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Baptist survivor of Okla. bombing tells of emotional scars, forgiveness

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–After 16 surgeries, countless hours of therapy and unnumbered hours of frustration, pain and uncertainty over the past five years, Patti Hall is grateful that God still has plans for her life.

One of the most severely injured survivors of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, Hall’s road to physical recovery has been paved with long hours of exercise and physical therapy — and her journey continues. She still has pieces of glass embedded in her arms, is beginning to have trouble opening jars and grasping objects and sometimes has to use a cane to help her walk, especially when the weather changes.

And, the doctors aren’t through with her, either. “They want to replace my kneecaps and maybe do some more work on my ankles,” she said. “And my heel still gives me a lot of trouble.”

Hall, 62, a member of Oklahoma City’s Northwest Baptist Church, suffered several broken bones, including an elbow, ribs, both ankles and one heel in the blast. Her knees were crushed, as were both of her legs. She also had a punctured lung. For several weeks after the explosion, she was kept in an induced coma by doctors, so she wouldn’t remember much of the pain and surgery. When she came out of the coma, she had to learn how to talk, eat and feed herself.

She spent two months in the hospital and was in a hospital bed and wheelchair for another seven months. It wasn’t until January 1996 — nine months after the explosion — that she was able to take her first steps.

Her greatest foe today is traumatic arthritis. “It’s very painful; that’s my real enemy,” she said, unconsciously shifting her weight in the chair she was on. “It’s in all the joints I’ve had surgery on.”

Amazingly, she almost didn’t make it to the hospital in the first place, she recalled.

“In all the confusion after the explosion, I was laid on a stretcher in the area where they were seeing how badly injured everyone was,” Hall said. “I was covered by a blanket, and the person who looked at me didn’t think I was injured badly enough to be one of the first ones to be taken to the hospital.”

Five years later, Hall’s physical recovery has progressed well, but she is unable to work and is on permanent disability. Worker’s compensation insurance pays most of her medical expenses, which she estimates to be in excess of $1 million since the explosion occurred.

Her mental and emotional battles continue, however. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is in therapy for that as well. “My therapist told me I literally had shoved the mental aspects aside because I was busy battling the physical stuff for three years,” she said.

Hall occasionally has “wild dreams and nightmares,” and certain sounds — thunder, a car backfiring, brakes screeching, a telephone ringing, sirens and, especially, babies crying — take their toll on her. “Sirens really bother me because I know something’s wrong and I don’t know what’s happened or who’s hurt,” she said, adding quietly, “And, I can’t stand to hear children crying. I guess it has to be a flashback of hearing babies cry, you know, in the bombing, because it never used to bother me.”

These days, Hall keeps busy as a volunteer with the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary and at the Oklahoma State Capitol, where she donates time one day each week at a souvenir kiosk near the information booth on the first floor. She also is active in her church’s Adult I Sunday Bible Fellowship.

She also helps take care of her mother, Leota Perkins, who is a resident at the Baptist Retirement Center. Her own physical and mental recovery has been compounded by the two nervous breakdowns and a light stroke her mother has had in the past five years.

Hall, who was an employee with the Federal Employees Credit Union in the Murrah Building when it exploded, had thoughts about becoming a tour guide with the new memorial, but her doctor discouraged that.

Hall said she has forgiven convicted conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, but thinks they should spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“I don’t hate them, but I really hate what they did,” she said. “I cannot even fathom why they did it.

“But, I realize that each of us will have to give an account before the Lord, and I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when that happens. So, I refuse to hate them, because God is going to take care of that.”

Saved at Northwest Baptist just four months before the bombing, Hall admitted she struggled initially with the question of why she had been spared, but now knows “God has some things for me to do.”

“I marvel daily about how powerful God is, and I am learning more about him,” she added. “I’m much closer to him than I was before, and it makes me want to give more of myself for worthwhile purposes and really be happy; I know that Jesus wouldn’t want me to be unhappy, not after all I’ve been through.”

She especially enjoys her work with the Salvation Army and at the State Capitol. “I am on the social services committee for the Salvation Army and, about two weeks ago, I was able to interview people who needed assistance with paying their bills,” she said. “I met some very nice people, and we were able to help them. I felt really good about that.”

Hall also enjoys working at Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary lunches, the proceeds from which benefit battered women and alcoholics.

“The Salvation Army helps these people and they become productive and can work,” she said. “And when they do, many of them come to work for the organization.”

Working at the Capitol also has been an eye-opener. “I was visiting with a group of tourists from England recently and asked them if they were going to visit the memorial,” she recalled. “A lady asked me, ‘What memorial?’ I said, ‘We had a bombing here in 1995,’ and she said, ‘Well, we have those all the time.’

“I just thought, ‘Wow, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what it’s like to be a survivor.’ All I can say is, it’s not easy.”

    About the Author

  • Bob Nigh