The Ultimate DIY Project
I had just pulled up to my office in Columbus, Ohio, when I first heard the breaking news on the radio about Aron Ralston in May of 2003.
Rather than head right into the office as I usually did, I had what National Public Radio calls a “driveway moment.” Riveted by this story about a predicament few of us will ever face, I sat in my car, listening to the entire story with rapt attention.
Mr. Ralston’s forearm was pinned by an 800-pound boulder in Utah while participating in a sport called canyoneering. He was exploring alone what is known as a slot canyon, which is narrow and often challenging.
After six days of agony and facing a certain death, Aron made the only decision open to him if he was to live. Utilizing the leverage provided by his trapped forearm and body, he shattered the ulna and radius bones.
He describes this ordeal as “Like bending a two-by-four in a table vise.” And, it worked – he snapped both bones.
Aron began the mind-boggling task of cutting through the tissue surrounding and between the broken bones with his multitool. This required cutting through skin, tendons and other tissue. He fashioned a tourniquet before slicing through the arteries.
Finally, he severed the nerve bundle causing excruciating pain and he nearly passed out. He was then free of the impingement.
Gathering his equipment, Ralston rappelled 70 feet down to the ground, then crossed six miles of desert until running into tourists who were hiking. Dutch hikers led him to the safety of a rescue helicopter searching for him.
Because of his will to live, Aron Ralston defeated death and went on to return to participating in outdoor adventures. He authored a book about his experience and now uses a variety of prostheses for climbing and other activities.*
Only now, he always lets someone know when and where he is solo adventuring.
Stories like Ralston’s cause most people to wonder how they would deal with such a situation. What if you had to perform surgery or cut off a limb to survive? Ask yourself if you are up to the task.
We’ve all heard that animals caught in leg-hold traps frequently chew their leg off to escape the trap. But is this a step too far, so to speak, for humans?
When I first began researching this article, I assumed that people perform- ing surgery on themselves would be few. That assumption was wrong. It turned out that there are many documented cases of self-surgery going back to the 17th century.
The thought of taking a scalpel to ourselves is more than most of us can seriously contemplate. We may think we would prefer death to self-surgery, but do we really know how we would react in such dire situations?
Faced with the specter of death, we may very well perform unimaginable acts to survive. Like the wolf who chews off its leg to escape a trap, we are hard-wired to stay alive at nearly any cost.
My point in writing this article is not to gross you out with graphic details, but, instead, to encourage you to consider your innate ability to do whatever it takes to stay alive. And in some cases, to save the life of another.
So, throughout this article, we’ll look in detail at a number of these fascinating and gut-wrenching incidences demonstrating how far we will go to survive.
There are cases of intentional self-mutilation, but we’ll steer clear of these incidents unless they are exceptional – like the following historical incident.
Everybody knows that Abraham Lincoln’s assassin was John Wilkes Booth, but how many know who killed Booth?
OK, great, I see a few hands out there.
Boston Corbett, also referred to as the Glory to God Man, killed the man who killed Lincoln. At the time, he was a sergeant in the Union Army. Previous to his military service, he was a hat-maker who was so devout that he attempted to eliminate any temptations in his life.
Corbett’s vow of chastity included avoidance of liaisons with prostitutes. To further his desire for purity, he castrated himself with a pair of scissors.
Not only that, but before seeking medical help, he enjoyed dinner followed by a prayer service. Then, and only then, did Corbett feel it necessary to proceed to a hospital. He thus established his impeccability for all time.
Now, continuing into a saner arena of self-surgery, we’ll meet a woman who performed her own C-section – this case rates as an unparalleled demonstration of determination, love and courage.
Shortly after midnight on March 5, 2000, Inez Ramirez Perez sat on a wooden bench in her home in a remote area of Mexico. She was fortifying herself with several shots of hard liquor in preparation for a Cesarean operation that she knew was necessary to save her baby’s life.
This would not be an operation performed by a country doctor or a midwife. Untrained in medicine, Perez was determined to save her baby’s life by removing it from her uterus with a kitchen knife.
She would make three incisions into her abdomen until finally locating the correct spot on her uterus to cut through and withdraw her son. She did this without the aid of medical personnel, proper instruments or disinfectants.
And men think they are tough – balderdash!
After retrieving the healthy baby, she cut his umbilical cord with a pair of scissors and promptly passed out.
When Inez came to, she sent another son, Orlando, to a village several miles away for help. He returned with a medical technician who sewed up the incision with store-bought needle and thread.
She was then taken to a hospital by automobile eight hours away. At the hospital, Inez would receive several operations to repair the various incisions that she had made, including damage to her intestines.
Against all odds, Inez and her now 22-year-old son have lived to tell the tale. She doesn’t recommend that other women attempt such a dangerous operation unaided.
However, she justified her actions by saying, “I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. If my baby was going to die, then I decided I would have to die, too. But, if he was going to grow up, I was going to see him grow up, and I was going to be with my child. I thought that God was going to save both our lives.”
In next week’s edition of For Your Consideration, we’ll examine the plight of a lone doctor at an Antarctica research station. She discovers a lump in her breast and must biopsy and treat the cancerous mass herself.
*127 Hours, the 2010 movie about Aron Ralston starring James Franco is available on DVD and streaming services.