Claxton, Georgia, professional bull rider, farmer and cattleman James Michael Riggs is no stranger to injury and pain. Riding the professional rodeo circuit since 1993, Michael estimates he has undergone at least a dozen surgical procedures during his 24-year career. Unfortunately, Michael experienced one of his scariest incidents right here in Texarkana when he was thrown from and stomped by a bull named Hermes. On the first night of bull-riding competition at the Four States Fair and Rodeo in September of 2016, Michael mounted Hermes sporting bright orange chaps with white fringe and his favorite American straw hat. He was less than a half a second from making the eight-second ride when the whirling bull tossed him to the ground.
“It was one of those weird days,” Michael says. “Hermes was spinning in a circle, and the way I came off, I landed right up under him. His back foot slammed into the middle of my back almost like he was pushing off on me. It knocked the air out of me, but I didn’t know how badly I was injured until I tried to get up. I got to my hands and knees and began to cough up blood.” “Now, Hermes is not a mean bull — when they opened the gate, he knew it was time to go,” Michael shares. “He didn’t mean to, but he ran over me a second time trying to get out of the arena. I remember struggling to breathe — it was really frightening. For once, I didn’t protest about having to go to the hospital. In the ambulance, they started an IV and had to put a needle into my chest so they could relieve the blood buildup in my lungs.”
Not Our First Rodeo
Michael doesn’t recall much detail about the first few minutes in the CHRISTUS St. Michael emergency department. He does know, however, the trauma care provided was a game changer for him. With 11 of his 24 ribs broken and severe trauma, Michael’s injuries warranted the activation of trauma care with a surgeon taking the lead. His struggle to breathe was heightened by severe pain, not
unexpected with such a significant injury. After carefully assessing Michael’s condition, Benjamin DuBois, M.D., general surgeon with CHRISTUS Surgery Associates – Texarkana, was able to perform a lifesaving procedure using a chest tube and oxygen. Dr. DuBois cleared the chest cavity of air and accumulated blood, allowing re-expansion of the distressed lung. Additionally, the anesthesiology team placed an epidural catheter for pain control to relieve the agony and aid in the recovery process. Fortunately, nine days later, Michael was discharged from the hospital and able to return to Claxton.
“I’ve had a lot of surgery and other procedures — probably more than a dozen at several different facilities,” Michael explains. “I absolutely can recommend CHRISTUS St. Michael, the doctors and the trauma program for anyone needing this type of care, which was as good if not better than you find in larger hospitals. The nurses, doctors and all the rest of the staff really cared. They did more than just their jobs. I wasn’t just a case — I was a person.”
Back in the Saddle
Six months after his skirmish with Hermes, the bull rider is ready to hit the rodeo circuit again. Just like George Strait sings in “Amarillo by Morning,” Michael will “be looking for eight when they pull that gate.” And we wish him all the eights he can get.