D. E. Larsen, DVM
The afternoon was filled with bright sunshine and anticipation. It was the end of March, Friday the 31st in 1950, and we were planning to go to the high school tonight to watch the school play. Our cousin, Bill Davenport, was one of the actors. The last two weeks of March had been a welcome relief from January and February’s horrible weather.
In January, we had just moved to our place in Broadbent and were welcomed with nearly two feet of snow. The weather remained miserable through February. A couple of weeks of good weather in March had the grass growing we were enjoying the out of doors.
There was a massive cherry tree in the backyard, and I was sitting in the grass under that tree. Gary was on a sturdy wooden table that was under the cherry tree.
“I’m going to jump on you,” Gary said. “You better move.”
Gary, four years older than me, was always picking on me. I considered myself tougher than him, so I didn’t pay much attention to his threats.
Suddenly, he made a leap at me. His arms were spread as if he was going to swoop me up. He landed far short of me, putting his hands down to break his fall.
The next I knew, Gary was screaming and bouncing across the yard, holding his hand, with blood spurting everywhere.
By some stroke of divine guidance, Dad had brought home a first-aid booklet and a tourniquet for Larry, my oldest brother, to study for a first-aid card so he could get a summer job.
“Larry, get ahold of Gary, and I will grab the tourniquet,” Mom said as she ran into the house.
Larry’s memory was that he tackled Gary, but that may have not been an accurate description of the event. Mom was right there with a towel and the tourniquet.
“Do you know how to use this?” Mom asked.
“I just read that chapter last night,” Larry replied as he applied the tourniquet to Gary’s forearm. He twisted it tight until most of the bleeding stopped. “This is a bad cut, Mom. We need to get him to the hospital.”
“Linda, you need to call Mrs. Hermann and see if she has a car and can take us to the hospital,” Mom said as she picked up Gary and sat on the edge of the porch, holding him in her lap.
Gary buried his head in her chest and sobbed.
I looked at Gary’s hand as I passed by and followed Linda into the house. The phone was sort of a mystery to me. It was a large wooden box that hung on the wall and had a crank handle that Linda turned three or four times. I was never allowed to use the phone. Everyone on the line had a number coded in long and short sounds. Linda knew Mrs. Hermann’s number, and since she was on our line, she could call her without talking to the operator.
“Gary cut his hand real bad,” Linda said into the phone. “Dad has the car at work, and we need to get him to the hospital.”
“I will be right there,” I could hear Mrs. Hermann say.
Mrs. Hermann’s car was like our car, but it was black. Larry helped Mom and Gary into the back seat, and then he got in the front with Mrs. Hermann.
“When Dad gets home, you have him call the hospital before he comes,” Mom said to Linda through her open window as Mrs. Hermann started down the lane to the highway.
“Okay, David, let’s go find what cut Gary’s hand,” Linda said as we watched the car pull onto the highway and head to town.
I ran over to where I was sitting, and Linda followed.
“Gary landed right there,” I said as I pointed to the spot where he had landed. I could see blood on the grass.
Linda looked in the grass where there was blood on the grass. She picked up a broken bottom of a milk bottle, and there was blood on the glass.
“This is what happens when you guys play out where the grass is long and hasn’t been mowed,” Linda said. “I don’t want to see you out here until this grass is cut.”
Linda was ten years older than me, and I think she thought she could boss me like Mom.
“We need to go in and call Grandma and Aunt Lila,” Linda said.
I don’t know why she said we needed to go call. I was not allowed to use the phone. But I followed along and listened to her make the calls.
There was nothing else to do until Dad got home. Linda seemed to be on the phone all the time. I think she was calling everyone she knew.
It seemed like hours before Dad got home, and Linda was crying as she tried to tell him what had happened. About that time, Mrs. Hermann drove up with Larry in the car.
“Boy, what a day this has turned out to be,” Mrs. Hermann said while talking with Dad. “They had traffic stopped at Hoffman Wayside, but I rolled down my window and waved. They let us through as soon as I told them we had an emergency. When we got to the hospital, they gave Gary a couple of shots, and Gary got ready for surgery. Anyway, we dropped Deacon and Gary at the hospital. And the doctor said that Larry did an excellent job with the tourniquet. Otherwise, Gary could have lost his hand.”
“We can’t thank you enough,” Dad said. “Can I give you some money for gas?”
“No, I think you will need all the money you have by the time that hand is fixed,” Mrs. Hermann said.
Mrs. Hermann had not been gone too long when Grandma and Grandpa showed up.
“We just wanted to make sure you guys were going to be okay the next day or two,” Grandma said. “Have you heard from Dolores yet?”
