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Video: A farewell note in blood

  1. Transcript of: A farewell note in blood

    MATT LAUER, co-host: But let us begin this half-hour with Jon Metz and his remarkable story of determination and courage. We talked to him exclusively on Monday, just two weeks after he lost his arm in that harrowing basement ordeal. You've described these weeks as surreal. Can you try and tell me where you are mentally and emotionally right now?

    Mr. JONATHAN METZ (Man Who Faced Life or Death Decision to Cut Off Arm): Well, I think I'm in a pretty good spot. I've come to grips with the reality of the situation.

    LAUER: It was Monday night, June 7th , when Jon went down to his basement to do some routine maintenance on his boiler. He was wearing gym shorts with no pockets and didn't have a cell phone.

    Mr. METZ: This shouldn't have been more than a 10-minute job. And as we know, it turned into...

    LAUER: A three-day ordeal.

    Mr. METZ: Yeah.

    LAUER: Jon was cleaning out the soot between the boiler's fins when he reached inside to retrieve a tool he had dropped. His left arm got stuck between his shoulder and elbow. It's a little like those spikes in the parking garages; you can go over them in one direction, you can't come back out in the other direction.

    Mr. METZ: It -- that is a perfect analogy. That is a perfect analogy. And if I had maintained 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.

    LAUER: When you realize, ` Wait a minute , I can't get my arm out of here,' what's going through your mind?

    Mr. METZ: Panic is -- it doesn't quite convey what was going through my mind. Terror , I think, maybe would be a better word because I could see what was happening and the blood dripping down into the heating box.

    LAUER: You were bleeding pretty badly.

    Mr. METZ: Bleeding badly. And I could feel the scuff marks and I could see almost instantly my arm starting to swell.

    LAUER: Living alone, his fiancee out of state in North Carolina , his arm trapped and now badly injured inside his boiler, Jon screamed for help. You did scream.

    Mr. METZ: Oh, I screamed for a combined 48 hours before...

    LAUER: Top of your lungs, ` Help! I'm stuck in the basement !'

    Mr. METZ: I -- my first pleas for help were, `I'm stuck, somebody come in and come down and help me!' When it became clear the arm was dying, that's when the pleas turned to, `I'm dying down here! Somebody please help me!'

    LAUER: Twelve hours into his ordeal, infection started to set in and Jon could smell his flesh rotting.

    Mr. METZ: As much as I didn't want to look at it, it is what I needed to see to move on to kind of the next phase of the plan.

    LAUER: Did you have a sense that someone was out there trying to figure out what happened to Jon Metz ?

    Mr. METZ: I did. I absolutely was confident that help would be coming. At that point, though, I kind of made an executive decision that this arm was dead.

    LAUER: Looking around the basement , Jon thought he could use his saw blades to cut off his arm and free himself. He spent six hours contemplating the decision.

    Mr. METZ: I didn't see how it could be possible to do that to oneself.

    LAUER: And yet faced with what you describe as no good options, it's exactly what you decided to do. Can you -- can you just describe to me how you even begin something like that?

    Mr. METZ: It started with prayer and thinking about, you know, the people that I'd be leaving behind; thinking about my dog upstairs who, you know, had also at that point gone three days without water; thought about my parents visiting the next week and what -- how traumatic it would be for them, you know, to come into the house and, you know, find this scene.

    LAUER: You made a tourniquet out of your shirt. So you tied that up just below your shoulder.

    Mr. METZ: Yep.

    LAUER: You didn't just start and finish. I mean, there were stops and starts here.

    Mr. METZ: Yes.

    LAUER: Despite the fact that your arm had gone numb, there was a lot of pain involved with this.

    Mr. METZ: Yes. The -- I would say about 90 percent of the cut was surprisingly pain-free. The pain was in having to look at it and see it, and see what you were doing, or 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 unbear -- I can't even describe the pain.

    LAUER: It would be only normal to assume you'd be in shock by that point.

    Mr. METZ: And I think I was. And I realized that there was no way, given the amount of blood I was losing, that I could complete the cut. 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.

    LAUER: Jon drifted in and out of consciousness. He says he drank boiler water to try to stay alive.

    Mr. METZ: Mentally it did, it gave me a boost that here's water. It's enough to at least get by. 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.

    LAUER: Which was?

