Last night my husband got a call from one of our dearest friends. This friend had accidentally amputated his own index finger and additionally hurt his arm badly with a saw while cutting a fence. When Ralph told me this I felt this wave of sadness and a sinking feeling in my stomach. The nearest episode I could remember feeling this way about was when my uncle had a horrific bicycle accident and lost his spleen, years and years ago. In these situations my mind immediately goes to the trauma and loss of the moment, the rush to the hospital or emergency room, the painful healing time passed, all as I unawares watched movies with my family or scrubbed pots and pans in my sink while belaboring the mundane nature of my housework or what I’d cook for dinner the next night.
This morning, perhaps in unintentional sympathy although for no conscious reason I can think of, while working at the farm I cut myself three times on my left hand in about fifteen minutes. The third time was the worst. A group of about six of us had been standing around pulling, clipping the root from, and then trimming the greens off kohlrabi (a vegetable I have almost as little respect for as rainbow chard) to set aside for harvest. The little fish-monger’s knife I’d been loaned looks cheap but is evilly serrated and sharp, biting me twice. Each time I slow my work to a more sedate pace. Then just as I ask a fellow worker more about his permaculture project I slice deep into the side of my index finger. The work party is listening and this man continues to talk to me about perennial mainteneance as I jump and stick my finger in my mouth. My body floods with very minor shock. I taste the grit of dirt and the gagging taste of blood. A lot of blood. I try to reassemble myself and keep working, but I’m bleeding enough that the beautiful purple orb I’m holding grows slick and fat, hot drops of bright red are splatting on my jeans. Still no one notices, and in these brief seconds I feel like a schoolgirl with wet pants waiting for a teacher to notice, take pity, and dismiss me. Finally (this is probably only ten seconds later) I dismiss myself. “Are you okay?” my cohorts ask, now staring at my hand hot with blood while I shake it off into the grass. “I’m fine, fine, I just can’t ignore how much it’s bleeding,” I reply as I set off back across the field to the sunroom where we (hopefully) keep sterile bandages, and feeling very, very foolish.
As it turns out, there is little chance for much sterility and no chance for what I really need now: clean, dry gloves (which I will now wear to keep the wound from getting packed with soil) and my own knife which I now know I should have been using in the first place. I make the administrative decision to run home and back in fifteen minutes. My hand hurts: the initial sting now giving way to a deepset throb. But the most overwhelming feeling I have as I’m driving off the farm to home is one of defeat and shame. I realize that to me somehow in the work environment someone who hurts themselves is a liability; a person who for the sake of shortcut or machismo does not employ training or common sense. The brief period I will not be working – equivalent in duration to a bathroom trip or cigarette break – now looms in my mind as an episode where I am not carrying my share.
I also realize that I hate it when my hands are hurt. My hands are my livelihood. I hate it when they are rough or have hangnails and certainly an actual injury gets in my way and feels oddly unhygienic. I think of all the organs of my body that I wish to maintain good care for, it’s my hands that come to mind as my primary tool (Sweet Lord Jesus, do not test me on this by sending me some horrific trauma I have heretofore not experienced. Thank you for my good health and strong, capable body).
By the time I drive back onsite (washed, bandaged, gloved, and armed with the correct tool) I feel ready to work again and glad I took care of myself properly. I check back in at the sunroom and head out to the field. On the way out I pass Penny, who is also sporting a bloody hand from the same knife and I direct her to my bandage supply. And as much as I’m sad she has hurt herself, I am also inescapably glad I was not the only one to display tool incompetence.
Penny and I share a set of gloves for the next task – weeding, and then clearing rotten cabbage out of a bed – before breaktime.