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‘I survived a manure pit accident’

I’ll never forget the day I was nearly killed in a manure pit.

July 10, 1988, was a hot summer Sunday, and I was rushing through morning chores at our family dairy farm. I had made plans to meet my wife and our two young sons at the arts festival in Brookings, S.D., and I didn’t want to be late.

While scraping the barn alleys with the skid loader, I saw that the manure pump had plugged. This would mean an annoying delay.

Key Points

• Jerry Nelson’s parents found their son floating face up in the manure pit.

• The doctors didn’t give the victim much chance of surviving.

• His spouse’s advocacy saved his life twice during the ordeal.


There were two ways to unplug the pump. The right way involved hoisting the pump from the manure pit with a front-end loader, but that would cost a large chunk of time.

Then there was the quick and dirty method, which involved climbing down into the manure pit and using a spud bar to clear the slug. I chose the quick and dirty way.

I had descended into the pit and begun to slam out the slug when I suddenly felt woozy. “It’s the gas!” I thought and immediately began to exit the pit.

I nearly made it. I was almost to the top; I could see the blue sky and could hear the 4020 patiently idling, when the world abruptly faded to black.

The pit contained hydrogen sulfide gas, also known as H2S. Hydrogen sulfide combines with oxygen in the lungs to become H2S04, or sulfuric acid. This powerful corrosive strips away the lining of the lungs, causing victims to drown in their own bodily fluids.

My parents, curious about my delayed departure, investigated and found me floating face up in the manure pit. The First Responders were summoned, and my unconscious body was hauled from the pit. They couldn’t find a pulse, and I wasn’t breathing.

I was rushed to a local hospital. One of the First Responders alerted my wife.

The doctor who worked on me in the emergency room told my family that my condition was extremely serious and that I would likely pass away soon.

My wife found that unacceptable and demanded that I be transferred to a larger hospital. After she was told again that there was no hope, her request was fulfilled.

A team of doctors worked on me at the larger hospital. After I was stabilized, my family was informed that I had a 50-50 chance of survival — if I made it through the next week.

At the end of that first week, I suddenly couldn’t breathe even though I was on a ventilator. It was theorized that my lungs were swelling due to their severe injury and that nothing more could be done. My wife was told to call in the family to say their final good-byes.

She instead asked the physician to consult with Mayo Clinic. The doctors there suggested an endoscopic examination of my lungs. This was done, and it was found that blood clots were plugging my bronchial tubes. The clots were removed, and I could breathe again.

My condition improved slowly but steadily, and I was able to walk out of the hospital five weeks after being helicoptered in. The only residual effect is a reduction of my peripheral vision due to the death of some cells in my brain’s vision center.

I think about my accident every day. I’m reminded of it every time I swallow and feel the tug of my tracheostomy scar.

I am grateful for each new sunrise. I know full well that I would be “pushing up daisies” were it not for the help of many good people and my dear wife’s stubbornness.

Nelson writes from Volga, S.D.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.