Monday, March 31, 2014

Just a Little Bit Off The Top

 Recently I mentioned that I had an accident last year where I lost a bit off of my left pinkie finger. This was quite a significant event in my life and I thought just for posterity's sake, maybe I should put the experience down in writing. So with no further adieu, here is the story...

It happened on October 21st 2013. It was around 4pm or so. I have 94 Chevy truck with bald tires. They weren't bald when I bought the truck, but they are now. The problem is, the truck has a lift on it and so the tires are bigger, and expensive to replace, a fact that didn't seem to bother me when I purchased the truck. The tires have needed replacing for a good three to four years, but I have been putting it off and putting it off, unwilling to fork over the dough to get new tires. It's never been that pressing since I don't drive the truck very often, just the occasional trip to the dump or to help someone haul something big somewhere. Funny how when you own a truck, it seems like every man and his dog needs a favor. But I digress.

It just so happened on this beautiful Fall day my wife and I were taking a load of our neighbor's leaves to the dump. It was my first day off from working the night shift at work and I was running on about three hours of sleep. It was a warm day and I had my window down as we drove down the country road that led to the dump. A few miles from home I began to hear a sound, psst psst psst psst. The sound was in sync with the rotation of my rear tire. My first thought was that there must be a small rock trapped in the tread of my tire, until I suddenly realized I had no tread – not enough to trap a rock in anyway.

It didn't take long to realize the sound was air escaping from my tire, and it wasn't long after that we were pulled off to the side of the road and walking home. I did not have a spare or tools in the truck. Luckily a good Samaritan neighbor saw us walking and gave us a ride home. Shortly thereafter my wife and I returned to the scene with tools and the spare. I remember commenting to my wife on the way there, that this would be a good opportunity for her to learn how to change a flat. Boy was she about to learn a thing or two about changing a tire!

I had two jacks, a bottle jack from our Suburban, and an old-school bumper jack, like the kind that used to come in cars from the 70s.  
The evil bumper jack

I preferred to use the bottle jack, being aware that bumper jacks and high-lift type jacks can be dangerous as they can tip. It turned out that the bottle jack wasn't quite enough to lift those big thirty five inch tires off the ground. DANG IT.

Against my better judgment it was time to resort to plan B, the bumper jack on a cinder block to give it some height. I recall that as I was setting up this sketchy looking improvisation there was a voice inside of me telling me to WALK AWAY. I didn't have the right tools for the job. I should go buy the right kind of jack or call a tire store and let them come out and take care of it. But no, that's not me. I have kind of a problem solver in my make up, always looking for a way to accomplish the task. And that brought me to my situation: a ¾ ton truck jacked off the ground by the rear bumper, on a bumper jack, sitting on a cinder block.

I had the tire off – that voice in my head practically screaming at me to stop – and was trying to get the spare on, but needed to jack the truck up maybe just one more inch to line the holes up with the bolts. I grabbed the jack handle, and I am not exaggerating when I say I had this inexplicable feeling of terror as I ratcheted up the truck one more notch. I couldn't figure out why the apprehension. Everything at a glance seemed to be right. I had changed tires before... why was this different? Another click as the jack cranked up one more notch, the rear bumper of the truck creaking and groaning under the enormous weight it was supporting.

I remember thinking, One more aught to do it. CLICK!

At that moment I realized why the scary feelings, why the voice inside... too late. I had made a fatal mistake, something I should have known, something I should have seen. I blame it on the fact that I was running on so few hours of sleep. For those reading this who don't know, a truck is rear wheel drive. That means when you put the vehicle in park, it's the rear tires that are in park, not the front wheels. The front wheels remain free to spin.

Well, by raising the rear of the truck that last little inch, I had lifted the back wheels off the ground, leaving the front wheels free to roll forward. In my memory, the first movement seemed so subtle and small. I could see the truck just barely beginning to roll forward off the jack. Instinctively, I reached out with my left hand and grabbed the jack, hoping to stop my truck from falling off the jack and landing on the bare, exposed wheel hub and axle. I'm here to tell you, that once a ¾ ton truck starts to move, you ain't stopping it with your arm. It's gonna go, and you had better get clear!

Unfortunately for me, there was no time to second guess my actions. As soon as I grabbed that jack, WHAM! My left pinkie was trapped between the bumper of the truck and the jack. I could also feel, as the truck began to fall, the jack rolling up my hand and pinching my next finger as well. I knew this was very very bad, and chose at that moment to just jerk my hand free, before any more of it wound up trapped between steel.

The truck made an awful sound as it banged hard on the ground with a big crash. My finger was stinging, but didn't hurt too bad – I thought for a moment that I had escaped serious injury. Then I saw my wife's face as she looked at mine, and I knew something wasn't quite right. In fact, I learned later from her, that what she had seen from her perspective was a bunch of blood splatter my face as the truck fell, like someone had whacked a tomato with a hammer nearby.

Reluctantly, I brought my hand in front of my face. And there was my poor mangled pinkie finger, pulverized, the torn flesh hanging and bleeding around the exposed bone!


In the ER.  That dark triangular shape is my
finger bone.  yuck!

If you have never had the chance to see one of your own bones before, let me assure you that it has a shocking effect on the system. In fact, as my wife was driving me moments later to the ER, I passed out in the car from shock. I passed out one more time in the ER as the doctors and nurses were fiddling around with the injury... there's something about having a cold, saline-soaked gauze pad dropped roughly on exposed bone that causes me to pass out as well.

I should finish this up, as this is already a really long post. So, to make a long story short here's how it ended. The ER doctor told me that I was going to lose about half of my finger. But, a plastic surgeon who just happened to be hanging around came and looked at it. Since I'm not a smoker, he was able to perform a procedure where he sewed my finger to the palm of my hand. If I had been a smoker, this procedure would not have been possible due to constricted capillaries and not enough blood flow.

I ended up having my finger sewed to my hand for about six weeks, and I'm happy to say things went about as well as I could expect. I am still recovering, but I still have use of the finger even though it's a bit shorter now and can be sensitive to certain things, like cold and it hurts now to use my pinkie to try to play chords on the guitar.

In the end though, I am just thankful I wasn't injured more seriously, or even killed. I walked away from what could have been a very serious or deadly accident and I feel so blessed to be able to say that. And if I've learned anything it's to listen to that inner voice next time when it's trying to warn you. If you are experiencing feelings of terror while performing a task, there's probably a reason! Use the right tools to do the job, and if it's a big job where a mistake could mean injury... wait until you've had some sleep and you're thinking clearly!

And now you know... the rest of the story.

Over and out.

After the first surgery, my finger
stitched to my hand

After the 2nd Surgery to release the finger

This picture shows how much of my finger I lost... 
maybe a quarter of an inch


Anonymous said...

Feeling Grateful and Nauseous...all rolled up into one! Glad it was just a "little bit off the top"....I'll be listening a little more closely myself!

Vvajk said...

Yes, I'd prefer if it had not happened at all, but the optimist in me says, if you're going to have a body part smashed off in an accident, I couldn't have done much better than the tip of my left pinkie finger. Things could've been a lot worse.

Anonymous said...

One more thought I've had since reading must have a great DESTINY in your future. I know of one other time, involving your inability to turn your vehicle into the driveway of a friend who lived on a hill, that your life and well-being were spared! You're something special!

Vvajk said...

I had completely forgotten all about that incident. Another one of "those things".

wphlongmore said...

How about a picture from the present day? We want to see the fingernail too. (We is Esther and I.)

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