Broken Leg:
Wood River Police Department, 1982
Nothing like an On-The Job Injury to make your day.

By far, the most serious injury I ever received on duty, and by serious I mean where I needed to be transported away in an ambulance, did not occur as the result of any major action or criminal activity. This was during the dead of winter in February 1982. It was not simply cold. It was colder than could even be imagined in the Arctic Circle!

Here’s how cold it was: One morning, I got ready to depart from my home at Wood River for my job at GIEC in Grand Island. It was about 40 Below Zero with a wind out of the Northeast at 40 miles per hour. I’ll let you compute the wind chill factor. When I put my Chevy Blazer in gear to pull out of the driveway, the transmission slipped before dropping into gear. I thought it was odd, but did not worry too much further, since it was now in gear. I pointed the truck east on the highway, and headed into the wind. Everything was fine for about three or four miles when the trunk simply went out of gear. I coasted to the shoulder of the highway, put on my four-way flashers, and was amazed that the strong wind was blowing my truck backwards while it should have been in drive, moving forward!

Under normal circumstances, I would have walked the two or three miles back to town, but in these conditions, walking in the sub-zero weather would have been suicidal! The driver of an eastbound Continental Trail Ways Bus saw me broke down on the side of the road, and offered to take me into Grand Island. He said there was no way he could allow me or anyone else to freeze to death on the side of the highway. Once at the bus depot, a cop was dispatched to take me the rest of the way to the GIEC.

Fortunately, I still owned an old Chevy Monza 2+2. It was in pretty rough shape, but the insurance was paid for and the registration was current. We pulled it into a friend’s garage to thaw it out, put fresh anti-freeze in it, and added some oil. We put the jumper cables on it and it started right up! Two weeks later, it blew the frost plugs!

It was during this miserable winter that the Chief of the Wood River Police Department chose to take a four week vacation. He had earned the vacation, and he should be able to take his family to enjoy some time in a warmer climate. While the Chief was away, he placed me, his part time patrol officer in charge. I still had my full time, forty-hour per week job at the 911 Communications Center in Grand Island known as GIEC. While this would be interesting in jumbling the schedule between the two jobs, we managed to get it worked out, and God knows I needed the money to repair one of my two vehicles. They way the schedule worked out most of the time, is I would pull an 8 hour shift at GIEC, take 4 hours off to sleep, then work an 8 hour shift on patrol at Wood River. There were no days off per se, only a few days where I didn’t have to work both jobs on the same day, meaning that sometime, I got sixteen hours off straight every now and then!

This brick building along Highway 30 was the Office of the
Wood River Police Department while I served there.

In late February, the weather broke for a few days, and it actually warmed up to about 45 degrees with sunshine. During that time, which felt like spring to many of us, the snow and ice melted some, causing large puddles and pools of water in the street. Then another Alberta Clipper roared in, and it was worse than the previous cold snap. This one froze all the puddles like mirrored glass, then covered them with a light dusting of snow. Then came the wind… The horrible wind!

I was going off duty from patrol at about 2:00 AM. There wasn’t anything else moving. At the time, it was 45 below zero, with a northwest wind at 60 miles per hour. This works out to a wind chill of about 90 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit! I parked the patrol car in the garage behind the home of the Chief, and then started the walk to where I lived about four blocks away. Fortunately, I was wearing my air force, winter parka with the snorkel hood instead of the regulation police tuffy jacket. I was concentrating on the task of moving forward, when I stepped off the street curb near my home onto the now frozen ice puddle obscured by the light layer of snow, and down I went!

You know how they say that over time, your mind will forget the pain? It’s true. While I can recall that I was in excruciating pain at the time, I can’t actually recall the pain itself. What I can vividly remember with ice cold clarity, is the sound of my leg snapping like a branch of wood. CRACK!

My first reaction was to roll and flop around like a big fish tossed on the bank, out of water. Once I got my wits about me, I came to the quick realization that while I could see my house, there was no way I was going to get there on my own power. Thank GOD I had my hand held radio with me! I called GIEC, and advised them that I was down, and that I needed help, adding that I thought I broke my leg. She replied by asking how I knew the leg was broken. I told her that I heard it crack on the way down. After a brief, but longer than usual pause, (probably to make a grimace on her face,) she responds, “10-4.” A deputy was dispatched 10-18 (emergency – expedite,) to my location, and he was 30 minutes away, across the county. The EMS Ambulance is dispatched, but this is in the middle of the night for a volunteer department. Even though the deputy took 30 minutes to get there, he still beat the ambulance!

