If you’ve been following me at all on Twitter or Facebook the last couple of days, you’ll know that I was in an accident that required a trip to the emergency room and 11 stitches on the top of my left hand. My right hand is my drawing hand and I can still hold a pencil. But there will be no new comic today because I don’t want to push my luck. I want to take this time to heal.
Instead of a comic, I decided to tell the story of how I nearly lost a thumb. Please excuse any spelling errors you might come across. Since I’m down one hand, it’s taking me twice as long to write this blog post.
Since I’ve been off work, the need for little projects to keep me busy is at an all-time high. A few months ago, I bought a book about woodworking and building simple shelves. In it, there was a project detailing how one might build custom shelves for your garage or storage room. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
Basically, the shelves were two sets of 2 x 4s facing each other with grooves cut into them. Inside the grooves, you insert a sheet of plywood cut to fit and use that as the shelf.
To cut the grooves into the 2 x 4s required the purchase of a hand-held router, which I did on Tuesday. Since there wasn’t room in my car, I didn’t buy the materials needed to build the shelves. I decided I would go back the next day to get them.
Before leaving on Wednesday to buy the materials, I decided to give the router a spin (so to speak) so I had an idea of how it worked before I started the project in full.
I took the tool out of the box and read the directions. I inserted the 3/4″ bit required for the grooves and plugged in the tool. I took a scrap 2 x 4 from another project and set it on a pair of saw horses to use as my test material.
Here is where I made two key mistakes. First, I didn’t secure the scrap material to the saw horses. I didn’t lock it down. It was loose. Second, I didn’t insert the 3/4″ bit far enough into the router.
Because the bit was not inserted far enough into the router, it wasn’t cutting the wood. The stem of the bit was rubbing up against the wood causing resistance.
I took my left hand off the router and placed it on the scrap 2 x 4. I pulled the router away from the wood with my right hand at the same time I was releasing the trigger to stop the bit from spinning. As the bit nearly cleared the wood, it caught the edge of it. *BIP-BIP-BIP!* It skipped down the length of the board pulling my right arm with it.
In the blink of an eye, the router went over the top of my left hand.
At first I thought I had nicked myself, it happened so fast. I put the tool down and looked over at my left hand. Blood. Oh, wait. Dripping blood. Oh, my! That’s a lot of blood!
I clamped my right hand over my left and ran into the house. My first thought was to rinse out the cut. I put my hand in the sink and turned on the water. I looked down at my hand as the water ran over it. Blood gushed out of it like a bathtub spilling over. I remember shrieking “OH, GOD!!” and immediately grabbing a dishrag to wrap up my hand.
What I thought was a simple cut was quite clearly a deep wound. The picture of my bandaged hand above does not communicate the severity of my injury. Instead, look at this illustration:
The wound was about 5 to 6″ long, about 1.5″ wide, very jagged and very deep. It scared me enough to call 911.
Within seconds I was on the phone with dispatch. They asked me to describe the wound, if it was deep, how much blood I lost and instructed me to put pressure on the wound. He put me on hold as he notified emergency responders.
Meanwhile, Truman, oblivious to the trauma I had caused myself, goes to the back door. *TAP, TAP* He wants to be let out. In my mind I’m thinking “How am I going to get him back into the house?” I tell him “No, Truman.”
*TAP, TAP* Insistently, he scratches at the back door again. “I can’t deal with this,” I think and let him out anyway.
Dispatch came back on and immediately I thought that I should call Cami. I expressed as much to the dispatch operator, but he insisted that he stay on the line with me until help arrived because he didn’t know how much blood I had lost.
In the distance, I could hear ambulance sirens. “I can hear them,” I said. “They’re close.” I went to the front door to check.
As I approached the door, there was a pounding behind me. *BAM! BAM! BAM!* “POLICE!” A police officer entered the house through our garage. He was on patrol in the neighborhood when he got the call. It had been about a minute since I first called 911.
He started asking me a dozen questions. Mostly he wanted me to gather up my ID, my keys and my phone. He wanted to know what he could do to help me lock up the house.
At this point, I was kind of in denial. “Lock up the house,” I thought. “I’m not going anywhere!”
But I obliged the officer as he helped bring Truman back into the house and led him into his crate. By the time I retrieved my wallet, keys and phone, the ambulance was outside. I walked into the driveway to meet them.
They had me climb into the back of the ambulance to take a look. They removed the blood-soaked rag around my hand. Again, the gaping wound stared back at me. The put a gauze pad on top of it, wrapped up my hand and we were off to the hospital.
At this point I was glad to be in the hands of professionals, but I was still kind of in denial over the severity of my injury. I thought I would sit on one of the little benches in the back on our way to the hospital. I was fine! No need to strap me to a gurney!
They strapped me to a gurney.
Good thing, too. Because as they started driving, I became very light-headed. I started sweating and felt like I was going to throw up. They put me on oxygen and took my blood pressure repeatedly. My hands went numb. I was getting very sleepy. I was probably *this* close to passing out.
Fortunately, before all of this drama took place, I managed to call Cami at work to let her know I was on my way to the hospital. She was in a meeting, so I left her a message. By the time we arrived in the ER, she had returned my call and was on her way.
