(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons) [Order this photo]
In between jobs as a truck driver for a few days before the Labor Day weekend, he was helping his brother clear hay on a farm just off Whiteside Hill Road, when he stopped the tractor on the hill and turned off the ignition.
"This particular type of tractor, the brakes don't work so well when the engine is turned off, normally they stay where you put them," said Paul.
The tractor started rolling backwards, and as he tried frantically to start the engine, it rolled even faster. "I didn't have much time to do much thinking. It didn't occur to me to jump off."
As the tractor began to tilt, Paul's memory began to both capture and recall images in slow motion. He realized the tractor was going to turn over on that hill, and he began to recall all the people he'd known who had been killed in farming accidents.
Pinned under the tractor from his waist down and in excruciating pain, he managed to get his cell phone out of his pants pocket. His first thought was to call his wife, Debbie.
"Somehow I got my cell phone out of my pocket, and I thought about calling her instead of 911. I reckon I just had her on my mind."
Working in her salon, The Finishing Touch, she answered the phone and heard Paul yell before they lost the connection.
"I knew something must not be right," she said. When she called back she asked, "Paul, are you hurt?" He was, and he asked her to call 911.
Family friend Cody Prater was raking nearby. He might have heard the scream, or simply the silence from the tractor, but he was at Paul's side within moments. Paul sent the young man to get another tractor, the one with the front-end loader attached.
Then there were the angels.
"Jeff and Sue, we think their names are," said Debbie of the couple who arrived on the scene within minutes -- a paramedic and nurse it turned out. Jeff arrived on a four-wheeler about the time Cody returned with the other machine. As Cody raised the tractor, Jeff was able to pull Paul out from under it, and administer aid until emergency services could reach the remote area.
"We call them the angels," said Debbie. "We never got their name, but when Paul is better we want to track them down to thank them for helping save his life."
The couple speaks with some awe of the series of coincidences -- miracles, surely -- that fell in place that day. Far from the main road, in an area notorious for bad cell signals and with no one around, Paul had medical help almost immediately. And though he was in excruciating pain, he never blacked out until pain medication was administered in flight to Vanderbilt, twenty minutes after the accident happened.
At the scene, Paul was certain he was paralyzed for life -- but he was fortunate. His pelvis was crushed, three ribs were broken and he had torn his rotator cuff -- but he was alive, and with therapy, he hopes to walk again by Christmas.
Since the accident on Sept. 2, through a month spent in the hospital and then in rehabilitation and now recuperating at home, one thing has remained constant, "I don't go a day without thanking God that He saw me through this," said Paul. "I feel like He has a purpose for me," even if that purpose is simply a testimony of thankfulness. "Accidents can happen, you can have hard times, but you can still find thankfulness that you're still here. I'm happy, and blessed."
Friends and family are planning a chili supper and auction to help cover the Cathey's medical and living expenses, which includes a $1,200 monthly COBRA payment. The event takes place Nov. 19 at the WBTS Clubhouse on Highway 64 W beginning at 4 p.m. Tickets are $5.