What does 10,000 volts feel like?

Ragnvald Bergeson, my dad’s father, was known as Ray by his colleagues at work.¬† He spent his entire career working for Commonwealth Edison, the giant electrical utility in northern Illinois. The family never called him Ray and even now it seems absolutely foreign to me to say it, but I’m going to use the name in this post just to give it a test drive.

Ray graduated from¬† Augustana College in South Dakota in 1918 and enrolled in State College of South Dakota after he got out of the army in 1919. He graduated from State College in 1922. He had received a scholarship to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota as an undergraduate, but that school didn’t have an engineering department, so he declined the scholarship.

During most of his career, Ray was a testing engineer. He was one of the folks who would appear onsite at a construction project that had recently been completed and inspect the electrical equipment and connections for compliance with company standards and all appropriate building codes.

I don’t know what sectors of industry he worked in or whether he specialized in residential or commercial work. I also don’t the the scale of projects he worked on, whether they were large or small installations. What I do know is that he was always a very careful and thoughtful person. He did lots of planning prior to any work or play in which he was involved and he always documented the results. That was obvious to me from my youngest days.

So it was quite a surprise to learn that he had been involved in a nearly fatal accident one day at work. I don’t know the date of the accident or the location, but he carried the physical scars of the accident for the rest of his life and none of us could ever take his survival for granted when looking at his hands.

My father told me that Ray had 10,000 volts of electricity pulse through his body. I don’t know the length of the traumatic episode, but it knocked him unconscious and caused severe burns at the entry and departure points of the current. Apparently he was kneeling when the voltage entered his body and the current was able to find its way to ground through his arms and hands, completely missing his heart.

I have no idea how long he was hospitalized or how long his total recovery period was, but when it was all over, the first joint of every one of his fingers was fused at a 45 degree angle. The skin on both hands was drawn tight and shiny as the result of his burns. I don’t know what the rest of his body looked like, but what I saw was enough to know the man had suffered. He was seriously challenged to hold eating utensils, dial a telephone, or fasten the buttons on his shirts. Yet he was an inveterate photographer and continued to use a typewriter until the end of his life.

As a child I was and as an adult continue to be, completely in awe of my grandpa Ray.

Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson
Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson





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