Newspaper Archive of
The Issaquah Press
Issaquah, Washington
October 5, 1983     The Issaquah Press
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October 5, 1983

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Page 6 - The Issaquah Press, Wednesday, October 5, 1983 It&apos;s a new life wit, ' a hand for Robert Burton remembers, sitting quietly in the bright dining room of his home on Issaquah-Hobart Road. "When we tested it, at first it growled, but it didn't blow the fuse." And then life changed for Bob Burton. "1 really don't know what happened," he says. "At first 1 realized slowly that I could hear this loud hum, a characteristic AC voltage hum (like you hear under power lines) and then a bright light covered my vi- sion." "The light became brighter and brighter and I realized I was getting weaker and weaker. I knew I didn't un- derstand what was happen- ing," he says. "The next thing I know, my partner, Woody Rose, was standing on my ladder, and I remember thinking, 'What's Woody doing on my ladder?" Bob Burton was electro- cuted. The dictionary says you can only say "electro- cute" when the victim dies, but that's what Burton calls it. That's what Puget Power linemen call it when 7200 volts of electricity invade your body, looking for some- where to escape. Bessie Burton says that much later, Woody Rose told her that Bob Burton's entire body exploded in a ball of white light. It looked like he had becomelight. When Burton finally fell down, he landed in a sitting position in the bottom of his bucket, and the hot "stick" stayed in his left hand, the voltage still running. While he sat there, he still burned. A man's body, it seems, is like any other object to an electrical current, and the current, once it goes in, must come out. While Burton sat in the bucket, the power first burned his stomach, and then -- no one is sure yet of the order -- it exploded through the sole of his left foot, through his right elbow where it touched the bucket, and through his right side where that too was ground- ed. "I've been hunting with Bob, and I've seen gut shots on animals," Bessie remem- by Terry McLafferty July 18 was a wet day, and Robert Burton went to work knowing he'd be sloshing around a bit. Mechanically, he remembered that water and electricity don't mix. In the morning he worked near his home in lssaquah. Bessie, his wife of 30 years, heard his conversation on the Puget Power channel of her scanner radio. By afternoon, four men in four separate trucks were gathered near North Bend, checking transformers for fuses blown in the previous night's storm. Bessie had been busy, and lost track of Bob's new location. Testing transformers, Puget Power linemen hold an eight-foot "stick" in their left hand and circumvent the power's normal pathway, forcing it to run through a wire on the stick to a testing meter. If there is a short cir- cuit in the transformer, it should blow a special fuse in the tester instead of on the pole. "The transformer we were working on was bad," Bob bets. "When 1 first saw Bob in intensive care, I simply grabbed the sheet and pulled it off him, because I wanted to see exactly where we were going to have to start back from. The hole in his side looked like an exit wound from a gut shot deer." Rose and Burton's other colleagues had to get him down. They got the power shut off, but found Burton was sitting on the bucket con- trois." That's OK, I remember saying, I can get up. I did, enough for them to start letting me down. I hadn't felt any pain till then. But on the way down, some- how, the pain started." At home, Bessie Burton had turned back to her radio. "When I heard the first aid call go out, even though I didn't know where Bob was, l somehow knew it was him," she says. Burton was in the intensive care unit of Harborview Hos- pital's burn center, listed in critical condition, for the first week. "I don't remem- ber much .... " he says, as Bessie interjects, "Except me coming to visit.., isn't that beautiful?" Gradually, the hospital ' gained confidence that the '+ multiple burns, the "explo- sion" wounds, the skin grafts on Burton would be manageable. There was one overwhelming problem re- maining. Bob Button's left hand had held that testing stick, with 7200 volts going through it, for more than 60 seconds. It was now "the size of a baseball mitt," and continuing to swell. At first they thought he would lose one finger, then two, then four. During ex- ploratory surgery one day, Bessie Burton got a call: "They told me it was far worse than they imagined," she says. They sewed him back up, and waited till he could wake up and talk with the surgeons. On August 1, fourteen days after the accident, sur- geons removed Bob Burton's left hand above the wrist. Six days later he tried on his first artificial hand while his arm still rested in a cast. Greatfor i'mstrong :,,vj Save now on Ceiling Tiles & Panelsl Prices effective through Oct. 18, 1983 Sale I d - 6' #2 & BTR. 