Beginning their careers as The Sheepherders, Butch and partner Luke enjoyed success with Ted Turner’s NWA, as well as with dozens of the territories and Puerto Rico’s IWA.
The pair moved to the WWF in 1988 and were transformed into the fan licking, arm waving, foot stopping Bushwhackers – one of the most loved tag team gimmicks in WWF history.
In late 2001, Butch fell ill with a staph infection, which nearly took his life. In this interview, Butch reveals all with his illness, his treatment and ongoing recovery.
Dion McCracken: First of all, thank you very much for taking time out from rehab to speak with us here at NZPWI. We really appreciate your effort. Kiwi fans were greeted with the unwelcome news last year that you were hospitalised with a severe staph infection. Where did the infection attack you, and how did it come about? What were the effects on your body?
Butch Miller: I would like to start off by saying gidday mates, it’s my pleasure to get to chat with you all at NZPWI. Thank you all for those prayers etc!
Because of the September 11 disaster, our show in Ohio on September 15 was cancelled, so another well known wrestler who runs a wrestling school in Orlando (90 miles from where we live) asked us to do a favour for him and wrestle that night at his school, which we did.
Now, no way am I blaming him or any one else at Orlando, maybe I licked the wrong fan, who knows. I’ve been bloody lucky over the years so it was just my time.
I started to feel a little strange Sunday night – but what’s new? I’ve been very strange all my bloody life. Monday the 17th, I awoke to the cold shivers, again. I just thought maybe I was getting the flu or something. I nearly dialed 911, but waited a while and the shivers disappeared.
I called Luke Monday night and told him I thought I must have got a bug and doubted very much if I could make the show on Wednesday, which I think was in Ohio again. Please understand one thing about Luke and I: we both have never missed a match unless we were so bad we couldn’t get dressed, or get out of bed. I have worked with broken collar bones, a broken arm, broken ankle etc. So Luke had a rough idea I was certainly not right.
Tuesday night, the 18th, my joints started to pack up. I was born with bad ankles and that was the first place the poison hit. Again, I just thought the flu was one of those types that attack the joints. I crawled to bed that night on my hands and knees, with the bloody phone hanging out of my mouth by the aerial. My brilliant thinking at that stage was that if I got worse during the night I would definitely call 911.
Well so much for my thinking, I awoke around 3am and my body had swollen so much from the poison, I couldn’t move a bloody thing. The phone was only 18 inches from my head, might as well been a mile.
So there I lay all day Wednesday, couldn’t move. Then into Thursday, Luke, who had been trying to ring me for days, flew back from Ohio and arrived at Tampa air terminal around 1.30pm Thursday the 20th. Thank god for Luke, for wondering why I wasn’t picking up my phone, called into my place on his way home and found me still laying on my bed, swollen like hell, completely dehydrated, sky high temperature etc. Thanks to my partner, I’m still here to talk about it.
Reports were that you came dangerously close to death with the infection. Were the reports correct?
Too close for comfort! I remember Luke arriving, calling the ambulance, the medics wheeling me out of my house, and a little bit of the hospital. The poison had really taken over my body, eating me up from inside out. Just as they got me to hospital, my vital organs began to shut down. My lungs were first to shut down, about 10 minutes after arriving at hospital.
From then on for the next four weeks, I don’t remember too much. They had me in La La Land. If Luke had’ve been another 30 minutes, I would have been gone. My temperature was around 107, my heart was beating three times faster than normal.
They told Luke to ring my daughters—one was in England, one is in New Zealand—and tell them I wasn’t expected to make it through the night, let alone the weekend. Thank god I did!
What did your treatment consist of, and how long were you hospitalised for?
As soon as my lungs shut down, the hospital staff put tubes down my throat and had a machine breathe for me. I had those tubes down there for four weeks. They were about 20 minutes from opening up my rib cage and trying to get my heart under control.
I was bleeding badly internally, they put six units of blood into me and kept packing me with ice to get my temperature under some sort of control.
Apparently it took a while to find out the actual infection, which was destroying me. But again lady luck was on my side. They brought in an infection specialist, and quickly found out the culprit was severe staph. Also, I had poisoning of the joints, and ARDS – not too sure the exact meaning of that.
