Arthur Lampitt wouldn’t consider himself a car aficionado, but his car was a part of him: He lived with a turn signal stuck lever in his arm for 51 years.
He was driving his tan Thunderbird to work one morning in July 1963 when he crashed, an accident so bad that the local radio station reported it as a fatality, he said.
Lampitt, 75, of Granite City, Illinois, recalls the accident as a series of unfortunate incidents.
It had been raining, and the road was slick with oil. Lampitt had tried to have his tires replaced the day before but couldn’t get an appointment. To top it off, one curve along his route was prone to puddling — and that’s where calamity struck.
“After I hit the puddles, I hydroplaned, and I saw the semi truck coming, so I gunned it so I wouldn’t hit the semi truck, so that I would make it to the far side of the road, but I didn’t make it that far, and I had a head-on collision with the truck,” Lampitt said.
He survived the collision with a broken hip and four or five broken ribs. He says he lay in traction for 10 days before surgeons could operate.
“They wanted me to get past the shock and to make sure I would live. Every time I would breathe, you could hear the click-click of my ribs,” Lampitt said. “I had a lot of broken glass that hit me, but I never knew there was anything in my arm.”
Lampitt says that 35 years after the crash, he went through a metal detector at a courthouse wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
“My bare arm set the detector off, and it raised the question of what was in my arm,” Lampitt said. “I got an X-ray, and it indicated there might have been some kind of tool left in there at the time of the accident. But I thought it was peculiar that (doctors) thought it was a tool but didn’t know what kind of tool, and they told me if it’s not bothering you, leave it alone.”
So he did, for another 16 years. Six weeks ago, the lever started to push its way out of his skin.
“I happened to need to move a couple of concrete blocks, and I picked one of them up with my left hand and moved it 20 feet or so and set it down and carried another one, and that was enough to jolt it loose, and it started protruding through my arm.”
His surgeon “suggested it might be a piece of the automobile. And so I dug up pictures, and we got a picture of the undamaged car with the steering column, and it showed what the turn signal looked like. And it compared to what I remember the rod in my arm looking like on the X-ray, and I compared it to the pictures of the accident where there was nothing there, and I concluded that’s what it was.
“The doctor said I probably had a reflex reaction in the accident where I lifted my hands to save my eyes, and that’s how (the lever) went into my arm.”
The outpatient operation to remove the lever took about 45 minutes on December 31.
Lampitt thinks he will give the piece to his doctor.
“My original plan was to make it a keychain, but it has been so corroded having been in my body for 51 years, so I may give it back to the doctor. He expressed interest in it, and I thought I would let him add it to his collection,” Lampitt said.