Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

June 28, 2013

COMMENTARY: Tragically hip?

Broken bone leads to reporter's paradigm shift

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE —

Over the past few years, I have compiled my own personal “bucket list” and performed many tasks listed on it. I have — among other things — bungee jumped, parachuted, and even wrestled a steer at a rodeo in Pampa near Amarillo.

But I was not injured during any of those occasions. No, my own personal life-changing accident happened at the most unlikely of times and places — my son Jake's May 31 graduation from Jacksonville High School at the historic Tomato Bowl Stadium.

This accident happened just after Jake, 18, crossed the stage and the ceremony ended. It took place as I was preparing to dash onto the field to hug my boy and tell him how proud I was of him.

I'm not really sure how I managed to trip there on the Tomato Bowl concourse. But I did trip. Either my feet came together the wrong way or there was some bench structure upon which I accidentally hooked one of my feet. Perhaps someone else's foot became part of the mix. I'm not really sure. But the end result was … I completely and totally lost my balance.

As I fell, I desperately stuck my left leg out to break the fall. But instead of stopping any forward momentum, something in my left leg just ... broke. Pure agony shot up and down that side of my body. I fell forward and through a group of passersby — unable to stop myself — and landing face first onto the pavement.

Screaming. Screaming. Screaming.

Two very nice people, a man and a woman, tended to me after my fall. The woman held my hand as I wailed and said something to the effect of “I'm glad God put me in this place at this time so I could help you” as the man went to get help.

They truly were wonderful. Had they not been there to tend to me this nightmarish episode might have been even worse. I wish I'd had the presence of mind to learn their names. But again, I have never been in that much pain in my entire life.

An EMS vehicle arrived to strap me to a gurney and load me into an ambulance. The paramedics did everything in their power to not hit any bumps as they lowered me down the steep tomato bowl steps.

After I had been placed inside the vehicle, my son, yelling, “DAD!” darted down the front steps of the tomato bowl, desperate to make sure I was okay. My mother, my sister and my two young nephews all were incredibly frightened on my behalf.

The paramedics iced me down because I was sweating like a fiend. They told me I was dehydrated. Their ambulance took me to a nearby hospital, where the on-duty emergency room personnel floated the theory that my pain stemmed from the fact I was dehydrated. They didn't X-ray my leg. They gave me pain meds and sent me home.

My sister, Anna Tinsley Williams, drove me and my son to the extended stay motel where we were staying at the time. Despite the medication, every move I made getting out of my sister's vehicle was sheer agony. My son and a hotel desk clerk tried to help me up the stairway to my room on the second floor, but any motion at all hurt too much. So my son used the graduation money my mom had given him to rent us a downstairs room where I could comfortably stay for the night.

But comfort was not on the agenda. Every single motion of mine — every jostle, every turn and twist — was incredibly scream-worthy and painful. I couldn't even climb fully onto the bed under my own steam.

Eventually, my son realized I wasn't getting any better. So he called the EMS from the room and had them take me back to medical care — at the other Jacksonville hospital.

At this other hospital, they immediately x-rated me and discovered my left hip was broken. Further investigation discovered two tumors in that same area. Later tests would reveal the tumors were not cancerous.

The medical staff at this second hospital checked around to find a Texas surgeon who would be willing to take me on as a patient. I lucked out. Dr. Gerhard E. Maale III,out of Plano was willing to operate. He has a great reputation. A couple of nurses with whom I spoke said Dr, Maale has the “hands of an angel.” (In reference to his immense talent as a surgeon.)

So they loaded me into an ambulance to be driven to Plano. It was at this point that everything officially became a blur. I was pumped full of painkillers and don't really remember much about the ambulance ride to Plano. The surgery took place while I was out.

I remember waking up in a Plano hospital room. My mother, Annie Miller, was there. My left hip area was on fire, and there was a burning, insanely-sharp catheter in my nether regions. That's all I have to say about that.

Apparently, the pain meds rendered me incapable of coherent thought. It was like I had on a gorilla mask that only allowed me to speak gorilla talk while thinking gorilla thoughts. There were several back-and-forth Abbott and Costello “Who's On First” conversations I had with nurses, doctors -- and even family members.

Eventually, I was taken from Plano to the Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation at Frisco to do my rehab.

People came in to visit. People left. My college friend Manuel Alvear came in with a stack of magazines and visited again later after I became more lucid.

The Frisco hospital is where my mind began to start working again. There, they had amazing, high-spirited staff, who taught me the best ways to move around — either by walker or by wheelchair. As of this writing I am still using a walker although I expect to graduate to a cane fairly soon.

What followed were days spent painfully moving around on a walker, followed by attendance icing down the area of surgery. I was taught the safest way to climb into a bed and the safest way to exit. Someone had to stand outside my restroom when I was inside, to make sure I didn't fall and hurt myself. The nurse came in several times a day to administer pain medication.

Eventually and with the help of an X-ray I saw the HUGE artificial, metal hip Dr. Maale had implanted on my left side. Seriously, the X-ray photo of the implant makes it look like I'm part cyborg.

Luckily, while I was in the hospital, my girlfriend, the beautiful and magnificent Amy Sims Woodall , took care of my son. After I was released I went to stay with her and she's helping me mend. She's an amazing woman — incredible and strong enough to take in two Tinsleys without missing a beat. 

I started back to work Wednesday. I'm still in a wheelchair while I'm working and still use the walker to get around the office. The staples have been removed from the left hip surgical area. It's slow going, but I am getting better in degrees.

It has been theorized that my left hip was at least partially cracked before this incident because I have been limping on it off and one for almost 12 months. I had recently taken measures to get it looked at and would have been in a doctor's office by now if the leg hadn't gone out on its own on May 31.

I still can't do much with my left leg. In many cases I have to lift it with both hands so my son can help me get my shoe and sock on.

I would do anything to fast forward myself a couple of months into the future, at a point when my leg is finally ready to have me run on it so I can resume jogging and get my life fully on track again.

Fortunately, there's work, which is my passion. I love reporting. I love writing. And now I get to resume that. In my spare time I have been putting together a book based on several of my life journalism experiences. So there's that, too.

But I feel like a different person now. Something has changed. Maybe its the fact that I will probably never be able to pass through a metal detector without setting it off. Or perhaps its because I'm still getting over the trauma of the accident.

I walked with my family to the Tomato Bowl to watch my son become a high school graduate. When I left, it was in an ambulance. Also, my left hip is now completely made of metal.

As far as that bucket list I mentioned earlier is concerned: I think I'm going to throw it away. There's no use looking for additional trials to undertake and survive when the universe already has plenty of them to throw at you.

Ben Tinsley is a Jacksonville Daily Progress reporter with over 25 years in the journalism industry, He can be contacted by email, btinsley@jacksonvilleprogress.com, or by phone at 903-586-2236. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bentinsley or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.