Chapter One – First Week of June 1969
Laughter filled the backyard that summer as the girls took turns running through a water sprinkler. After about an hour, the girls felt chilled and were ready to find something else to do.
Lisa—who was twelve years old, two years older than Mary—sloshed in the standing water over to the spigot to turn off the water. It was about 2:00 PM and the sunlight was high in the sky. A brisk wind brought the chill.
Lisa slipped just as she reached the old swamp cooler, which the family used to cool the house on warm summer days like this. To stop her fall, she placed her hand on the swamp cooler.
Just as Lisa touched the swamp cooler, she froze. After a few seconds, Mary spoke to Lisa who didn’t answer. Mary realized something was wrong—Lisa was standing there perfectly still, like a mannequin.
When Mary touched her sister, she felt the sting of electricity. She pulled her hand free and ran around the corner of the house crying and scared.
“Daddy…come quick! Somethin’s wrong with sissy!”
There was no reaction from the house. She yelled again, this time closer to the front door.
Lewis opened the door and frowned at his youngest daughter. “What’re you yellin’ ’bout?”
“Daddy, come quick! Somethin’s wrong with sissy!”
Lewis knowing the girls should be together jumped from the front porch and ran around the house. Mary tried to keep up with him but couldn’t. Lewis saw Lisa still frozen in place. As he touched her, he was shocked but was able to break free.
He then backed up and ran at Lisa, grabbing her in a football tackle. He broke her free from the swamp cooler as they both fell to the ground.
Lisa laid motionless. Lewis got up on his knees and checked her breathing. He couldn’t see the rise and fall of her chest, and he couldn’t feel a pulse.
He was gripped with fear but remembered his on-the-job training in CPR. He started breathing into Lisa’s mouth and pressing on her chest.
Lewis heard his next-door neighbor, Pete Miller, running over.
“Pete, call an ambulance!” Lewis yelled. “Lisa’s been electrocuted!”
“Oh My God!” Pete screamed as he ran toward Lewis’ house, breaking the screen door as he rushed inside to make the call. He returned to see if he could help, but all he could do was watch Lewis—a dear friend—try to save his daughter’s life
Mary stood back with her eyes wide open and her hands over her ears. She was physically shaking.
It took less than six minutes for the ambulance to arrive from the volunteer fire department, but to Lewis, it felt like an eternity. Lisa was still unresponsive, but the medical technicians checked for breath and heartbeat and found them. Lewis had saved her.
The medical technicians loaded Lisa into the ambulance, and the driver raced to the hospital. The technicians were both young men dressed in hospital whites. They worked well as a team. Lewis and his family lived in Devil’s Elbow in the south-central part of Missouri. The nearest hospital, Waynesville Regional, was about fifteen minutes away.
Lewis ran to the circuit box and turned off the electricity to the swamp cooler and called his wife, Martha. A woman answered the phone.
“Hey, may I speak to Martha? It’s an emergency, this is Lewis.” He was out of breath. The lady placed him on hold and then his wife’s voice came on the line.
“Yeah dear, what’s goin’ on?”
“Lisa’s been electrocuted by the old swamp cooler in the backyard she’s on her way to the hospital.”
Lewis was almost in tears. Martha broke down crying, and a coworker took the phone.
“Lewis, Martha’s crying too badly. This is Stephanie tell me what’s goin’ on.”
“Stephanie, Lisa’s been electrocuted by the old swamp cooler in the backyard, and she’s on her way to the hospital.”
“Oh God, Lewis. We’ll meet you in the ER.”
Lisa’s heart had stopped again on the way to the hospital, but the medical technician riding with her got it started back. Lewis and Martha met at the hospital and sat holding each other in the waiting room of the ER. Stephanie took Mary to a soda machine for a cup of soda. Lewis got up to make a phone call. Martha looked at Lewis as he stood at the pay phone. His shoulders slumped, and he had his head down. His clothes were still wet, and his boots muddy. Just then Lewis looked up, and Martha could see his deep blue eyes were red, probably from crying. Lewis had called his and Martha’s parents to let them know what had happened, and Lewis had asked his dad to find someone to look at the cooler.
The doctor on duty stepped into the waiting room. The admitting nurse took him over to Lisa’s parents.
“Hello, I’m Doctor Hellman, and I’m treating your daughter, Lisa.” He was a tall, lanky man that was all business—from his bald head down to his highly polished shoes.
