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Man who cut off his arm was ‘convinced I’d die’

In an exclusive interview that aired Tuesday, Jonathan Metz said that thinking about his fiancee, his family and his dog after his arm got stuck in a furnace spurred him to attempt a desperate solution to his three-day ordeal: self-amputation.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

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 onMetz 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.

“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 ordealMetz 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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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, .