    Mr. METZ: 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-boltlike pain. And that's when I just said I can't -- I can't do it. I can't finish this cut.

    LAUER: For the next 18 hours Jon sat alone in his basement , his arm nearly severed. At any point -- and it's hard to even ask you this question -- at any point did you consider using one of those blades for a more final purpose?

    Mr. METZ: I did. I -- about halfway through this ordeal, you know, maybe that's the best way, you know, to get out of this terrible situation. And that's really when some of the more important things in my life kind of 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.

    LAUER: After three days trapped in his basement , his friend Luca DiGregorio stopped by the house . And when Jon didn't answer the door, he called 911.

    911 Operator: West Hartford 911.

    Mr. LUCA DiGREGORIO: I'm standing outside my friend's house . We -- no one's heard from him for a couple days.

    LAUER: Police and fire crews arrived at the house and, using heavy tools, freed Jon 's arm from the boiler.

    Mr. METZ: And before I knew it, you know, we were zooming down the interstate on the way to the hospital. And, you know, I looked up and had one of the EMTs -- I wish I knew his name -- I remember him looking down at me and saying, ` Jon , it's going to be OK,' you know, `we're bringing you to the hospital.' And I just, I will never forget that. That -- he was like an angel, you know, looking down at me. It was really -- it was really awesome.

    LAUER: When Jon arrived in the emergency room he was in what doctors call a death spiral. The infection was setting in fast. He'd lost half his body's volume of blood. But his surgeon, Dr. Scott Ellner , says Jon 's decision to try to cut off his own arm saved his life. Did he make the right decision? Was that the right course of action?

    Dr. SCOTT ELLNER: Without a doubt, the action that Jon took, be it courageous, saved his life. By actually cutting into the dead, nonviable tissue, that prevented the spread of infection and enabled him to continue on.

    Mr. METZ: I'm doing well. How are you?

    Unidentified Woman: Good.

    LAUER: Two weeks after his ordeal, Metz says his incredible story even surprises him. Did what you learned in the basement teach you a little bit about how you'll handle this adversity for the rest of your life ?

    Mr. METZ: I don't know that I'd ever really admit it or believe it, but I did -- I did learn that I have more strength than I guess I would have thought.

    LAUER: He's got a lot of strength.

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Wow.

    LAUER: There's no question. That interview, by the way, take -- took place at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford , where Metz is being treated.

    VIEIRA: I thought it was so interesting when he talked about finally getting the courage up to begin sawing off his arm was when he stopped thinking about himself and started thinking about his parents and his dog; you know, took it away from himself and what it would do to them. Yeah.

    LAUER: Yeah, the reason he was doing these chores, this list of things he had to do, was because his parents were coming to visit.

    VIEIRA: Coming to...

    LAUER: And all he could think of was them coming in the house and finding him there...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...after that long a period of time. By the way, in our next half-hour Jon will take us back to the basement ...

    VIEIRA: Hm.

    LAUER: ...where he made that courageous decision, and he'll explain what he was thinking each step of the way.

Jon Metz shows Matt Lauer how he was trapped in his basement in a crouched position, unable to sit or stand. Metz attempted to amputate his own arm in a desperate bid to end his ordeal.
TODAY contributor
updated 6/22/2010 9:15:43 AM ET 2010-06-22T13:15:43

After getting his left arm trapped in his furnace while doing routine maintenance, Jonathan Metz had screamed for help for three days, attempted a desperate self-amputation and lost half his blood. With no hope of escape, Metz finally decided that maybe there was only one way out: a permanent one.

“About halfway through this ordeal, it was almost too much, and the thought occurred to me, maybe I should just remove the tourniquet,” Metz told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in an exclusive, dramatic interview that aired Tuesday. During it, Metz took Lauer into his basement to show him the scene of his harrowing ordeal, including the saw blade he used to cut through his own arm.

It was the first time since being released from the hospital last week that Metz has spoken in depth about the decisions he made and the agony he suffered before a co-worker called 911 and summoned firefighters, who cut Metz out of the furnace and saved his life.

Reasons to go on
Metz told Lauer for the first time how close he came to simply allowing himself to die. It seemed to make sense at the time, he said.

“Maybe that’s the best way to get out of this terrible situation,” the Connecticut man remembered thinking.

But the more Metz thought about it, the more he thought about the things he had to live for: his fiancee, his parents in North Carolina, and his dog, Portia, who had been upstairs without food or water while Metz was trapped.