“How’s she, doctor?” asked Martha.
“She has a strong heartbeat now but is still unconscious. You daughter experienced a significant electric shock.”
“She wasn’t electrocuted?” asked Lewis.
“No. Electrocution is when the person dies. Lisa lived, so she received an electric shock,” said Doctor Hellman.
“Then she’ll be alright?” asked Lewis.
“We’ll keep a close eye on her. If she can maintain a strong and steady heartbeat she will recover,” said Doctor Hellman. “We’ll see how she’s doing tomorrow. She might be able to go home the day after that.”
“Thank you so much, doctor. Can we see her now?” asked Martha.
“In a few minutes. She’s being transferred to ICU.”
“You know where that is don’t you Martha?” asked the nurse.
“Yeah,” said Martha.
“I’ll speak to you again later,” the doctor said as he walked away.
Lewis and Martha hugged each other. Mary ran over and hugged her daddy’s legs. Mary was the kind of girl that loved to read books and investigate bugs and lizards. She was daddy’s girl. Lewis brushed his daughter’s blonde, curly hair from her forehead and patted her cheek. Mary stayed by him for comfort.
A few minutes later, Lewis and Martha walked to the ICU to see their oldest daughter while Stephanie stayed with Mary in the waiting room.
Lisa lay motionless in a large bed. She had a tube running into her arm, but other than that, she looked like she was sleeping. Lewis and Martha sat in chairs by her bed. Lisa was a tomboy and usually ran around jumping and climbing on everything. She was always so active that it hurt them to see her lay so still. Her long blonde hair that she kept in a ponytail was spread over the pillow.
The phone in the room rang, and Lewis answered.
“Hey it’s Dad,” said Kenny. “Me and Pete got an electrician to look at the swamp cooler. He found a short in the main unit. He fixed it, and I turned it back on to cool the house for you.”
“Thank you very much, Dad. It’d be hot there tonight without the cooler.”
“Don’t worry Pete and I took care of it.”
What a relief, Lewis thought. His father was always so generous with his time. “How much do I owe you guys?” Lewis asked.
“Nothing, son. How’s Lisa doing?”
“The doctor thinks she’ll be okay. She’s sleeping now. They’re gonna keep her a couple days for observation.”
“That’s good news. If you need me or your mom’s help, don’t hesitate to call.”
Lewis thanked him and hung up the phone.
“Who was that?” asked Martha.
“That was Dad. He and Pete got the swamp cooler fixed.”
“That was sweet of ’em. It’d sure be hot in the house without it.”
“Yeah, I’m grateful to ’em for doing it.”
“Why don’t you go home for a bit. I’ll stay here. Come back in a few hours and then I’ll go home and get some rest.”
“Good idea. I’ll get Mary and take her with me.”
A few minutes later, Stephanie walked into the room.
“Lewis has Mary. Just wanted to see how Lisa’s doin’ before I go.”
“She’s much better. I can’t thank you enough for being here for us,” said Martha.
“That’s okay. I’m sure you’d do the same for me.”
“I hope nothing like this ever happens to you, Stephanie.”
“Me neither. I’ll be home if you need anything.”
A few minutes later, Ernie and Ima Hansen, Martha’s parents, entered the room with a stuffed Pink Panther.
Martha was glad to see her parents faces. She smiled when she noticed her father was wearing the new coveralls she bought for his birthday. She could tell her mother had just been to the salon because her white curls were neat and tidy.
“Hello, Martha. How’s our little girl?” asked Ernie.
“She’s doing much better, Dad. She’s been out since it happened,” Martha said.
“Sorry to hear that, here’s a small animal to keep her company,” said Ima.
“Thanks, Mom she’ll love it.” Martha tucked the stuffed animal under the covers with Lisa.
“So, how’s Mary doing?” asked Ima.
“She seems fine. Our neighbor and my coworker, Stephanie, watched her while Lewis and I were in here with Lisa. So, she’s been with someone since the accident. She is on her way home now with Lewis,” said Martha.
“That’s good to hear,” said Ima.
“So, what’s happenin’?” asked Ernie.
“The doctor wants to monitor her vital signs until she wakes up. They want to make sure her heartbeat is steady and strong. He said if all went well we could take her home in a couple days,” said Martha.
“Well, if you need someone to stay with her, please let me or Mom know. We’ll be glad to come down or watch Mary,” said Ernie.
