weather hit me square in the face. It was cold, and the snow was still falling. Harder now than it was earlier. There were over six inches on the ground.
My car was parked up the street a little, and we had to hurry to catch up to the caravan as it was leaving Schöningen. With the rear-mounted engine, the VW did pretty well in the snow.
As we were headed downhill a little, I passed the other cars in the caravan to take the lead position. Waving at everyone as we passed. On the slight corner, coming into the small village of Esbeck, the VW went into a vicious spin.
With a little struggle, I was able to get the car under control, and we came to a stop, but we were in the opposite lane, facing the oncoming traffic. One more maneuver to miss the cars trying to stop, and that swerve started another spin that ended in a thud. We would have been fine except for the apple tree.
My memories are sketchy for the time following the accident. The guys pulled me out of the car, I guess. I remember lying in the snow with Brian talking with me to keep me awake. Brian and I had been in Korea together.
I remember the ambulance but not the ride.
They rolled me around the x-ray table at the Helmstedt Hospital, and then I woke up in the morning in a hospital bed. Speaking excellent English, my nurse gave me the news, seven broken ribs and three fractured vertebrae, plus a good knock on the head.
Then she gave me an injection in my thigh.
“Morphine, to keep you comfortable,” she said.
I could quickly feel the euphoria expanding from my thigh, and for the next 10 days, I drifted in and out of full consciousness. I had a flood of visitors, guys from the shop, their wives, and my landlady.
Holley brought me a tuna sandwich, which was just about my sole ration for my stay there. Others brought all sorts of goodies, mainly apples, and oranges.
After the 4th or 5th day, an orderly came in with a wheelchair commode and wrestled me out of bed. I seem to remember teaching him some new words in English. Following that ordeal, they took me down to see the doctor. He put a girdle around my chest to make it more comfortable.
“We are going to try to go through the night without a shot tonight,” my nurse said.
“Okay,” I said.
This was about the 8th day, and I felt more comfortable, but other than the commode episode, I had not been out of bed.
I lay there, looking at the ceiling, wondering what I would do to entertain myself. I thought about it a little time and then rang for the nurse.
“I think I am pretty painful,” I said. “I think I need a shot.”
It only took her a minute to return with the injection. As I laid there feeling the glow grow out of my thigh, I realized that I was not painful. I just wanted that shot. That was the last one I took.
On the 10th day, the Army came and rescued me. They loaded me into an ambulance, and we drove nearly 3 hours to Frankfurt.
This Army hospital was massive. The doctor on duty checked me in, and the first thing he did was remove the girdle the German doctor had put on me. Then they put me on the 5th floor in the surgical ward.
This was a large ward, maybe 20 guys and one orderly on duty. Far different from my private room in the German hospital. I was encouraged to get up and around a little, which I did as needed.
On the first morning of rounds, a group of 6 doctors sat at my bedside discussing me and my case. Their conclusion was that I need to go the physical therapy and teach me to walk. They gave the slip to the orderly.
“I can’t find a wheelchair,” the orderly said. “Do you think you can walk to physical therapy?”
“Sure, where is it located.”
“It on the ground floor, clear at the other end of the hospital.”
He handed me the slip of paper, and I was off.
Going down 5 flights of stairs was a bit of a challenge, but there was a rail to help keep me upright. Then this hospital was longer than a city block, and the hallway seemed like it would never end. But finally, I was at the large double doors that said Physical Therapy.
I pushed through the doors and stood in amazement, watching the zoo like scene in front of me. There were guys everywhere doing all sorts of things. I have no idea how many, maybe 50 guys. There were two captains, ladies, physical therapists.
I stood there with my note in my hand for almost 10 minutes. Finally, one of the physical therapists noticed me and came over.
“What are you here for,” she said in a gruff voice?
I didn’t say anything, I just handed her my note.
She read the note.
“Teach how to walk,” she said more to herself than to me. She looked around behind me and out to the other side of the door.
“How did you get down here,” she asked?
“I walked,” I said.
She looked at the note again and handed it back to me.
“Get the hell out of here,” she said.
I left. I guess I had all the physical therapy I needed.
After a long week, the group of doctors on their morning rounds decided I could return to duty. I got dressed and went down to the supply room to gather my belongings.
“What the hell,” the supply clerk said as he brought out a bag of rotten apples and oranges. “Did you get hit by a car coming out of the grocery store?”
“I think you can throw those away,” I said.
I caught a bus to the train depot and arrived in Schöningen at about midnight. I was lucky that the courier from the site was there to pick up his pouch. He gave me a ride to my apartment, but I was unable to pick the lock. And not wishing to wake my landlady, I ended up sleeping on a friend’s apartment floor.
I was still a little stiff but close to normal. It was another couple of weeks before I felt healed.
Two and half years later, when Sandy and I were moved to Colorado to start veterinary school, I sneezed. I felt 2 ribs pop. Hurt like hell.
Photo Credit James Milstid.