My oldest daughter, Sharon, is a registered nurse in NZ, and being a very worried young lady, had the whole medical staff at Largo Medical Hospital explain what they were doing to her dad step by bloody step, while I lay there in the dream world of La La Land – not a bad place to be when you are real sick. I mean, of course, Largo Medical, but you knew that, right?
I was in CCU for five weeks, then placed in a ward for another two weeks, then shipped off to Oak Manor Nursing Home to recover. I was in Oak Manor for six weeks, then once again let loose into the land of the supposedly normal folks. At this point I cannot give enough thanks to the wonderful staff at the Largo Medical and the Oak Manor, who not only saved my life, but put up with this very impatient Kiwi bugger.
Also I was fed antibiotics through a needle for 10 weeks, I must have had gallons of that shit pumped into me.
The road to 100 per cent health is still one that you are traveling, with you still requiring crutches to get about – how is your body currently effected?
In my first three weeks of being in hospital, I dropped 75lbs. The staph infection had eaten me away. I haven’t as yet mentioned my left shoulder, which I tore away from my rotor cuff that night in Orlando, or my right collar bone which I broke that night as well.
Once they took the tubes out of my throat and I started to breathe on my own, that was really the start of my rehab. I was so weak I couldn’t even hold my head up, or sit up, or move any bloody body part at all. So it’s been a real slow process and we all know I ain’t no spring bloody chicken, and shit which healed real fast before is taking a long bloody time.
But I am certainly grateful that I have been given another chance at this life. I already feel like a cat, I might have used up all of my lives!
My shoulder is coming around slowly, can nearly hold it out straight. My collar bone is sticking out like a sore toe, but who cares, I never have gotten by on looks alone. They can not operate on either, for my heart took such a pounding from the infection, that they can not put me out. Just my luck, no more La La Land!
The worst things however are my ankles, if I was a horse they would have shot me at birth. They are taking a long time to come around. Well they are around – I need the buggers to straighten up! But no worries, I’ve managed on these fellows for a long time. But the big deal is I’m alive.
I know you’re very keen to get off the crutches, and the amount of rehabilitation you’re going through is a real credit to your will and determination. What does your rehab currently consist of?
I’ve been rehabbing as much as I can, pushing myself through new pain barriers, giving it my single most effort. To other people, they say I’m doing great; for me, this whole stuff is, ‘enough already’.
My doctors think I’m so lucky to be alive and that I’m going ahead leaps and bounds. To me, the progress is real slow, but as I said, I’m one impatient Kiwi.
I’m going for everything right now – acupuncture with a great lady, Dr Hongjian He. Lots of needles but great results. Also I’m going to a great sports doctor, Mark Calandro, for mainly neuromuscular therapy. He twists me every way you can imagine. If I could get him in the ring, I would stretch his butt back, but I love the guy.
Also my mate Norm who has been working on this old, beat-up body for years. I go to the gym almost every day, and really push myself.
I’m real lucky to be surrounded with so many great friends. A real fantastic Kentucky lady, Carol Jean, who could kick my Kiwi butt in a instant.
The end of this month I’m tossing out my crutches. I don’t mind if I need a stick to walk, or even if I have to crawl, but in 22 days these crutches are out of here.
I’ve been a fighter all of my life and my fight is not over – not yet. Like a true Kiwi, I refuse to surrender. I have had a great life up til now, and intend to have an even better one in the future. I regard myself as a very lucky man and have everything to look forward to.
Thank you, our fans, for the true support you have shown Luke and myself over the many years and hurdles. It has meant so much to us. We both have always had fantastic pride in our fellow New Zealanders and our great country and certainly have not been slow in sharing you guys with the rest of the world.
Thank you Luke, for been a terrific mate for so many years and for saving my life.
Thank you Largo Medical, for working so hard to give me another chance at life. Thank you Oak Manor, for your great help to start me on the road to recovery.
Many thanks to my own doctor, Dr Pettycrew, who will always be a hero to me, and the many doctors and nurses and staff.
I cannot thank enough people right now and am starting to lose it, so on behalf of my partner Luke and Carol Jean, I love you guys!