Tuesday, 20 July 2010

My first real injury

At 8:15 am on Saturday July the 10th, I sustained my first serious woodworking injury. Actually - my first serious injury of any kind. I have never broken a bone, and other than this injury - had not needed hospital care other than to be born.

I was home by myself for the week - Jill and the boys were at a week long children’s camp and I was using the time to log some serious shop hours. Everything was going great until Saturday morning - the day they were to return home. I was fitting the rear infill of an A5 - something I have done dozens of times when something new happened - total wood failure. I was holding a chisel in my left hand and taking a very small paring cut on the shoulder of the rear infill when the wood blew out. Suddenly there was no wood between the chisel and the tip of my right index finger - so it proceeded to drive in all the way to the first knuckle. It was a rather shocking experience. My first three thoughts were,

“it is still attached, I can still wiggle my finger and how am I going to get to the hospital?”

I ran down the stairs (turned the lights off on my way down) and out into the front yard (drip, drip, drip) to see if any of our neighbours were home. The van was in the drive across the street, so I ran over. Thankfully they were home. I then realized I did not have my health card with me.

Run back home (drip, drip, drip).

And run back again ((drip, drip, drip).

We arrived at the hospital in great time, were checked in very quickly and took a seat to wait. When they unwrapped and washed my had, I felt a bit woozie - so they put me on a gurney just to be safe. This was the point at which everything started to register and the waiting became a serious mental exercise in keeping it all together. I was hopeful that I had not severed any tendons, but I did not really know what my finger looked like or if anything was broken or if the bone had been damaged.

Finally they called my name to see a doctor. They took a look at it and asked what I had cut myself with - “it was an incredibly clean cut”. I told them a very good chisel (I am sure there must have been a bit of a smile on my face at the time). I had cut my finger from the very tip down to the first knuckle - the chisel was wide enough that it had cut through the top and bottom and I was left with a very large “flap”. They decided they should X-ray it just to be safe. I waited a few minutes and then Scott showed up, a young guy with a friendly smile - he immediately put me at ease. On my ride to the x-ray room he asked;

S - “so how did you cut your finger?”

K - “A chisel”

S - “oh, are you a woodworker?”

K - “yes - kinda. I make woodworking hand planes”

S - “cool. I just bought one from Lee Valley. It was really expensive - but works great”

K - “Yeah - they make great stuff. What type of work did you buy the plane for?”

S - “I make guitars and I needed a good tool to smooth and shape the fingerboards”

K - “Oh. Do you have a hard time finding Rosewood for the fingerboards?”

I swear the gurney stopped and his face slowly appeared upside down above my own.

S - “pardon?”

I repeated the question which resulted in a great distracting conversation for the rest of the ride to and from the x-ray room. Scott - feel free to call anytime.

A little while later the nurse practitioner came back to confirm that the tendons were fine and there was no damage to the bone. Needless to say - I was incredibly relived. At this time, I felt I should divulge that this was my first injury (ever) and that I was a bit squeamish. Her bedside manner was incredible and she put me at ease and helped keep my very calm throughout the entire process.

The pair of freezing needles in my finger hurt the most and the actual stitching went very well. She explained everything as she went and did an exceptional job of keeping me engaged in distracting conversation.

I was home by 12 noon.

While I was in the hospital waiting - one of the many fears that creeped in was the condition of the rear infill of the A5 I had been fitting. I honestly had no idea what had happened and if it was totally destroyed or it if would be repairable. The handle had been fully shaped and the adjuster slot had been fit - so it was quite far along. One of the first things I did when I got home was check to see what it looked like;

I found that big chip 5' away from where it happened. Miraculously - the only damage to the handle was a small chip out of the corner and a small scratch on the inside. Both of which are easily repairable... so the handle is still usable. I will need to sand out the blood spatter too.

Here is the chisel and a few drips.

And my bandaging from the hospital. I should also mention that the injury was to my right hand - thankfully I am a lefty.

Here are a few photos of the finger on day 3;

And day 10 right after the stitches were removed.

