As soon as the sheet of metal roofing hit the back of my leg, I knew I was in trouble. Working on my timber farm, I was repairing a roof when the piece of metal slipped and slashed across my calf. I looked down, knowing what I would see.
My left leg was severed nearly in half and blood was gushing from the wound. I sat down, stripped off my sweatshirt and wrapped the fragments of my leg as tightly as I could. Even though this took only a matter of seconds, the ground beneath me was already a pool of red.
I dug my cellphone from my pocket and called 911, explaining the situation and giving my location, which was far from any main road. The operator said someone was on the way and hung up. After that, the wind through the trees and my breathing were the only sounds I could hear.
I knew it would be a while before anyone could find me so far from anywhere. Watching the flow of red soaking through my makeshift tourniquet, I wondered if I was bleeding to death and tightened it even harder.
For those first few minutes, I questioned whether I would survive. “Maybe this is it,” I thought. But it wasn’t like you might think. I was surprised at how calm and at peace I was.
At first, I thought, “I have so much I still want to do.” But, immediately, I realized a day would never pass when I didn’t think that way. Almost with a shrug, I started thinking that everyone has to die sometime, and even though I hadn’t planned on it being that day, I supposed it was as good as any other. Huh … the end. Strangely peaceful.
Sitting there for almost an hour on the cold, muddy ground, gray skies above me and misty rain beginning to fall, I was at peace. I called my wife to say goodbye, but there was no answer. So, cold as it might seem, a voice message had to do.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes and I didn’t feel any remorse, other than knowing that my family would be devastated. Despite the intense pain, I was totally lucid — no shock or dizziness. I monitored my breathing, sensed my blood pressure, checked my toes for movement and sensation, and listened to the wind, wondering if help would arrive before I expired.
As counselors, we often are faced with helping people manage life’s problems in the context of their weak and crumbling self-perceptions. One’s sense of self — or internal well-being, you might say — is the bedrock (or sand) on which the weight of life’s difficulties rest. That day, I came face to face with who I am at my core.
I love the outdoors, and if that had been my last day, it would have been OK. I would have died in a place that I love knowing I had done all I could to save myself.
The point of this story isn’t to milk readers’ emotions or to create cheap melodrama. The point is that I’m grateful to have another chance at life, but I’m equally gratified not to have found myself facing death with sadness and regrets. I’ve lived a good life, and despite my failings and imperfections, I know my existence has made a difference in people’s lives.
My work has influenced thousands of students, thousands of readers and hundreds of audiences, clients and clinicians. I think that, overall, I have left the world a better place than when I arrived in it, and maybe that is what it is all about. I’m OK with who I have become and how I have spent my days. Maybe that is as good as it gets.
I’m not sure exactly how I arrived at this place in life but, frankly, I think a lifetime of mistakes and struggles have helped me to develop resilience and comfort in my own skin. Isn’t it peculiar that the things we wish to avoid — pain, loss, difficulty — are the very things that help foster strength? This very painful event will itself make me a stronger and better person.
Obviously, I didn’t bleed to death. Beyond that, I didn’t lose my leg. Long months of recovery are still ahead of me, but I’m grateful that walking again is in my future.
Knowing our defects and failings as counselors, many of us struggle to live with ourselves, just like our clients do. I suppose what I’m hoping is that you too can find a place where you are OK with the end, no matter how many years away that might be. That strength is the firm foundation we need to manage the curveballs that life throws at us, thus making us better helpers for our clients.
I was tested by facing death, and it has shown me that I can live with myself. No “what ifs” or “if onlys.” Of all my accomplishments in life, that kind of peace may be the most significant.
Gregory K. Moffatt is a veteran counselor of more than 30 years. His monthly Voice of Experience column for CT Online seeks to share theory, ethics and practice lessons learned from his diverse career, as well as inspiration for today’s counseling professionals, whether they are just starting out or have been practicing for many years. His experience includes three decades of work with children, trauma and abuse, as well as a variety of other experiences, including work with schools, businesses and law enforcement. Contact him at Greg.Moffatt@point.edu.