“She hasn’t called yet,” Dad said. “I think they are probably working on Gary’s hand still. Larry and I will do the evening milking now, and Linda will fix dinner. I think Larry and David can get the morning milking done.”
“Well, David isn’t going to be able to stay home by himself when Larry and Linda go to school tomorrow,” Grandma said.
“I’m big enough,” I said.
“I know you think you’re big enough, but I think we will come over in the morning and pick you up before Larry and Linda go to school,” Grandma said. “We can take you two to school, so you don’t have to worry about catching the bus.”
We were just done with that conversation when Mom called.
“Gary is in surgery now,” Mom said. “Doctor Gurney is operating on his hand. We will need to stay the night here. They say that I can sleep in his room, and I think I will be able to come home tomorrow afternoon. The doctor says he is pretty sure that this surgery is just a temporary fix and that we will have to go to Portland to the Shriners Hospital for more surgery. I think Dr. Gurney said he would be sending us to see a Dr. Thatcher.”
“Grandma said they can come over and pick you up when you are ready to come home,” Dad said on the phone. “You take care and tell Gary to keep his chin up. Grandma also says that she will call Uncle Ferrill. You can probably stay with them if you go to Portland.”
Mom came home in the afternoon, the day following Gary’s surgery. Gary stayed another day.
During surgery, Dr. Gurney had to make an incision at Gary’s wrist in order to pull the tendons back into the wound. They had retracted with the muscle pull after they were severed.
“The worst thing about the surgery was when they put a mask on my face and then dropped ether on the mask,” Gary said as we sat at the dinner table the day after he was home. “They asked me to count while they did the drops, and I think I got to six.”
And so, Gary’s ordeal began. At home, we made do. Larry could do the morning milking with no problem. It was early enough in the spring that many cows had not calved yet. Linda could come close to fixing dinner and breakfast, although I am sure she complained a bit. There were days that I stayed with Grandma and Grandpa, and I liked that because I could spend time in the lower barn with Uncle Ern.
“This is the bottom of a milk bottle that cut your hand when you landed on it,” Dad said as he showed Gary the jagged piece of glass.
“I don’t want to look at it,” Gary said.
Dad took the piece of glass and threw it down the hole in the outhouse.
The first trip to Portland was for surgery. Mom and Gary stayed with Uncle Ferrill’s family on their dairy farm out of Aurora.
To avoid the discomfort of the ether anesthesia, when they started the drops, Gary breathed as deep as he could so he would be under quicker. Dr. Thatcher opened the wound at the original laceration site and cleaned up the tendon repairs done by Dr. Gurney.
A few weeks following that surgery, Dr. Thatcher signed Gary up for a couple of weeks of physical therapy. Mom and Gary would make daily trips into Portland for Ferrill’s farm in Aurora. This involved a trip across the Willamette River on Boone’s Ferry to and from Wilsonville.
Gary was testing how well he could throw with his left arm during this stay. His target was the many swallow nests under the eves of the barn. Uncle Ferrill caught him in the act and was none too happy.
There were follow-up trips for months with a second surgery stuck in there somewhere. I went along and stayed at Ferrill’s on the second surgery trip.
The second surgery was through an incision separate from the original injury on Gary’s palm of his right hand. And again, Gary sucked in the ether as fast as he could.
The frequent trips were arduous. Dad would take Mom and Gary to catch the Greyhound Bus in Coquille at three or four in the morning. The bus trip up the coast to Portland was a long one, probably eight hours. People would flag the bus down at most any location along the route, disrupting anyone trying to sleep.
They did have a stop at Otis Junction that allowed for a walk to stretch their legs and get a bite of food. Then the bus went on to Portland.
They would get off the bus at the central Greyhound station in the middle of downtown Portland and walk a couple blocks to the doctor’s office. It was in a high-rise building on the seventh floor.
After the doctor’s visit, they would eat lunch, usually a hamburger and fries, at the lunch counter in the Woolworths store. Then they would have time for a movie before catching the bus back to Coquille. If they were lucky, they would be able to get some sleep on the bus, wrapping up a nearly twenty-four-hour day. They would arrive in Coquille around two in the morning.
“You should see all the movie theaters in Portland,” Gary said one evening as we were getting into bed. “There are five or six of them, all in a group, and you can just pick which movie you want to watch.”
Gary’s hand was never the same. The laceration was across the entire width of the palm of his hand, severing tendons, muscles, blood vessels, and some nerves. As he went through life, he displayed his Larsen character and never allowed the deficit to dictate what he could or could not do.