Video: Man revisits scene of self-amputation “That’s really when some of the more important things in my life came to the forefront. You know, my family, friends, and Portia upstairs,” Metz said. “I guess I came to the conclusion that it would be selfish, that I had a lot to live for. To take that way out wouldn’t help anybody. It would just hurt people more and wouldn’t be fair to them, and it wouldn’t be fair to me.”

Even then, Metz said he came to a point where he thought he would die, whether he wanted to or not. He had begun sawing through his arm a day into his ordeal, when he could smell his own putrefying flesh where it had been torn and cut in his initial efforts to pull it out of the furnace, where it was caught between the elbow and shoulder.

It had taken Metz six hours to steel himself to self-amputate, which he had come to believe was his only hope of getting free and saving his own life.

Scene of the ordeal
Metz took Lauer into his basement and showed where the boiler had been (it was replaced after his ordeal) and how he was trapped in a position that left him unable to either sit on the floor or to stand completely upright. He has a workshop in the basement and was surrounded by tools — but he couldn’t reach most of them.

Thoughts of his fiancee helped Jon Metz resolve to take drastic steps to save his own life.
There was also a window high on the wall not far away, but his view of it was blocked by the furnace, so he couldn’t throw something through it to allow his screams to get outside the brick-and-concrete bunker of the basement.

“Faced with really nothing but bad options, I looked at self-amputation as the least of all evils,” Metz said. The problem was, he didn’t know if he could do it. “I didn’t see how it could be possible to do that to oneself. I started with prayer.”

He said he tried to think like MacGyver, the 1980s television hero who was always getting out of traps with the materials at hand. “Something down here has to be able to save me,” he remembered thinking. He even considered trying to knock over a big band saw and cut his arm off with it.

Pain and despair
The 31-year-old fashioned a tourniquet from his shirt and pulled it tight with his neck and teeth. He said cutting through his own flesh, which was already dying of gangrene, was not as agonizing as he’d feared.

Jon Metz shows Matt Lauer some of the blades he used to try to cut off his own arm.
“I would say about 90 percent of the cut was surprisingly pain-free. The pain was in having to look at it and see it and see what you were doing, or what I was doing to myself. But physically, it wasn’t that bad,” Metz said.

He showed Lauer three of the saw blades he used, some of them still smeared with his blood, which also stained the cement floor he stood on. Metz managed to get through the flesh and even the bone, but he couldn’t cut through the bundle of nerves on the underside of his arm — and that’s when the serious pain began.

“The pain became so unbearable,” he said. “I can’t even describe the pain — nothing I’ve ever felt in my entire life … 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.”

With no one coming to his aid and weak from loss of blood and lack of food or water, Metz said he had a moment of despair.

While Metz was trapped, his dog, Portia, was upstairs without food or water.

“I kind of sat there for a few minutes and, you know, said that was it. That was the end. 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,” Metz said.

He said he got strength from lapping up some fetid boiler water he caught with his hand.

“It gave me enough mentally to believe that I could go on,” he told Lauer. “It gave me a boost, that here’s water — it’s enough to at least get by.”

Life-saving action
It was 18 hours after Metz cut through most of his arm that his co-worker called for help. Even though he couldn’t complete the amputation, doctors said that Metz saved his life by cutting away the flesh, which would have infected him with blood poisoning and probably killed him before help could come.

“Without a doubt, the action that Jon took ... saved his life,” his surgeon, Dr. Scott Ellner, said. “By actually cutting into that dead, nonviable tissue, that prevented the spread of infection and enabled him to continue on.”

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Video: ‘There was no hope in sight’ Metz expects to be fitted shortly with a prosthetic arm. His insurance does not cover the complete $100,000 cost of the artificial limb, and he has set up a website where he is accepting contributions.

He told Lauer he’s still trying to look at his basement as a therapeutic place where he can lose himself in woodworking, but overall feels good about himself and about life.

“I think I’m at a pretty good spot,” Metz said. “I’ve come to grips with the reality of the situation. Mentally, I also feel like I’m in a pretty good place. I mean, there’s going to be a lot of physical and mental healing to go through. But sitting here, just a few weeks after the accident, I’m pretty pleased.”

To contribute to a fund to help pay for a prosthetic arm for Jon Metz, click here.

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