Larry KallbergCloquet resident Larry Kallberg is not a cat. At least that’s what he told the nurses at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth last fall when he woke up from time to time in the intensive care unit.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet resident Larry Kallberg is not a cat. At least that’s what he told the nurses at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth last fall when he woke up from time to time in the intensive care unit.
Although his statement puzzled the nurses, his family members understood.
“We have a joke that Larry has nine lives,” his wife, Barb Kallberg, explained. “At this point we’re just not sure how many he's used up.”
Larry Kallberg definitely used one of those lives in an accident last October after a 6x6 dump trailer with 1,000 pounds of wet dirt inside flipped over a retaining wall, crushing and pinning Kallberg to the ground.
“It was a total fluke,” said his daughter, Tracy Vargason.
His neighbor, Jeff Chartier, was in Kallberg’s yard when it happened and somehow he managed to pull the trailer off of Kallberg and call 911.
With tears in his eyes, Kallberg remembered last week how quickly his neighbor and emergency personnel came to his rescue.
“Two minutes and 38 seconds,” he said of the time it took the Cloquet Area Fire District ambulance to arrive at his house. “That ambulance system can’t be beat. They are wonderful.”
Kallberg suffered a myriad of broken bones in the accident and after initial care in the ambulance and at Community Memorial Hospital, he was moved to St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth.
No one was certain at that point if he would live.
“I’m lucky to be here, no ifs, ands or buts,” Kallberg said.
His injuries included four broken bones in his back, a broken femur head and pelvis, a severe break in his collar bone and many broken ribs.
“My whole leg was just like a floppin’ walleye,” he remembered with a grin.
Luckily, Kallberg was in good physical shape at the time of the incident and that permitted doctors to perform surgeries both on his leg and collar bone in the same day. He now has a titanium rod in his pelvis/femur almost to the knee and a plate holding together the clavicle bones.
“When the head surgeon came out after surgery, he told us in no uncertain terms just how tough Larry was to handle everything they did in there,” said Vargason.
Kallberg also coined a few additional phrases, “Larry-isms,” besides the one about the cat while in intensive care.
“All the cute nurses – I asked them to marry me, I talked about how big Alaska is, and I wondered where my yellow bucket was, among other things,” he said. “It was ridiculous.”
After 23 days in the hospital, Kallberg was able to go home where he continued physical therapy and spent most of his time – carefully positioned in a recliner.
“I’ve spent at least 95 percent of those first few months in that chair per doctor’s orders,” Kallberg said.
In January, Kallberg went back to the hospital for another surgery – this time to repair his back. The surgery took 10 hours and the doctors had to break his back in two additional places to fix it.
In trying to keep the mood light during the surgery, Kallberg’s family members coined a nickname for Kallberg – Humpty Dumpty.
“It seems appropriate for him since he has built so many [retaining] walls and had this great crash,” Vargason said. “We still call him Humpty now and may forever.”
Some five months later, Kallberg now sports a scar that runs almost the entire length of his spine and he’s developed diabetes due to the accident. His eyesight even changed, which doctors said can happen when the body experiences a crushing trauma.
“I was never on one pill at age 67 before this happened,” he said. “Now Barb has had to cook and take care of me for months. For Valentine’s Day I bought her a ticket to Florida so she can have a break.”
On the mend, Kallberg has graduated to sitting in the chair 90 percent of the time and that is an accomplishment.
“It’s little by little,” he said. “I’m on major lifting restrictions still. I can’t lift anything over five pounds and a gallon of milk weighs eight.”
Lifting, however, has been almost a way of life for Kallberg. He was a semi-truck driver for Twin Ports Grocery delivering food to grocery stories in the region from 1967 until he retired in 1997.
“I’ve unloaded a lot of food in my life,” he said.
He got the job the same year he met and married Barb in Duluth. At that time he was on leave from the Navy, thinking he would become a Minnesota State Patrol officer. That didn’t pan out, however, as Kallberg had a few too many traffic violations.
He wasn’t too worried though.
“Jobs were easy to come by back then,” he remembered. “You could take your pick.”
Although the couple bought their first home in Duluth for $8,000, changes in city property taxes led them to look around for other places to live. They chose Cloquet for several reasons including the fact that Kallberg’s father, Walter Kallberg, and relatives originally settled there after emigrating from Sweden and Norway.
“I shot my first deer with my dad out at the old homestead,” Kallberg recalled.
Larry and Barb bought their first house in Cloquet in 1973. They had two children by that time, son Mike and daughter Tracy.
In 1978, they had a home built near Pinehurst Park, complete with pine trees in the back yard and undeveloped lot next door.
Once retired, he and his wife had a new home built on the adjacent lot and after moving into it in 2000, Kallberg began a love affair – with concrete blocks.
“They call me a block-aholic,” Kallberg said with a laugh. “I must have 10,000 [concrete blocks] in my yard.”
Kallberg has revamped the hilly landscape around his house with retaining walls on three sides, a patio and was working on planting when the accident occurred.
There will be a break from that activity this summer as Kallberg will not yet be able to lift the blocks, which weigh about 30 pounds, or run the Bobcat.
He has plenty of friends and family checking in on him though.
“I’ve had people visit from all over and from all points in my life,” he said. “They’ve come from Iowa and Brainerd, Minn., and there’s been more than 4,000 visits to the CaringBridge Web site [a web service that connects family and friends during a critical illness, treatment or recovery],” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
So while Kallberg has more recovery time ahead, he’s depending on support from loved ones and his sense of humor to get him through.
“You certainly heal faster when you have a smile on your face.”