About the time I was getting started with the Fort Leonard Wood Saddle Club, in 1985, I got a new staff sergeant assigned to my instructor team. He was from Arizona; single, a tad on the wild side, and a very good NCO. I was shopping for a horse. I fell in love with a Leopard-Spot Appaloosa that was the sweetest, most beautiful horse ever. He was named Comanche and he was big and strong and so ruined by a string of idiots who had owned him that he was nothing more than a 1200-lb puppy. He would stand perfectly still while being saddled; then when you mounted up, he would still stand perfectly still. No amount of spurring, reins-flicking, crop-slapping, ear-thumping or any other trick in the book would make him move. I even leaned way over his neck, a move almost guaranteed to make any horse act up and he just sat there with no intention of moving whatsoever. So I didn't buy him. Oh, I wanted to...I almost had myself convinced that I was the one who could love him into decent horse-dom...but better horse people than me had given their best to the effort and Comanche remained adamantly worthless in the realm of any kind of riding.
But this isn't about Comanche, or the Saddle Club for that matter; it's about Wild Bill, my new NCO. After a few weeks I bought a beautiful Blood-Bay Missouri Foxtrotter/quartermare and she was the best. I was so fired up about the horse and the activity around the stables and the people I met there that I wanted to share my new-found group with my co-workers. Especially Wild Bill who was looking at dirt bikes as a way to fill his off-hours. I tried hard to convince him that a horse would be a much better investment than a bike...and safer, to boot. I think I almost had him convinced; he had been to the stables and met some of the folks there, had met a few of the horses, and seemed to enjoy it. But in the end he bought a dirt bike and instead of trail rides with the Saddle Club, Wild Bill went blasting around Mark Twain National Forest and its surrounds. I don't know enough about dirt bikes to tell you much about the one he bought except to say that it was a powerful one and it weighed somewhere in the hundreds of pounds...and it landed on his left leg when he jumped over a creek bed parting company with the bike mid-jump. He was miles away from the main part of the post; it was a Sunday afternoon, and he drove himself to the hospital with an ankle broken is several places on a motorcycle with bent front forks...he said it was like riding on a merry-go-round...up and down and up and down...did I mention that Wild Bill was not just wild? He was tough, too.
After a couple of hours in an operating room getting his ankle bones realigned and pinned together with plates and screws, he was admitted to the hospital. After a few days they put a fibreglass cast on him that went from his toes to just below his knee. He was told to use crutches and not put any weight on the cast at all.
The day after he was released from the hospital, he showed up at the drivers course where we worked (walking on the cast, no crutches) and told me he was going to get a rehab leave and go to Arizona for a couple of weeks. Normally, when a soldier is injured he qualifies for a convalescent leave of up to 30 days, depending on the doc's recommendation. But the soldier is still officially assigned to the hospital during that time and is not supposed to leave the immediate area. The doctor in this case reluctantly agreed to allow Wild Bill to go out to Arizona...on condition of strict adherence to the rules...no weight on that cast...no alcohol...no strenous activity, etc, etc, etc. He left his pick-up with me to watch while he was gone...his crutches were lying in the back of the pick-up.
The next I heard from Bill, he was on his way back to Leonard Wood...about a week before he was expected. Here's why:
Bill was excited to be home, cast or no cast. Soon he was riding ATVs across the desert, dancing all night in local Honky-tonks, and generally having a great time. One night he was feeling an itch under the cast so he straightened out a coat-hanger, left a little hook on the end of it, and used it to scratch the itch down inside the cast. But when he was done scratching, he couldn't get the coat-hanger to come back out...it was stuck. He wrestled with it for some time before he surrendered to the fact that he would have to get medical help. So he went to Luke Air Force Base Hospital Emergency Room. After a cursory exam, he was sent to the operating room. The coat-hanger had gotten hung up on one of the surgical screws, which had worked out because of all the walking around on the no-walking cast. They had to cut off the cast, open up all the cuttings, and practically re-do the whole procedure.
And of course, they had to send all that information back to the Fort Leonard Wood hospital. The Air Force promptly rescinded his leave, and ordered him to return to Missouri and report to his original surgeon...without putting any weight on the cast (the clever Air Force docs extended the cast up above his knee, in a bent position which would have required some pretty funny-looking manuevers in order to walk on it).
When Bill returned to the hospital at Leonard Wood, he was read his rights and informed that doctors' orders constituted direct orders to a soldier...and he had disobeyed his doctor's orders. He could face up to three months in jail, among other things, if they chose to charge him. He was impressed; he had had no idea that he could get in so much trouble over a little "fast and loose" with doctors' orders. Long and short however, they didn't charge him and didn't even make him pay for the second surgery (another thing they threatened him with).
I think that Bill was in the new cast for about six weeks or so. He had months of re-hab PT after that but in spite of it all, he still was able to pass a PT test within a year of the original injury.
So, I completely lost the use of one of my best instructors for weeks and got only partial use out of him for months. The only solace I got out of it was when, in a rare reflective moment, Wild Bill told me, "I should have bought a horse"...