By Amy Woolvett
There was a moment when Phillip Williams had to decide; stay and die, or reach inside and find the reserves needed to save his life.
This critical decision came as the 41-year-old Rockland man struggled to find his way out of the woods after he accidently shot himself in the hand and face while hunting alone in Rockland, Shelburne County.
At 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 14, Williams gathered up his gear at his Rockland home and ventured out to Clam Flat Island for a goose and duck hunt.
As he set up his blind he realized he had forgotten his shotgun shells back home.
“Right then I should have realized it wasn’t meant to be,” said Williams.
But he hiked back through the heavy snow, collected his shells and made the return trip anyway.
Back at the blind, he had just settled in when a black duck flew past.
He stood to look and turned.
It was then he slipped on the ice and in an instant his life would be changed forever.
“I saw it all happening in slow motion but there was nothing I could do to stop it,” he said.
The gun at his side dropped to the ground and the double barrel 12 gauge shot gun fired from one barrel, sending shot out at close range at 1300 feet per second into his hand and face.
Later, when police inspected the gun they would find the safety still locked on.
“Then everything went black,” said Williams.
As he came to, the injured hunter at once realized his vision was gone and the world around him was completely black.
He knew he had to move.
“It was like something grabbed me and hauled me up,” he remembered.
Completely blind, he started walking, unknowingly, in the wrong direction and went straight into the water.
He turned around and started off again.
As he struggled to find his way, the vision in one eye started to return a fuzzy picture that would help lead him to safety.
He then reached up to touch his face.
“I knew it was mangled,” he said.
He felt and saw the dripping of blood and realized his hand was just hanging on by a thread.
Despite his grave injuries, Williams attempted to stay focused and calm.
“I had to get my composure,” he said. “I was the only one there…no one else could help me.”
The only way to save his life was to walk the 2.4 kilometres through the forest to the road where he knew there was a house.
He considered going home but the way through the deep snow would have been too rough and difficult.
Barely able to see, he fought to find a property line he knew would lead him to his friend’s house. The first way he went was a dead end.
Realizing this, he retraced his steps and walked back to the beach. Finally, he found the right path and he walked for 25 minutes with his arm above his head to slow the bleeding.
“I had to get to the pavement,” he said. “It was the only way someone would find me.”
When he finally arrived at the house he found no one home.
“I kicked the door down, went inside and called my wife,” he said.
Telling her to call 911 he gave his location and he went back outside, not wanting to pass out alone inside.
First responder, Wayne Chetwynd, received the call over his pager and was soon out driving looking for Williams. He, Meryl Buchanan, Richard Stuart and Williams’ father-in-law Harvey Hallett all rushed to the scene.
Finding the badly injured hunter outside, they quickly stemmed the profuse bleeding with a tourniquet and paramedics rushed Williams to Roseway Hospital in Shelburne.
There, the medical staff secured him long enough for a LifeFlight helicopter to fly him to Halifax.
Before leaving, they gave him a drug, enabling him to sleep.
“I missed the best part,” Williams joked. “The helicopter ride.”
At the hospital in Halifax, doctors closely examined the severe injuries Williams had received from the shotgun blast.
As a result of the accident, he lost his left hand and forearm. The optic nerve of his left eye was also severed, rendering him blind in one eye.
The shot also blew through 13 of his teeth and even today there are still 26 pieces of the shot scattered throughout his face and skull.
But Williams says he is lucky to be alive and he doesn't know if it was luck or an instinct to protect his face that served him well.
“My hand saved my life,” he said.
Amazingly, Williams stayed in the hospital only four days before being released.
Williams has a positive outlook on his recovery and is learning to live life with one hand and one eye.
Less than two months after his accident, he returned to work as a floor supervisor at Clearwater in Lockeport.
He remains grateful to those who helped him on that horrible day and to the community for the support he has received, including fundraisers, church support and help from his employers and friends.
“I was told the best thing to do is to tell my story,” he said.
“So that is what I’m going to do.”