As I waited, they unwrapped my hand to take a look. It was at this point that I really started to fear that I had done permanent damage to myself. As we waited for the attending physician to come by with her opinion, they kept my hand sterile by submerging it into a pan of soapy water. It felt like someone lit my hand on fire.
Eventually the attending physician came by to offer her diagnosis. She asked me to move my fingers. She asked me to bring my thumb closer to my palm. Cheerfully, she said that the wound was superficial, that I hadn’t done any permanent damage to myself, but that I would probably need stitches. Now all I had to do was wait for someone to come in and stitch me up.
By this time, Cami was in the ER room with me and there was nothing I could do but sit there and look stupid. I felt so embarrassed. I had become another at-home accident statistic. I felt bad for dragging Cami out of work, for wasting her time, for being stuck with such an idiot husband. But at the same time, I was so glad she was there to see me through it. I would have been very scared without her.
Here’s my thing: I hate needles. I can’t stress that enough. I *HATE* needles. I freak out whenever I have to get blood drawn. I’m not even very good about getting a flu shot. So the idea of someone sticking needles in my hand to numb it up, then stabbing my hand repeatedly to run stitches through it filled me with great anxiety.
I’ve managed to live 31 years without ever having a trip to the ER to get stitches, mend a broken arm or anything of the kind. You can imagine that all of this was a little overwhelming for me.
Finally a resident came in to stitch me up. He numbed my hand and went to work snipping away some of the jagged pieces of flesh that would have prevented the stitches from being flush. I refused to look as he sewed up my hand, but I could feel him tugging at my arm. I could hear the sound of the stitch as it was being pulled though my hand, like someone lacing a shoe. It took everything I had not to jerk my arm away and run home in horror.
As the resident worked, Cami looked on. She’s much better about this kind of thing than I am. She’ll channel surf past Discovery Heath and watch someone having kneecap survey no problem. Meanwhile, I have to leave the house, drive to the woods and cry.
Later, Cami told me that my hand “looked like hamburger,” that the wound bled considerably and that the resident used “a lot of gauze” to soak it all up. Thanks, honey.
Half-way through the procedure, the resident asked me if I’d like to take a look. I told him if there was more work to be done, I didn’t want to see it. For me, it’s all psychological. I can’t know what you’re doing. I prefer to think it’s not even my hand that you’re working on.
As the resident continued to work, nurses and doctors came in and out to observe. “That looks really good,” they said. “Great job!” A man in a white overcoat joked “Not bad for his first stitch job, huh, sir?”
“Doooon’t… do that to me,” I said, desperately trying to cling to my sense of humor.
When it was all said and done, they put 11 stitches in my hand. Again, the resident asked me to look at his work and I sensed a need for approval. “It looks very straight,” I said. And it did, which was amazing considering how jagged the wound was.
The resident patted my leg, said “Take care” and exited the room. I told him “Thank you! I appreciate it! as he walked out, but was left with the impression that he was annoyed that I did not give him more praise for his effort. I felt bad.
Cami and I left the hospital to pick up Henry from day care. He was very good natured about the whole thing and, of course, asked lots of questions. We explained to him that Daddy had an accident and took a ride in an ambulance. “Wee-ooo-wee-ooo,” he questioned, as he mimicked the sound of ambulance sirens.
“Do you feel better, Daddy” he asked. “I feel better,” I said. “You feel better and the owie goes away from you,” he said. This kid gets it.
We cleaned the blood out off the kitchen floor and out of the kitchen sink. But where I cut my hand in the garage still looks like a murder scene. There was a lot more blood in there than I thought there was. Drops all over the floor. A light splatter draped across my work bench – enough blood to drip and pool below.
I pretty much spent the rest of Wednesday night and all day Thursday with my hand on ice and elevated above my head. I didn’t do much of anything else. I ended up watching The Boondock Saints and part of Man On Fire before I fell asleep. I spent the rest of my time feeling the pulse of my heartbeat in the palm of my hand.
I changed the dressing on my hand for the first time last night. I almost barfed. I get my stitches out next week. I’m not looking forward to it.
When it’s all said and done, it could have been much worse. I could have mangled my thumb. I could have twisted up the tendons in my hand like spaghetti noodles around a fork. I could have ended up with a dead hand.
People suffer worse injuries all the time and some don’t see it through the other side. But like I said before, this was all a first for me, so it felt like a big deal.
2009 has been a tough year so far. I’ve watch friends lose jobs, go through divorce, suffer miscarriages and some lose their lives. I lost my job and nearly lost my hand. Sometimes I wonder how much bad stuff has to happen before something good comes along.
But I realize that I have a lot of good in my life that I experience every day. I have a wonderful family, good friends and people who care about me. The hand thing is a minor setback, but this too shall pass. And you’d better believe that no matter how bad you think you have it, someone always has it much, much worse.
If nothing else, this accident could be the universe telling me to slow down a little and appreciate what I have more – something I think all of us are guilty of from time to time.
Meanwhile, the best thing for me now is to take a little time, rest and recover. I want to say thanks to the people that have shown support and hopefully I will be back up to speed making comics again soon!
Best wishes and take care!