I started playing drums when I was 15, and like many people with a new hobby, I became obsessed with it.
Within 6 months, I was playing with other people. And within a year of starting, I took on my first student. I was so infatuated with drums, I wouldn’t even consider buying a car unless it could carry a kit.
My parents had five kids. I’m one of four brothers and a sister: Joseph, Jared, Joshua, James, and Jennifer (my parents liked “J” names). During the summer, my mom wanted us out of the house and doing something, which I completely understand. I don’t know how she didn’t go insane dealing with us, but somehow she was fine.
I spent a few summers working on my dad’s construction crew and absolutely hated it. I would be doing roofing in 40 degree weather on a metal roof 20 to 30 feet up. One day, I almost slid off the edge and could’ve died, but luckily someone caught me as I was sliding down.
At the time, I was playing in this band called Doxa. Rick Enns, who’s still a good friend of mine, ran a lumber mill. He said, “You should come work for me.” Rick offered me an extra couple bucks per hour, almost 20 percent more than I was paid to work for the family business. I took that job and quit the farm.
Looking back on this now, I realize it was quite an ungrateful thing to do. I should have valued the opportunity to work and earn money in the family business. If I had to do it all over again, I would put my head down and just work.
But as it turns out, lumber mills are much more dangerous than I thought. I almost got my hand cut off twice doing stupid things. At the end of August, it was almost time to go back to school and start my grade 12 year. Dan Kim, the guitar player, came out and we rented a digital four-track machine so we could lock ourselves in the studio and record all weekend.
At the mill, we were loading in the lumber on carts. They had two wheels in the middle and a couple of stabilizer wheels on the ends. There were two lifts of lumber on this one cart. The length of a ‘lift’ can vary, but the width and height is usually about 4’ x 4’. The lumber on the cart was about 15-20 feet in length.
I was standing by a roll-up door between the lifts of lumber and the cinder block doorway to guide the cart in. Rick was nudging the cart with the forklift because it was too heavy to push by hand, which is how we normally moved them. As the wheel went over the concrete lip into the unit, it broke – and several thousand pounds of lumber fell across my chest, pinning me up against the doorway.
All I remember is standing there and seeing the lumber fall in slow motion. I heard a crunch, and I was out.
Several thousand pounds of lumber fell across my chest and pinned me up against the doorway.
The other guys were like, “Aw, shit, we have to clean up this mess now.” They were on the other side wondering how they were going to move it without dumping it all over. For about thirty seconds, they had no idea I was pinned. When they came around to the other side, they saw me there, unconscious, my face apparently completely purple.
You’d think five or six guys would be able to get the lumber off me, but they couldn’t. It was too heavy. They had to use the forklift. They pushed enough of it back that I dropped to the ground, and as I woke up I realized my foot was caught underneath. My lungs were filling up with fluid and my breaths were getting shorter and shorter.
They called 911 and emergency services were en route.
The fire department showed up and secured everything to make sure it wouldn’t fall on them. Then they took off my shoe, put me on a stretcher, and brought me outside. Blood had started to come out of my nose.
On the drive to the hospital, I remember checking for my wallet because I was like okay, I’m going to die for sure, and I wanted them to be able to identify my body and call my family. I couldn’t really breathe and kept saying to the people around me, “Put me out.” I couldn’t take it anymore.
Eventually I passed out.
They hooked me up to about ten tubes and a catheter in the ICU. I had a punctured and collapsed lung, a lacerated liver, cracked ribs…everything was out of whack internally. The lumber had actually ripped my chest apart just above my left pectoral. I was so hopped up on medication I was out for around three days.
The doctors initially told my parents, “We don’t think he’s going to make it.”
You can probably imagine how that went. But after a while, they were able to stabilize me. I was in the hospital for ten days, and during that time I lost a ton of weight and couldn’t walk until the 7th or 8th day because of the chest pain.
The doctors initially told my parents, “We don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I was so eager to get out of there. A hospital isn’t a fun place to be. My friend brought me a Discman (yup…the kind with 10-second antishock). My bandmates also brought in the recording unit to show me what they’d been working on. I was scheduled to play a gig in a few days and just wanted to go home. The doctors said, “You shouldn’t do that.” But I had to play. At that time in my life, it was all I really did in my spare time. Everything I did for work – construction, the lumber mill – was only a vehicle to let me play and buy more drums.
So I showed up at the venue and couldn’t lift anything, even the drums. I was leaking out the side of my chest. I was white as a ghost and had hardly eaten anything for the last ten days.
But I played the gig.
Maybe it’s a drummer thing.
There are jokes about how drummers aren’t always the smartest. I don’t think we aren’t smart, I think it’s more to do with how much we just love playing so we make bad decisions.
When someone is truly a drummer in their heart, they have to play, and that sometimes means going against doctors’ orders. Scott Pellegrom flew out to film lessons at Drumeo with a broken leg. Thomas Lang jammed a few days after carpal tunnel surgery. Rick Allen found a way to keep playing after he lost his arm. If we injure our left hand, we play with our right hand, left foot, and right foot. Because that’s just what drummers do.
We do whatever it takes to play. It’s what we live for: playing that next groove, that next fill, that next gig.
This August was the 20-year anniversary of the accident. It’s something that has definitely shaped my perspective and view on life. Play like it’s your last time. You hear drummers say that all the time, and we might think, “Oh, that’s the common thing to say”…but it’s true.
We never know when it’s our time. We could die at any moment. I was gung ho to go record on the weekend, but got crushed by a pile of lumber and was in the hospital for ten days. I never thought it would happen to me.
The fact that I get to play drums, teach drums, and jam with other musicians is such a huge blessing. That’s why I still play pretty much every single day, and at 38 years old, I enjoy it just as much as I did back then.
I will never, ever take it for granted.
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