The doctor who removed the stitches was shocked at how quickly and how well everything had healed up. She told me to keep it covered but I could return to work as long as I keep it clean and used any discomfort and pain as indicators of what I could and could not do.

I have been writing this entry over the last few days - now that I have a bit of perspective on everything, and to be quite frank - now that I feel like I am out of the woods.

Looking back on the last 12 days - there are a few things that stand out and really are the reason for this post.

For all the complaining about our health care system I have to say - I was completely impressed with the care during my emergency experience. I realize that while this was a crisis for me, the ER staff experience stuff like this each and every day. What was so incredible to me was their capacity to treat me like a person, spend a few minutes getting to know me, to put me at ease and care for me as if I were a member of their family. It takes a very special person to have those gifts, and I felt like I was surrounded by them. My deepest thanks and gratitude to Corina, Scott and the rest of the amazing people at Grand River Hospital.

There have been quite a few other people who helped out over the last 12 days. To Rod and Lisa for getting me to and from the hospital, Dr. Dietrich (aka Voodoo) and Joanne for all the care, insight, and laser treatments, to Mrs. Hare - the other witchdoctor in my life for keeping the whole system running smoothly and to Maria for enjoying lacerations even when she is on maternity leave, to my parents and our friends who stepped in to help keep me distracted. And to Jill, Riley and Lucas. Who helped keep me calm, helped wash my back, and knew just when I needed a hug.

Lastly - there is a safety side to all this. I have always had a very healthy fear of power tools, but have always been very comfortable with hand tools. I am always telling Riley and Lucas to be aware of where their hands are when they are working and to anticipate what would happen if something went wrong. I spent the first several days playing this event back in my head, looking for what I did wrong. Part of it really was a bit of a freak accident - but I also need to take responsibility for it and alter the way I work to avoid something like this again. I was also very lucky that my neighbours were home - I do not know what I would have done otherwise. When Joe and I started making planes we would often work into the wee hours of the night - something I do not do very often, but again - if something serious were to happen, no one would find me until it was too late. So please - enjoy your woodworking, have a plan in case something happens and do not work during or after you have enjoyed a pint.

My friend Raney reminded me of a warning posted by Lie Nielsen;

“Warning: Sharp chisels are dangerous and should be handled with care. Dull chisels are even more dangerous and should be sharpened.”

I think that about sums it up.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great to hear that you are healing well.
Reminds me of my worst woodworking injury, also hand tool, in which a dozuki went 'sideways' on me and nearly went through my index finger to the bone opening up a large flap.

I'm going to go home and re-sharpen all my chisels tonight :-)

Probably not a bad idea to put a reminder in your blog that as a Canadian, you got good health care without having to mortgage your house or paying a fortune in insurance.
(although politics are not really needed in a woodworking forum, sometimes a gentle reminder is not a bad idea)

26 July 2010 at 11:47  
Blogger Jameel Abraham said...

Welcome to the club Konrad! I won't share the grisly details of my injury many years ago (2" Forstner bit into the left thumb) but you should feel good about one thing, it wasn't stupidity that caused your injury, unlike mine, which I actually knew was going to happen and did it anyway. Don't feel bad about getting whoozy either. I turned white when I first looked at my thumb too. But you're right, those pain-numbing needles were much more painful that the injury itself. Thank God it wasn't worse. Heal well...

26 July 2010 at 11:59  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see that the injury is healing well, Konrad. Look after yourself.

Cheers ;-)

Paul Chapman

26 July 2010 at 13:10  
Blogger Ben said...

Don't worry about being squeamish. I had stitches literally 7 or 8 times before I was 10 years old, and then gave myself a reprieve for about 2 decades--as an older person, the procedure was much, much worse than I remembered, to the point that I almost passed out. Perhaps the recognition of mortality that we call wisdom.
At any rate, glad to hear you're healing up well.

26 July 2010 at 14:31  
Blogger mckenzie said...

glad to hear you're recovering well. I work in the shop alone as well, my wife isn't a big fan of this and always runs me through worst case scenarios.


