December 16, 2009

An anniversary of sorts

On Dec. 16, 1999 I cut off my fingers in a sawmill accident. Ten years ago today.

I remember the event well; the weather, the environs, the people around me. One of those people was my brother Jamie, who was working on the same machine as me, stacking the wood that I was cutting on the chop saw. I remember the ice pack duct taped to my hand, being on the edge of vomiting, the hurried ride to the Kamloops hospital. I remember the air ambulance to Vancouver. I remember waking up from surgery after 22 hours under the knife, I remember realizing I would not be in Maui for Christmas, as was then the plan.

I remember Jamie, days later, in the Vancouver General Hospital Burns and Plastics unit, closer to Christmas. Laying hands on me, he asked God for help with the re-attached digits that I lost from my left hand. I remember Jamie asking a God who has shown he can move mountains, that perhaps he could help these little fingers see life again. Jamie was the last to leave the hospital room that evening.
I remember crying to myself after he left, hoping for the same.

On Dec. 28th, 1999 the now-dead fingers were removed again.


Ten years later, I often think—but never wonder—about that bedside prayer.
The accident was—as I see it—a catalyst to becoming a closer immediate family that we still have today. Lots of hugs and kisses of greeting, lots of sharing what’s on our mind, lots more ‘I love you’. We were close, mind you, but we were not “that kind of family” before that point. And that kind of closeness has helped us through other family tragedies of much greater consequence in more recent years. Thank goodness for building blocks.

Without the accident, I never would have interacted with the Workers’ Compensation Board. FYI: it was as positive an experience as an injured worker could hope to have. More importantly, it led to my first “real” job, in the WCB communications department. This was the opposite side of the fence that I thought my career was going to be running along, as at the time of my accident I was enrolled in Journalism school. Ten years later, I’m still happy to be in PR rather than journalism. The current economic climate means that as news rooms and media conglomerates close down and file for bankruptcy protection, I’m in a field with more jobs than ever as governments and companies scramble for good communications in a bad news environment. Would I have been here if I hadn’t gotten into that accident? Maybe, but who knows. Doesn’t matter, because I got a kick start. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

We have a family friend who chopped off a few digits around the same time as me. His fingers were successfully reattached. He struggled / struggles with remaining sensitivity and mobility issues that I never had to deal with, simply for the fact that I did not have the reattached digits to rehabilitate. I got to work on healing and moving on.

Without the accident, I’d be without the best built-in physical comedy prop... aside from my big ears and clumsiness... that I could ever ask for (reference here: finger stump-up-nose-sight gag). It has entertained children, as it will mine someday, once they figure out that “daddy has a funny hand”. And that sort of gag has led to questions about physical difference and disability from many that ultimately brings people to a little bit of understanding and a broadened horizon or two. Nothing wrong with that either, I say.

So here I am. I can’t take back a moment in a sawmill from ten years ago but these days, I can see I don’t need to.

As for what happened with that bedside prayer a decade ago? My digits ended up in a hospital incinerator, so no, I don’t think they were particularly blessed.

But it feels like maybe, just maybe, the rest of me, was.