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"I have tried to look at it as a challenge from the first day," Burton smiles, as he sits quietly and demonstrates the three hands -- two mechanical, one cosmetic -- that fit into the back harness and stump cover he wears. It is an open question how each amputee will handle the loss of a limb. Bessie, who says she had no doubts of Bob's attitude, was neverthe- less reassured when, on the first day, she came into Bur- ton's hospital room and found him wadding up small scraps of paper with one hand, and picking them up with his hook, slipping them into a paper pill cup. "The doctors were peeking in on him, just watching, amazed," she says with pride. Burton was classified prin- cipally as a burn patient, and secondarily as an amputee, so they needed to bring in some outside help to ac- climatize him to the future. Because tl materials vee limited on what recovery would be like, Burton found himself a bit of a pioneer. The staff at Harborview Hospital videotaped much of his recovery and his early steps in learning how fo use the arm. He has also agreed , to participate in a burn recovery study, identifying how long patients take to re- gain full strength. The first time he was tested, his strength went over the machine's top limit. While he learned the arm's uses and recovered from the grafts, one injury, a massive burned gouge out of his foot, refused to heal. Hospital of- ficials told reporters he was expected to lose the foot. One hope, doctors said, was a complicated muscle graft from Burton's should- er, a process that could take months in recovery. But suddenly, on the verge of surgery, "we experienced a miracle," remembers Bess- ie. A close family friend be- gan to question her closely about the feet's progress. When the surgery was finally. cancelled, by surprised doc- tors, the friend asked for a moment of the family's time. The friend told Bessie that on +the.: 3night before the w0u,d hld ,,begun, to .heal, she had attended a charis- matic healing service at a Seattle Catholic Church, standing in for Burton and requesting prayer for his foot in particular. THE PROFESSIONA L WOODSTOVE STORE j OVER 30 YEARS IN BUSINESS Now with 2 locations EXPERT INSTALLATION AVAILABLE "We believe we are reli- gious people, but in our own way," Bessie says. They would not have gone to the service for themselves, but quietly credit the woman's help. On the first day Bob re- turned home, he welded a new tailpipe on a family car. In quick order he repaired a washing machine, rebuilt the carburetor on his small lawn tractor, put a new stovepipe on a wood stove and painted his truck. When the Puyullap Fair opened, Bob and Bessie went down and traded in their family organ, which Burton plays more than competent- ly, and picked up one with in- creased "one key" chords. He hasn't even slowed down. "My plan has been to do things I know I can't do," Burton says softly. "You will figure it out," he says. "l think Bobby has some new purpose in life," smiles Ix00, the Ultimate in Ener00 Sr00w,s. 6 models to choose from. 5 year warranty Fireplace inserts and " Masonry refractory baffle freestanding stoves, for high efficiency. Choose from black, brass Awarded Manufacturer of the or nickel doors, year, Western, U.S., 1982. New Season Opener... where the limits trip where he will far, then unhook Bronco (which power steering only convenience). runs out of space, he and five will walk in from They will spend weeks of heavy ou fort, climbing, toting rifles. He practicing with the bing the stock cial hand and trial shots. When he returnS, know where he stand ing in, I hope to work by late offers. "They great at Puget said they will hold two years if it takes to come back." "I don't think it will'"l admits. Between now there will be only Bessie in reply. "He has that Robert looked into heaven, and ...... to give up something found something left for,him 0t'q loss. Bessie to do." she isn't sure about And now, as a kind of but Bob says graduation present, Bob is his mind: "I can't d0 checking his gear and getting says, "and its ready for his annual hunting Robert Burton's trip, perhaps to find out just is looking for a new SEPT. 8 to OCT. 15 THE VILLAGE THEATRE 212 FRONT STREET NORTH 392-2202 " Steaks Seafood Cocktails conveniently located r/ 1 block south of 392-7425 The Village Theatre L LUNCH M FOR ISSAQUAH ELEMENTARY OCT. 10-14 Men.- Baked Fish, Rice Pilaf, Green Beans, Tues.- POWER/SOURCE Burger, PRINTOUT Vegetable CHIPS, Apple BYTES Wed.- Macaroni Chili Casserole, Green Salad, Quarters, Chocolate Chip Cookie Thurs.- Burrito w/Cheese, Coleslaw, Corn, Fruit CuP Fri.- TEACHER'S WORKSHOP- NO SCHOOL Cheese Sandwich Salad Sandwich Sandwich Frl.- TEACHER'S SCHOOL PUGET SOUND BAKIN(