Mr. Miller came home from the war, married his childhood sweetheart, and found the only job a young man without education could get in 1945 in West Virginia—mining coal.
One of his first positions was “cleaning belt,” a dusty, heavy job done each day for hours in the belly of underground darkness.
As a sidelight, back when the troops were in the murk of the Pacific, they had encountered rats, mosquitoes, and stagnant swamps. Many men came down with malaria. Mr. Miller took his regular dose of quinine and somehow avoided the misery of an outbreak until he came back to the states.
Strange thing about malaria—you never really get over it. It camps out in a body’s spleen, Mr. Miller pointed out, and you battle it the rest of your life.
In the first ten years after the war, Mr. Miller suffered some 42 bouts of malaria—a disease that exhibited itself in fever, chills, and aches so bad you thought your body was going to rattle apart, he said. The disease can strike without warning, anytime, anywhere.
One day Mr. Miller was down in the coalmine cleaning belt when he felt a malarial fever coming on. He mind swirled in delirium, and the resulting hallucinations reflected the horror he’d faced during the war.
He recorded the experience in his 2001 self-published book titled War and Work.
One day as I shoveled, the old chill began to shake me, and the sweat stood out on my forehead. The black coal dust mingled with the salty taste, and I wiped my face with a dirty glove.
I glanced over at the moving belt and blinked my eyes. I shook my head to clear it, and looked again. A dead Japanese soldier rode by on the belt.
I grabbed a timber, shook myself, and began to count silently. One, two, three, four, five, six. I was here. I was there.
There went some more bodies on the belt. Again I blinked, shook myself, and began repeating, “I am here. I am here.”
Mr. Miller knew he needed to get to the surface—fast. Another miner sensed he was in trouble and helped him get up to sun. In the daylight, the apparitions disappeared, and Mr. Miller spent the next 20 days in the VA hospital recovering from his fever.
Thinking about that story helps me put what I do for a living into perspective.
Today might have been a difficult day at work.
But at least I’m not down in the darkness of a coalmine fighting off malarial attacks while having hallucinations of dead Japanese soldiers.
A thought like that goes a long way toward me being grateful.
Question: What are you most thankful for at your work?