Sunday, August 12, 2018

My Left Thumb, or How I Learned To Start Worrying And Love My Body

By Forest Puha

Note: the following article has graphic medical pictures. Viewer discretion advised.

A month and a half ago, I was cutting wood with a circular saw and then I cut open my thumb.

Yeah. I make that seem low-key, but it's actually more painful, time-consuming and life-altering than it sounds.

It was fun to drop everything, including my tools, and yell in pain. It was fun to run inside and watch my family try not to faint. It was fun to rush to the nearest clinic, freaking out the staff, getting injected with whatever painkillers they had and arguing about whether or not antibiotics are covered under insurance while I was mildly stoned. Fun times all around.

Partly as a record to remind myself of what NOT to do in an emergency, and partly as a teaching opportunity to everyone else, this article will go over what happened and how you can prevent the same thing from happening to you. I learned a lot, including that ignoring common sense will only result in bad things for myself and everyone around.

Here's what happened using re-created photographs of the incident.



The equipment I was using at the time. As follows: 3M-brand eye wear protection, 3M brand silicone earplugs, a Master Mechanic brand handheld electric circular saw, and cheap generic black elastic gloves with yellow leather finger protection.

Note that the gloves are neither full leather or employ knuckle protection. This is Mistake #1.



I was sawing wood for a project, using my wooden table as a cutting platform. Note that I failed to secure the wood to the table surface with a clamp. This is Mistake #2.

I operated the saw with one hand, while holding onto the piece of wood with another. This is Mistake #3. Never, never, NEVER hold a handheld power tool with only one hand, ESPECIALLY a saw.



When operating a power saw, sometimes the wood will shift while cutting. Because the saw blade can only move in one direction at a time (forwards) any subtle movement will gather more wood than the saw's engine can handle, which forces the blade to suddenly stop. The momentum generated by the blade will be transferred into the saw, and as a result, the saw kicked back on me while I was holding onto it. It's not a problem with two hands...



...but I was only holding onto the saw with my right hand, and holding onto the wood with my left hand. The kickback of a power saw is like the recoil of a full-size rifle or shotgun. I had no control and I paid the price. I felt the saw and it really hurt more than normal. I looked down, saw drips of blood and very gently pulled the glove away. It was a gashing, gaping wound. The saw had hit the spot of the glove that wasn't covered with leather or any protection, but simple black fabric. Which happened to be right on my Metacarpophalangeal, the middle thumb joint.

 


Photos taken two hours after stitches were removed.

I calmly rushed inside, while my family freaked out over my accident.

Mistake #4: I washed the wound with cold water. Don't do that. The wound has particles of dead skin, leather, plastic, fabric, oil, wood and heaven knows what else inside; it needs to be properly disinfected with sterile solution found at the neighborhood clinic. The clinic promptly informed me I was very lucky; my wound didn't completely expose the tendons in my knuckle, so I wouldn't have to be airlifted to the nearest emergency room for surgery. They could simply put in stitches where I was at.

Then they gave me a shot of something to numb the pain while they stitched up my hand. It took a couple of weeks to be able to grab things and use a computer's keyboard, and a month to where I could bend my fingers around and not be in constant pain.

I learned a great deal from this incident. Mostly, I learned that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer, and that even when I thought I had the required safety gear, I didn't have the RIGHT safety gear. I nearly paid for it with my thumb. It could have been my hand, or my life.

I'm in the market for a new pair of gloves. These Youngstown Utility Kevlar-lined gloves seem like a good start, roughly $30 on Amazon. Supposedly the entire glove is lined with Kevlar, even the fingers. I think they're cheaper than surgery and I'll have to review a pair.


From top to bottom: a carpentry wood clamp, a cast iron C-clamp, and a spring clamp. These are three kinds of clamps I have on hand, cheaply found in any hardware store, and I recommend everyone not only buy them for their tool box, but also USE them whenever you need to hold something down. I neglected to do so and paid the price for my stupidity.



Step 1: slide clamp over object and surface. Step 2: tighten until they don't move. Step 3: you're done. They're so much better than using your hands.
And the clamps allow me to use both hands when operating my power tools now. I have more control over the tool now! It's amazing!


It could have been so much worse.