PETERSBURG, Ohio – The events of Oct. 28, 1949, are indelible in the mind of Raymond Koch. Even after 57 years, he recalls the scenes and motions and emotions without hesitation.
His father, Arthur, ran the tractor. Raymond rode the two-row potato digger across their field along state Route 170 in eastern Mahoning County, keeping weeds pulled from the contraption.
The two had begun digging potatoes around 6 a.m., like they always did this time of year. They would work alone for a few hours, before their other help arrived.
Raymond rode along, knocking the weeds free and satisfyingly watching the potatoes push up from underground.
A big clump of weeds came up from underneath the digger. “And that was it,” Koch remembers.
It happened fast. There was no blood, no pain.
Koch’s gloved right hand was pulled in, ripped from his forearm clean at the wrist.
His father ordered him to stay put and went for the car. Raymond defied him, carrying his severed right hand in his left across windrows of potatoes. When his father reached the field with the car, Raymond was along the berm waiting for him.
Surgeons at Southside Hospital amputated Raymond’s right arm just below the elbow that day.
* * *
On Oct. 29, Raymond asked his nurses for a pencil. For 29 years he’d written with his right hand, and figuring he couldn’t erase what had happened, he went to work in adapting. There was no sense in waiting, he says.
The hook and hand prosthesis doctors sold him wasn’t quite his way of adapting, either. He found he could do more without the attachment, stowed it in a cupboard in the upstairs of his home, and went on with life.
“I’m just glad to still have my elbow, so I can get some leverage,” Koch says.
“I can use this thing for anything,” he says, listing some of the things he’s done – and still does, even at 87 – with only one hand: He carries ladders, has painted his house, cares for his garden, carries grocery bags for wife Vivian. He can drive nails and ties his own shoes.
“And I could still shovel as many potatoes into the grader as anyone else,” he says.
Koch had two young children at the time of his accident, and Vivian was pregnant with the third of their four children. He was determined this accident wouldn’t change his life, or the lives of his wife or children.
“I only considered quitting farming for a minute. It’s just in my blood,” he said. “And life goes on just the same.”
Koch went on, continuing to dig potatoes, operate a large egg farm, and eventually branch off into small grains until his retirement a few years ago.
Koch did find a silver lining in his injury. Another Mahoning County farmer friend, the late Jesse Martig, had his left arm amputated in another farm accident. Any time either man would buy a pair of gloves, they’d swap opposites to have two useable gloves.
“We found ways around things. We couldn’t go back.”
“That’s just how life was.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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