- My first original work in allmost a year! The title fits the song along with the story below: God, Don t Let Me Die Like This By Graeme Zielinski WashingtonMessage 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2005View Source
My first original work in allmost a year! The title fits the song along with the story below:
'God, Don't Let Me Die Like This'By Graeme ZielinskiWashington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 18, 2000; Page B01
Coolidge Winesett, 75, said there's only one way to describe what it was like being trapped for almost three days at the bottom of his Southwest Virginia outhouse after its floor gave way.
"I compare it to the Bible's hell," said Winesett, a World War II veteran and retired janitor.
It had hellish elements--the smell, maggots, snakes, spiders, rats. Plus there was the persistent notion that he'd done something wrong to deserve it, recalled Winesett, speaking by phone from his bed at Wythe County Community Hospital, where he is recovering from dehydration and injuries he suffered when the 50-year-old outhouse floor collapsed from dry rot Saturday afternoon.
"I suffered awful down there," Winesett said. "I kept trying to figure out what I'd done wrong. . . . I said, 'God, don't let me die like this.' "
Turns out, God had other plans, Winesett said, in the form of mail carrier Jimmy Jackson, who on Tuesday noticed Winesett's mail accumulating at his farmhouse and went to investigate. Jackson said he called out and found Winesett, who is partially paralyzed from a stroke, doubled over and hallucinating in the pit.
"It wasn't pretty," Jackson said yesterday.
Winesett's ordeal began about 4 p.m. Saturday after he returned from getting a new battery for his 1978 Chevrolet Impala. Winesett said he was getting ready to pick the banjo on his back porch when he decided to make a pit stop.
Winesett, who retired from his janitor's job at the local high school, has lived alone for decades in the frame home where he was raised, in Ivanhoe, on the border between rural Wythe and Carroll counties about 60 miles southwest of Roanoke. Since 1984, shortly after he suffered a stroke, he's had only partial use of one arm and has lost part of a leg.
Winesett said he built the outhouse--a modest wooden affair of oak planks over a dirt pit--in 1950.
"I don't use it much, though," he said, adding that he usually depends on restrooms elsewhere. "I eat out most of the time."
He used it last Saturday though, hobbling out back with the aid of crutches and a broomstick. After the floor fell in, he struggled to get out, and he called for help, all to no avail.
"I screamed 'till I run out of voice," he said.
After he fell, Winesett said, he was suspended over the "bad stuff"--the sludge--by a subfloor and the cracked floorboards. Eight-penny nails from the planks dug into his flesh, and his body was contorted and immobilized. But that, he said, was nothing compared with the horrors of the next 69 hours, which he spent dealing with creepy, crawly things.
Creatures slithered over him. At some point, he saw a rat, which he admonished. "I said, 'Get the hell away from me, rat.' He left. Then I laughed about talking to a rat."
Two days into his entrapment, he began hallucinating about food. "I was imagining scrambled eggs and toast and a glass of cold milk," he said. "I had mirages. Somebody was handing me food, cheeseburgers. I said, 'Thank you,' but there was nobody there."
Alone in the hole, he also recalled the arc of his life, which took him from his rural Virginia home to the South Pacific during World War II and back home again. A locally known banjo and fiddle player, he also remembered and hummed old tunes he'd played over the years with a succession of bluegrass bands. Then, when he was at his weakest, he heard the footfalls of Jimmy Jackson, he said.
"I got up the strength to holler, just a little bit," Winesett said.
Jackson said he heard a weak noise, then found Winesett and began the rescue. While neighbors and volunteer fire department personnel arrived to help, Jackson got the parched Winesett a Coke.
Yesterday Jackson, a 17-year veteran of the Postal Service, was being hailed as a local hero. Messages of congratulation were piling up at the small Ivanhoe Post Office, where he begins his 62-mile mail route. One woman even wrote a poem, "God Sent an Angel," in tribute.
Part of it reads:
God sent an angel
just in time
when Mr. Winesett,
someone needed to find.
Winesett said his ordeal had tempted him to think about moving into an assisted-living facility, but he soon realized he could not afford it. Instead, he said, "I'm going to have me a bathroom put in."
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