“That’s sweet of you, Dad. Lewis and I want to take turns overnight, but we sure could User your help tomorrow morning,” said Martha.
“I can be here at seven,” said Ima.
“And I can be here at ten,” said Ernie.
“Thank you, both very much. What would we do without you?” asked Martha.
“Well, I’m goin’ over to the house to make sure Lewis and Mary are okay. Do you wanna stay here, Mom?” asked Ernie.
“That sounds like a great idea,” said Ima.
“I’ll come back and get you in a couple hours,” said Ernie. “Maybe Lisa will be awake when I get back,” said Ernie.
“Bye, Dad, see you later.”
About an hour later, Gayle Tillis, Martha’s friend, and a coworker stopped by to check on Martha after her shift at the hospital ended. She had known Martha most of her life, and the two had been friends since grade school.
“Hey, Martha and Ima. How’s she doing?” asked Gayle.
“Doctor said she should be okay,” said Martha.
“Must’ve been a close call. Electric shock is nothing to mess around with.”
“Lewis was scared we’d lost her. Thank goodness he remembered how to do CPR.”
“Where did he learn that, at work?”
“Yeah, they taught it a couple months ago.”
“I stopped by to check on you. Just got off shift.”
“Things must’ve been busy, with me and Stephanie running out on you guys.”
“It was, but you needed to be here with your girl. Everyone chipped in, and we got everything done.”
“Tell everyone I appreciate it.”
“They know you do. You’ve always been there for us.”
“You want me to stay with you and Ima?”
“No, you need your rest. I’ll be okay here with Mom.”
“Okay, you know my number if you need anything.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“Bye Gayle,” said Ima.
After Gayle left, the nurse came back in.
“Martha, the doctor recommended that you take Lisa to a counselor after she is released from the hospital,” said the nurse.
“Why? Is something wrong?” asked Martha.
“No, it’s just that sometimes electric shock victims have trouble with short-term memory and neurological functions. Here’s a list of counselors for you to consider.”
Martha stared at the list as a knot formed in her stomach. “I didn’t consider that,” she said. “Thank you.”
About 11:00 AM the next morning, Lisa’s eyes fluttered. She stretched and realized she had the tube in her arm. She began to look around in fear, not knowing where she was. When she saw her mother and father stand up at the side of the bed, her face relaxed, and she lay back on the pillow. Her grandparents had just left.
“It’s okay, baby, don’t move much. You’re in the hospital,” said Martha.
“What happened?’ asked Lisa.
Lewis gave Lisa a quick explanation of what had occurred.
“And we’re glad to see you awake,” said Lewis.
“Where are the Watchers, Daddy?”
Her father paused. Lewis was a thin man with a well-tanned face from working outside. Most people first noticed his deep blue eyes followed by his big white smile. Hearing this he had the look of a shocked parent.
“What are you talking about, Lisa?”
“The Watchers had been with me since the ambulance ride, but now they’re gone.”
Lewis and Martha looked at each other with large eyes and open mouths.
“Baby, don’t say anything to anyone about Watchers except Mommy and Daddy. Other people might not understand,” said Martha.
“But why, Momma?”
“It’s hard to explain, dear. Not everyone will believe you.”
“I don’t understand, Momma.”
“Please do as Momma says, and it’ll be alright,” said Lewis.
“Okay, Daddy, but I’ll miss the Watchers.”
Lewis and Martha looked at each other again with raised eyebrows.
“We know you will,” said Martha.
The nurse came in, checked Lisa’s pulse, and wrote some notes on the chart at the foot of the bed.
“Good to see you up. The doctor will be in to see you very soon,” the nurse said.
“Try to get rest, dear, so you can get stronger and come home,” said Lewis.
She lay quietly in the bed drifting, in and out of sleep, her mother and father looked at her and then at each other.
“What do you think she meant about seein’ Watchers?” Martha said, almost whispering.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s something caused by the electric shock.”
“I don’t know ’bout that. Should we speak to the doctor ’bout it?”
“Heavens no. He’ll think we’re crazy. Just let it go. If she doesn’t mention it again, we won’t either.”
Lisa was breathing heavily, which meant she was getting plenty of air. With some more rest, she would be going home soon.
Lewis and Martha were just glad Lisa was alive, even with the strange questions of the Watchers. After a couple of hours of watching their daughter drift in and out of sleep, Lewis drifted off for a short nap. Martha nudged him when he started to snore. The stress of the last two days had worn them both out.