“Dad broke his neck.”
I’ll never forget the moment I got that text message from my mom. It was like my entire life came to a crashing halt. I was frantic for more information. I wanted to know more details. I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know whether he could move or walk. I wanted to know where he was being treated. I wanted to know what the doctors had said.
In the back of my mind though, I also recognized that life as I knew it might now be radically different.
On March 20, 2016, dad was injured when he had an off-farm accident. More specifically, tests revealed he had two fractures in his first cervical disc. Thankfully, he was neurologically intact after the accident, meaning he could move his feet, legs, arms, and hands. That was quite an accomplishment because his doctor informed us that someone who usually has an accident like this is almost certainly completely paralyzed, if not dead. Instead, dad was put into a neck brace and told to take it easy for at least 8 weeks.
Can you imagine telling a farmer to take it easy just a couple weeks before planting is supposed to start?
It drove him crazy. The time right before planting and right before harvest is critical – it’s an opportunity to catch up on things that need to be done and prepare for the busy season ahead. But he was stuck in the house resting. After the first couple weeks, he was able to walk out to the barn, but only to shadow my brother because he couldn’t do any actual work. Needless to say, he was frustrated and antsy.
He should be out doing!
He needed to fix equipment. He needed to install new implements. He needed to work fields. He needed to haul grain. He needed to pour concrete for the new grain dryer. He needed to fix drainage tiles. He needed to survey fields. He need to make parts runs. He needed to fix washouts. He needed to clean up brush and fence rows. He needed to haul and apply fertilizer. He needed to spray cover crops. He needed to move certain equipment with the semi-truck. He needed to take soil samples. He needed to clean out grain bins.
But he had a broken neck.
Unfortunately, farmers don’t have sick days. We don’t have any type of medical leave time. The farm doesn’t go on hold. The season doesn’t pause. The work doesn’t wait. There’s only a certain window of time when we can accomplish planting or harvesting, and when that window closes there’s no second chance.
My brother already works full time on the farm. In the last few years he’s taken on more and more responsibilities and has stepped into his own role. This year he found himself pulling double duty. He had his job to do, as well as all the things my dad would normally do, including for our family. Though he stepped up to the plate and got enough of it done to keep us going, there were some things that just had to be abandoned this year, like taking soil samples or clearing fence rows. My brother also had to try his hand at some new tasks for the first time without my dad’s help, such as making certain equipment repairs, and it took him longer than it would have normally. He worked late, he got up early, and he didn’t stop for breaks. The stress has been evident on his face for weeks now, but I’m so proud of how hard he worked to keep everything going.
My mom turned into a caretaker for my dad, as well as helping in any additional way possible. My other brother, who has his own family and works off the farm, even made an effort to help out whenever he could manage.
Even still, we had to hire help to drive the semi-truck. We still had grain that needed to be hauled into the granary from last fall. We needed the money from that grain to pay for farm bills, including for our seed. But dad is the only one with the proper endorsements on his driver’s license to drive the semi-truck, so we were in a bind. We had to hire drivers, a (substantial) cost we wouldn’t normally have, to get the grain delivered.
We also tried to hire a guy to help my brother fix equipment and work up fields. Experienced farm hands aren’t necessarily easy to come by, especially when the work is only temporary. We found someone. He was interested and it seemed like a good fit. Except he never showed up for work. We later found out through the grapevine that he started working for another farmer in the area and never bothered to tell us. Right when things were getting busiest, we were left without any extra hands.
It hasn’t been all terrible. We had an outpouring of support and love (and lots of homemade food) from family, friends, and neighbors. We had other farmers and non-farmers call and offer assistance, be it working up fields or loaning us equipment. People we haven’t heard from in years made an effort to reach out to us.
We were blessed the day dad was injured, because it could have been so much worse. We received good news this week from the doctor that the fractures are healing. In four more weeks, he should be able to remove the brace entirely and resume his life as normal. He’s also been cleared to do some light work on the farm. Unfortunately, the damage this year has already been done – we weren’t able to do all the things necessary and put ourselves in the best position for a good year.
But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters because he’s going to be okay. He could have so easily been paralyzed or dead, but instead he should have a full recovery. We’re going to get through it. Our farm will survive. Our family will be just fine. We are so blessed.
So, that’s what happens when a farmer breaks his neck.