Marble man remembers one very special delivery
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
MARBLE – Blood was everywhere, even squirting out of Robert Pettijohn’s right arm.
The gash was deep. There wasn’t time to think about how bad it was, the 59-year-old Marble man said.
“I just knew I had to get the bleeding stopped or I was going to be in big trouble,” he said, recalling a freak accident that occurred one year ago today.
He jammed fingers from his left hand into the gash and bent his arm to slow the bleeding.
Rose Porter, 60, spotted Pettijohn as she drove by in her FedEx delivery truck, headed back downvalley after making her Marble deliveries.
“I saw this man wiggling his fingers at me and it looked like he needed help,” she said. “I asked him, ‘Are you OK?’ And he said, ‘No ma’am, I am not.'”
“I really thought he might die,” the New Castle woman said about seeing all the blood. “I though he would at least lose his arm if we didn’t get him to a hospital.”
The injury happened on Gunnison County Road 3 about two miles off Highway 133. Pettijohn, a Gunnison County employee, had grabbed the gas can for his weed cutter when he stepped in a hole on the road and lost his balance. He reached out to grab the guardrail but slipped. The jagged metal rail sliced open his right arm on the underside of his elbow.
The big man – 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds – put pressure on the wound. He sat down on the side of the road to wait, hoping someone would stop and help him.
“I needed to stay calm to keep the blood from flowing,” he said.
One car passed, then another. Holding pressure on the wound, he couldn’t make drastic motions to the passing motorists. When Porter passed by, she spotted his wiggling fingers and knew he was in trouble.
Surrounded by the rugged Elk Mountains, there was no cell phone service. Porter evaluated her options.
“We were going to try and get him into the truck,” she said. “When he tried to get up, his arm straightened out and blood started squirting out again. So he just sat back down.”
A tourniquet was needed and fast.
A belt? Porter thought. No one had a belt! Shoe laces? Yes, but not ideal. Then she thought “bungee cord.” She grabbed one from her truck and went to work.
“I twisted it around his arm, then doubled it,” Porter recalled. “Then I twisted it tighter with my fingers and held it.”
Another motorist stopped, and then rushed to Marble to call for help from a land line.
An EMT from Marble arrived a few minutes later, and applied another tourniquet below the wound.
Porter clenched the upper tourniquet on Pettijohn’s massive right bicep for nearly 45 minutes as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Pettijohn has CPR and first aid training, and served in the Vietnam War.
“I’ve seen a lot of blood, some my own and some from others,” he said in his low-key speaking manner. By the time his ordeal was over, he had lost four and a half pints of blood.
As a Vietnam vet, Pettijohn said he was “blown up” once, shot in the hand another time and flew in helicopters that picked up wounded soldiers.
“I explained to her what to do because I understood tourniquets,” Pettijohn said. “We all worked together. It was a joint thing. It really helped for me to talk to her, and for her to talk to me,” he said.
The ambulance finally arrived. Porter pried her numb fingers from the bungee cord tourniquet and EMTs whisked Pettijohn away to Valley View Hospital.
He underwent five hours of surgery, which included an artery graft from his leg to his arm. He was able to return to work three weeks later, and now considers himself 100 percent recovered,
Meanwhile, Porter was covered with blood and pretty shook up. She still had four hours of work remaining on her 130-mile route.
“I had to pull over and collect my thoughts,” she said. After stopping at the public restroom in Redstone to wash off as much blood as possible, she finished delivering the day’s packages.
When she got back to the office, her boss asked how her day was. She calmly said, “It was OK. I saved a man’s life today.”
“I didn’t think it was my place to talk it up,” she said.
Eventually, her boss and others realized Porter’s actions were a big deal, and nominated her for a FedEx award. On April 13, Porter attended a ceremony in Pittsburgh where she was presented with the FedEx Humanitarian Award for her lifesaving efforts.
Porter said she gained a legendary status at the Carbondale FedEx office.
“They all say, ‘You better not get hurt unless Rose is around,’ ” she said.
And she now has a nickname, conjured up for her ingenuity in using a bungee cord to save a life.
“Lady MacGyver, that’s what they call me,” she said, referring to the crafty, resourceful TV special agent who was able to solve complex problems with everyday tools and materials.
A year later, Pettijohn and Porter are as nonchalant as a morning breeze remembering the accident, and the friendship that has grown from it. Life is back to normal, but different.
They remember the first time after the accident that Porter had the opportunity to deliver a package to Robert Pettijohn and his wife, Judy, eight days later. There were hugs, tears and smiles when Porter arrived.
“It was pretty emotional,” she said. “We’ve gotten kind of close since.”
“I was pretty full of smiles,” Pettijohn said. “I thanked her a lot.”
Over the winter, they spotted one another as Porter was on her delivery route and Pettijohn was behind the wheel of a Gunnison County snowplow.
Porter reflects on how the incident affected her life.
“Before, they were just customers,” she said about the residents on her route. “Now it’s different. People are more important. It’s not just delivering packages. I pay attention to the person now, instead of just the address.”
For Pettijohn, the accident was a clear illustration of how fragile life can be.
“It was just a simple thing. Who would have thought that the guardrail would be that sharp?” he asked.
“It could happen to anyone, at anytime and anywhere,” he said. “Life is just plain short anyway, so you need to be careful.”
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