26 July 2010 at 14:47  
Blogger matt@thuja said...

Glad to hear you're healing up and that your hospital time was brief...My knuckle had a similar experience with my marking knife last year...those Japanese do make good cutting edges eh ;)


26 July 2010 at 16:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a sad right of passage, but I think you can now call yourself a real woodworker...

I have a couple, how you say, souvenirs of bad judgment that are a daily reminder to pay attention.

Take care,

Eric in Nova Scotia

26 July 2010 at 19:45  
Anonymous JERM said...

Glad the finger has healed so nicely. I can tell you have not been injured that much as you did not immediately wipe the blood drips off the wood =)

26 July 2010 at 21:18  
Blogger The Hartley's 3 said...

Glad to hear you are on the mend. I as well have had my share of finger injuries. Good reminder of the sharp chisel being dangerous only less than the dull ones. I need to sharpen next time I'm in the shop.


27 July 2010 at 00:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you're OK. I did a similar thing with a LN chisel across my first knuckle last year... no needles! They superglued mine! I kid thee not. It stayed on for maybe 4 days and then came off but it was enough to heal the wound.

I have been teaching my wife the way of the woodworker... Rule #1 never,ever bleed on the wood!
Rule #2 no crying either on or off the wood!

Heal fast - John Keeling

27 July 2010 at 14:22  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks everyone for you well wishes and comments. In a sick and twisted sort of way - it is nice to know may others have injured themselves and come out the other end.

Jameel... a 2" forstner bit... Really? Yikes - that must have been one ugly mess my friend!

Benito - you are right - it was a reminder of mortality.

Tyler - if our wives ever meet we are in serious trouble!

Matt - if I had to be injured by one of my tools, I am glad it was a Japanese chisel and not the table saw:)

Funny thing about the blood drips. They came off the bench and the plane quite easily - very little staining (I was almost sad it came off so easily).

John - I guess I broke rule number one in spades... but splatter is a little hard to control.

Thanks everyone,

27 July 2010 at 20:31  
Anonymous Steve said...

Glad to hear you're on the mend Konrad, and not looking at any long term problems with the finger. Congrats on making the club!


28 July 2010 at 22:20  
Blogger David said...

Good to hear that every thing went well in you miss shape! It's amazing how clean a cut a chisel can do... Compare to a table saw... Or worst a chain saw!! glad to hear that you are recovering well!

29 July 2010 at 00:53  
Blogger Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

First injury in your late 30's that's impressive!
I've had a few close calls but nothing as gruesome as that,at least not workshop related...
Whenever I injure myself I'm reminded of the words of Lance Murdock,
"Wounds heal & chicks dig scars!"
I like your advice about not working after even 1 beer,I'm sure a lot of workshop incidents occur because people are too relaxed.I believe in a healthy fear of anything sharp,electrical or carbohydrate powered,it only takes a nanosecond of distraction for disaster to strike!
Take care brother,

2 August 2010 at 13:26  
Anonymous Al DaValle said...

Ouch!!! Been there and done that. I'm glad your avoided serious injury.

Warm regards,

3 August 2010 at 13:50  
Blogger lisa said...

I know we live just across the street but I never did get to see the stitches; they look awesome! I'm still sad that I never got to see them get installed.

13 August 2010 at 12:59  
Blogger Tim Raleigh said...

You're lucky.
I cut the heel of my hand sharpening a chisel. It wasn't serious but it does give me a renewed respect for taking breaks.
It was the first accident I have had woodworking but scares the crap out of you.
Every time I visit your site I am amazed by your work - your products and your site.
Thanks for sharing.
Take care.

9 September 2010 at 19:42  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks for the very kind comments about the site and my work Tim. And really glad to hear that your first injury was not too serious. I am still taking a few extra seconds to re-think everything in the shop these days. I guess I am still a bit gun-shy.


9 September 2010 at 20:03  
Blogger Unknown said...

How is your finger feeling now? Mine still aches aroud the scar 5 months after an injury just like this.

28 June 2020 at 21:31  
Blogger Konrad said...

After 10 years, it is as good as it gets I think. Still feels a little wonky in extreme cold or heat, but in the grand scheme of things, could have been a whole lot worse!

22 September 2020 at 14:49  

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