With Arm Stuck in Boiler, Man Contemplated Suicide
The Connecticut man who tried self-amputation after his arm got stuck in his boiler says he contemplated suicide during the two days he was trapped in his basement and attempted to say goodbye to his loved ones by writing a note in his own splattered blood.
In an interview broadcast today, Jonathan Metz, 31, described the terror and intense pain he felt, and said he considered using the blades he cut his arm with to end his life.
"About half way through this ordeal, you know, maybe that's the best way to get out of this terrible situation," Metz recalled thinking, during an interview broadcast today on NBC's "Today" show. "And that's really when some of the more important things in my life came to the forefront -- my family and friends.
"I guess I came to the conclusion that it would be selfish -- that I had a lot to live for," said Metz, who is engaged.
Metz, who lost his arm in the accident earlier this month, took "Today" viewers on a tour of his basement.
After returning home from his financial services job at The Travelers on June 7, Metz went into the basement of his West Hartford home to clean the soot in the boiler, a job he was doing before his parents came to visit and a task he said should have taken 10 minutes.
He reached into the boiler to retrieve a tool he had dropped, and his left arm got stuck between the shoulder and elbow. He tried to pull his arm out, but the funnel-like fins of the boiler tightened their grasp.
'If I could maintain a cool head from the get-go, it's possible I could have gotten my arm out, but my knee-jerk reaction was yank, yank, yank," he told NBC.
He said panic isn't an adequate word to describe what he was feeling when he realized he was stuck. He saw dripping blood and his arm start to swell.
"Terror, I think, maybe would be a better word because I could see what was happening," he said.
With his arm stuck, Metz said, he could neither sit down nor stand up, leaving him in a position that prevented him from being able to rest and think clearly. "If I had been able to sit down and think things through, it certainly would have made the thought process more coherent."
He started to scream, and kept at it for "a combined 48 hours," he recalled. But, he noted that he had winterized a small basement window with caulk, making it airtight and soundproof. His cries for help grew more desperate.
"My first pleas for help were, 'I'm stuck. Somebody come in and come down and help me,'" he said. "When it became clear the arm was dying, that's when the pleas turned to, 'I'm dying down here. Somebody please help me.'''
He was confident that somebody would realize he was missing and that help would arrive. But after 12 hours, he could smell his rotting flesh, infection was taking over, and he decided the arm was dead.
He wondered "What would MacGyver do?" and looked around his basement, where he likes to make furniture, to see what could help him. But the saws and a drill were all out of reach. "That's the thought process -- something down here has to be able to save me," he said.
Metz said he spent six hours psyching himself up to cut his arm with blades from his nearby power tools.
"It started with prayer and thinking about the people that I'd be leaving behind, thinking about my dog upstairs who had also at that point gone three days without water," he said. "I thought about my parents visiting the next week and how traumatic it would be for them to come into the house and find this scene."
He made a tourniquet from his shirt, and though his arm went numb, he felt great pain.
"I would say about 90 percent of the cut was surprisingly pain-free," he said. "The pain was in having to look at it and see it and see what I was doing to myself.
"It really wasn't until I got to kind of the underside of the arm where the nerves are really concentrated where the pain became so ... I can't even describe the pain."
He said he was in shock and realized that, given how much blood he had lost, he couldn't finish the job.
"I was so convinced that I was going to die that I began actually, in the blood splattered on the boiler, trying to write a note to my family and my fiancee," he said.
While Metz spoke in a matter-of-fact manner, he got emotional when he described being unable to free himself.
Drifting in and out of consciousness, he recalled, he used his shoe to drink some dirty boiler water, which he said gave him a mental boost. Then he got back to work.
"After lapping some of that up I grabbed the blade and resumed cutting and got through the bone and got through most of the flesh and that's when I ran into a little bit of a problem, which was the bundle of nerves running under the underside of my arm.
"I tried cutting a little bit more, hit another nerve and again lightning bolt-like pain and that's when I just said, 'I can't do it. I can't finish this cut,'" Metz said, sounding close to tears.
Alone for the next 18 hours, he considered suicide. But by June 9, his friend went looking for him, and called authorities when Metz didn't answer the door. Crews freed him with heavy equipment and the amputation was completed.
"Before I knew it, we were zooming down the interstate on the way to the hospital," Metz said, and he looked up to see an EMT.
"I remember him looking down at me and saying 'Jon, it's going to be OK. We're bringing you to the hospital,'" he recalled. "I will never forget that. He was like an angel kind of looking down at me. It was really awesome."
Doctors said Metz's decision saved his life.
In the "Today" show interview, Metz went down to the basement, where the boiler had been replaced.
"There was a sense of relief," Metz said of the first time he went back there "seeing the boiler that had cost me my arm was totally, completely gone."
Doctors hope to fit Metz with a prosthetic arm by the end of the month. For now, he says he's learned a lot about himself.
"I don't know that I'd ever really admit it or believe it, but I did learn that I have more strength than I guess I would have thought."