You’re Gonna Get HurtPosted: May 3, 2013 Follow @JimPadar
Most occupations carry their own specific hazards. The automobile mechanic knows that sooner or later a wrench is going to slip and he’s going to skin some knuckles. The carpenter knows that once in a great while he’s going to hit his thumb with a hammer. And so it is with law enforcement officers, except the specific nature and severity of their injury can vary widely from the mundane to the catastrophic. I don’t think most officers spend much time contemplating how they might get hurt, although I’ve heard more than one express their greatest fear is that of an automobile accident. Strangely, none that I have ever talked to expects to get shot.
I don’t think my history of injuries on duty (IOD) is anything more than the unexciting. My first documented injury occurred in the police gym at the Training Academy. I am fond of telling other officer’s that the infamous Stanley S. broke my foot. Stanley probably caused more widespread hurt during his gym classes, to more officers, than any other person in the department. But the truth of the matter is, Stanley didn’t do it. My partner broke my foot during an “over the shoulder toss,” a judo maneuver that to my knowledge no officer has ever used on the street. As he held me around the waist and my body crossed over his shoulder, instead of releasing me and allowing me to fall flatout to the mat, at the very last moment he held on to my waist momentarily in an effort to “let me down easy” as he put it. The result was I was released at a 45 degree angle and my entire body weight impacted the mat on the outside of my left foot, causing a hairline fracture in the fifth metatarsal bone.
Hairline or not, the pain was excruciating. Two cadets were summoned and I hopped out on their shoulders to one of the cadet’s Volkswagen Beetle. Somehow they maneuvered me, painfully I might add, into the rear seat of the Bug and drove me to the Medical Section at 11th and State. Again I hopped into the waiting room where I sat and waited for over two hours. Eventually one of the nurses took notice of my presence and after inquiring as to why I was there, called a wagon to transport me to the hospital.
After another hour’s wait two First District wagon men ambled into the waiting room. They were like cartoon caricatures of what a Chicago Police wagon men should look like—husky… no overweight might be more accurate, slightly unkempt, with well-worn leather that belied the fact that it might once have actually been black. The nurse gave them the particulars and they looked over my Chicago Police recruit khakis. By this time I was weak from the pain, probably on the verge of passing out. I stared at them, glassy-eyed.
“Police officer?” one of them said. “We don’t haul no police officers. We haul drunks, we haul stiffs, we haul stinkers, but we don’t haul police officers.”
“Well what are we supposed to do?” snapped the nurse.
“Call an ambulance!” said the wagon man. “Like they should have done at that silly-ass Police Academy.”
And so it came to pass that some four hours after my injury, I found myself in a Fire Department ambulance, careening south on State Street toward Mercy Hospital with siren screaming. I pleaded with them to slow down to no avail. They were transporting an injured Chicago Police officer and they were on a mission!
At Mercy Hospital I was triaged and put on the waiting list for x-ray. It was just past midnight when they taped my foot, gave me some pain pills and crutches, warned me not to drive and told me I could go home. I was single, living alone. I hobbled into the police room and asked a beat officer how I could get home.
“Call your unit,” he responded as he dashed out to answer a call.
Call my unit? The Training Academy? At 12:15 AM?
So I phoned a high school friend who groused a bit at being awakened on a work night. He drove to Mercy Hospital from the northwest side. We left my car at the Academy. It was 1:30 AM when he helped me into my apartment. I fell into my bed fully clothed. At 10:30 the following morning, the door buzzer rang incessantly. I slowly made my way to the door to find a district Lieutenant checking on me to be certain I was not abusing the medical role.
Many years later, as a Lieutenant at the Police Academy, I determined that it was now department policy to call for an ambulance any time a recruit was injured. I added one more paragraph to the policy mandating that an Academy Staff member be assigned to any injured recruit until it could be ascertained that they were being admitted, or that family members were at the hospital even if it required overtime.
My first injury on the street was more dramatic but no less mundane and with an added element of embarrassment. It was summertime and we were in short sleeved shirts. We responded to a call of a “man with a gun” in the Cabrini projects where the high rises bordered on what we called the low rises. When we arrived we saw a man with a shotgun in a cinder play lot and as we exited our car he fired a shot in our direction and turned and ran west toward the low rises. He had a good lead on us, but we drew our weapons and ran after him. There were children playing on the far side of the lot and it was impossible to get a clear shot at him without endangering the kids. I ran, revolver in hand, to the point my body got ahead of my feet. I sensed I was going down and I kept my finger out of the trigger guard and attempted to tilt it skyward. I hit the cinders hard and fast with my right forearm and knee taking the brunt of the resulting six foot skid. The gun did not discharge but the sharp black cinders abraded a great deal of skin and left behind black residue. My arm took the worst of it and was bleeding. My right knee was only a bit better, having been protected by my trousers. It really hurt.
