Hubbard County solid waste director on the mend after freak tractor accident
Vern Massie believes his cell phone saved his life, along with a guardian angel giving him a strong signal.
But watching daytime TV just might do him in worse than the injuries he's recovering from.
Hubbard County's Solid Waste Superintendent was pinned underneath his tractor on the afternoon of June 13. It'll take him much of the summer to get back on his feet, so to speak.
That Sunday he and wife Alice went to church as usual, then had dinner.
"I told her I was going to go out and mow some thistles," he recalled Thursday from his rural home.
He backed his tractor up to his brush hog trimmer, hooked everything up and was then going to turn off the tractor so he could start up the power takeoff.
"The tractor jumped into gear," he recalled, and began backing up at a high rate of speed.
"I tried to take off running," he said.
But the bucket of the tractor swung around, clipped him in the legs and knocked him over, he said.
When he fell the digger pierced his left thigh near an artery. The tractor acted as if it was trying to bury him, Massie recalled.
"I was pinned against the digger trying to prevent myself from getting pierced more," he said. "I was using all my strength holding off the tractor. I would have been Swiss cheese."
Weekends Massie usually leaves his cell phone inside. He gets tired of being a slave to it during weekdays.
"For whatever reason I grabbed it that day," he said. As he was losing strength and consciousness under the tractor, he reached his phone, called Alice and told her to call 911.
His wife managed to pull the tractor off him. Ambulance personnel and deputies arrived.
"They told me I was a lucky man," he said. "I had an angel with me."
Massie was rushed by ambulance to Fargo, where doctors stitched up his left thigh.
The following Monday he underwent surgery.
"They put a plate and screws in my right leg," he said. "They had to pull my heel back in place."
The tractor had tried to wrench his foot off his leg.
"That little bone in the back of my leg was broken into eight pieces so they put screws in the plate and then screwed the heel back in to the keg," he said.
He joked that he missed Grandma's Marathon over the Father's Day weekend.
His right leg is in a cast; his left leg so badly bruised both legs have to be propped up on a chair above his heart to ward off potential blood clots.
His doctors will reassess his progress July 1. If he can't return to work at least part-time, he'll get a laptop to work at home. It's budgeting time for department heads. He said he can't waste time watching TV.
But for now he spends his days in his recliner, feet propped up on pillows. Dogs Joker and Angel still haven't figured out the morning routine. They're used to getting up at the crack of dawn and checking out the barn with their master.
Alice had to return to work after seeing her husband through the worst.
Now Massie's sisters and brother-in-law check on him and do the chores for his horses and cattle.
"They make sure I'm fed and watered too," he laughed.
But friends have been stopping by and calling.
Wednesday night members of the Park Rapids American Legion, of which Massie is an active member, came over and built new wheelchair ramps outside and going to the living room.
"I have more guardian angels than I realized," he said. He said he's not going to have a pity party because things could have been so much worse. But Alice said the recovery, for an active man who doesn't watch much TV or read, will test his mettle.
Massie said the pain has mostly subsided but he has medication if he needs it.
"That phone saved my life," he said. "I wouldn't have been around much longer."
As he flips the remote control on his TV (he's watching the news) he sighs.
"It sucks," he said of the TV fare.
His cell phone is within reach.
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