During the wait, I rolled onto my belly, placed the radio in front of my face, and pulled the hood up over my head, with my gloved hands cradling the radio. Oh God I was COLD! The dispatcher calls, and asks, “40841, how are you doing?”

I key up, “I hurt bad, real bad, and I can’t believe how cold it is… I’m so cold…”

She replies, “Take a deep breath, hold it, let it out, take another, hold it, let it out again…”

The deputy keys up: “9088 GIEC – Be advised, I believe 40841 broke his leg, I don’t believe he’s having a baby!”

All this was done to help keep my spirits up and I really did appreciate it.

Deputy Cleary arrived shortly after, and had a blanket to put over me as I’m lying on the ice. The blanket really didn’t seem to help much, but the simple fact that he was there, and I was no longer alone gave me more of a boost than anything. The ambulance, Wood River 99 arrived. They loaded me up on the stretcher, and inside the heated interior of the ambulance. I sat up, and took my gun belt, including the radio, and handed it to Cleary for safe keeping. While handing the radio over, dispatch calls me, “GIEC - 40841!”

“41 – Go ahead EC.” I reply.

“I suppose this means you’re off duty now?”

“10-4 EC. I’m 10-76.”

Arriving at the hospital in Grand Island, I was greeted by the ER staff with blankets which they had heated in the oven! In spite of all the pain, I’d never felt anything as good as those hot blankets! I wanted to simply go to sleep. We had a matter of discussion in that they wanted to cut my boots off. I would not allow it, as I was so broke, and could only think of how much a new pair of boots cost. I settled the argument by taking them off myself, in spite of the pain, while the discussion was still in progress. Ultimately, I was informed that I had suffered a broken left fibula, (i.e. a broken leg,) had a temporary splint put on my leg, gave me some codeine for the pain, and sent home with orders to see my personal physician.

Deputy 9080 Howard Jensen arrived to take me back to my house from the hospital. Howard knew the type of hours I had been putting in, and that I was struggling to make ends meet financially. He finally said, “Randy, we all know how hard you’re working, but YOU need to learn, that the world is not going to stop turning because you can’t pay your bills on time once in awhile!” He told me I was lucky I only broke my leg, and that if I didn’t learn to take it easy, I was going to get hurt a lot worse! He wasn’t the only one to tell me that over the next few weeks…

Meeting us at the house was my Chief. I didn’t know he was home from his vacation yet, as it was a week early. The Chief and Howard helped me into the house, (it was a trailer house which I hated…) and helped me to my bed. I asked them to make sure the phone was near me. They asked if there was anything else I needed before they left, and I said, “It looks like I’m fine guys! Thanks for everything!” They asked me if I was sure, and I told them that I was absolutely fine. So they left. They’re now gone. It’s all quiet in my house, and it dawns on me. I have to pee…

I called my Dad at Blair, Nebraska, just shy of 200 miles away. Wow! Was I happy to see Dad when he got there! The Old Man was not known to have a heavy foot, but I think he got there in less than two hours! Dad took me to my regular doctor at Kearney who took more x-rays, and put a cast on the leg, which relieved the pain almost instantly. I was shown the x-rays, and it was explained that the reason I was in such pain, was because I did not suffer a clean break. A pointed end of part of the broken bone was gouging into part of my muscle. I took two weeks off convalescing my broken leg at the home of my parents’.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of it. I returned to work at GIEC, as I could still work seated at a radio consol. I was suffering back pain, and thought it was exertion from walking on crutches. One day, the pain was so intense; I thought I was having a heart attack! As the day progressed, I started running a fever. A really high fever! I was sent home from work early! It turns out that while I was laying there on the ice in the sub zero weather, I contracted pleurisy. (This condition is when the lining between the inside of your chest and your lungs becomes inflamed. Very painful!) I ended up in the hospital for two weeks!

While in the hospital, my doctor joined the chores to tell me to stop working around the clock. While many burned the candle at both ends of the stick, he told me I was burning it in the middle as well. He said, “Keep this up and you won’t live to reach age 30!” I got the message.

No action. No glory. I slipped on the ice and broke my leg with other complications...

I was not ruled to be fully fit for duty until May. …And I thought I was up to my ears in debt before!

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