At the Henrotin Hospital, the nurses worked to clean the wounds as best they could and when they finished the only cinders remaining were deep in the wound on my knee. The doctor came in with a kit which he unwrapped on a mini tray-table.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at an item that looked suspiciously like a small wire brush.
“It’s a wire brush,” he replied. “I’m going to get those cinders out of your knee.”
“No you’re not!”
“If I don’t get them out, you’ll have a mark like a tattoo and you run the risk of infection.”
“I’ll tell you what doc,” I replied. “I’ll live with the tattoo and you do your magic to prevent infection.”
He shrugged and put the wire brush down.
Back at the station I reported to the Watch Commander who excused me for the day and told me I would not be permitted to return to work until the Medical Section cleared me. On my way out, the desk sergeant handed me a teletype boldly listing my name, star number and district of assignment.
ATTENTION – ATTENTION – ATTENTION – ATTENTION – ATTENTION
INJURED OFFICER NOW AT HENROTIN HOSPITAL
CUTS ON HAND AND KNEES
I cringed, knowing it would take weeks to outlive what my fellow officers perceived to be clever jokes.
The doc was right; I carried a tattoo-like series of black parallel lines on my knee for many years, but eventually they disappeared. Oral antibiotics and antibacterial ointments crushed any lingering infection and I was cleared for return to work about a week later.
Perhaps my most serious IOD was never reported to the department. On thefirst day of the King riots in April of 1968 a fellow officer braced himself on my shoulder as we were pinned down by sniper fire from a Cabrini high rise. I didn’t know he was using me as a support as he prepared to fire a shotgun blast at the building. The 12 gauge discharged inches from my left ear literally knocking me off my feet and causing ringing for over a week. We were in full scale urban warfare, what would I report?
“Pardon me doctor but my ear is ringing.”
So I ignored it and it went away, but unbeknownst to me it would leave me with permanent noise induced hearing loss in my left ear.
Those incidents were what I call spontaneous injuries, that is situations that develop quickly where you are thrust into action without the benefit of analyzing what is about to happen. There is another type of incident where circumstances advance at a more rational pace, where the officer has an opportunity to at least fleetingly consider what is about to occur. Some of those are what I call “oh boy, I’m about to get my ass kicked” moments.
I was working the tactical unit in soft clothes with my partner John one warm summer Saturday. We were in the Old Town area heading east on North Avenue, approaching Wells Street. In a doorway, Brent Marshall, a stock broker from Detroit was punching his girlfriend repeatedly in the face. Her glasses broke as she vainly tried to shield herself from his blows. As I curbed the unmarked squad, John jumped from the passenger seat and shouted.
The girl fell to the ground and Brent took off running east on North Avenue. John ran to aid the girl and I jumped back into the car. Brent turned south through an empty lot at Wells Street and I drove about 25 yard past him and jumped from the car to confront him.
“Police! You’re under arrest!” I shouted at a somewhat surprised Brent Marshall.
He stopped and assumed the traditional pugilist stance. I had a moment to size him up. He was about 5-11, medium build, flat athletic stomach and biceps that strained the edge of the sleeves on his short sleeved shirt. I was probably about the same size and weight but I strongly suspected that I had at least met my match. I was about to get my ass kicked.
At that point in my career, I was probably in the best shape of my life. John and I worked out regularly at our local YMCA, weights and swimming before we headed off to work each day. The two of us up against Mister Marshall would be a struggle but we would prevail. But by myself? Yes, there wasn’t much doubt that I was about to get my ass kicked.
A small crowd had quietly gathered around us as Marshall and I faced off for a moment. I pulled my handcuffs from my belt and wrapped them around the knuckles of my right hand.
“Turn around, drop to your knees and put your hands behind your back,” I said loudly.
Brent did a little boxer dance on his toes as if to say, “It ain’t gonna happen.”
The crowd waited expectantly. I moved a half-step closer.
“Come on, you don’t wanna do this,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.
Marshall took a wide swing at me that most likely would have at least broken my jaw, but he missed his mark. He lost his balance for just a moment and I realized that he was drunk. Maybe I had half a chance. I countered with a right to his jaw. The handcuffs connected, firmly I thought, but he barely flinched. He shook it off and eyed me just a bit more warily. The fight was on and I was afraid the shot to the jaw had just sobered him up.
Suddenly from the back of the crowd came the prolonged scream of a banshee. I glanced up and saw John—I would later swear that he was at least ten feet in the air—as he came crashing down on Marshall’s shoulders. The two of them crumpled to the ground and I put my knee in Marshall’s back. Before he could collect himself I had him cuffed, tightly, very tightly.
When you are about to get your ass kicked it helps if you have a super-hero as a partner. Decades later, John and I were reminiscing and I told him this story. As I got to the end, with him ten, no maybe even twelve feet in the air hurtling down upon the hapless Brent Marshall, he was smiling broadly as he shook his head—he had absolutely no recollection of the incident.
Okay, maybe he didn’t jump quite that high…