2002 Anne Horton Writing Award
"Her Strength Became Mine"
It all began with an idea that stemmed from a gift from my in-laws, and the extreme love of woodworking. The gift was a collapsible snack table with a beautiful flower print on its surface, which they had brought back from Mexico. My love for woodworking has lingered inside of me since my days in junior high. With a new idea in my head, the NFL playoffs visible in the near future, and the Christmas season approaching fast, it was time for me to turn my hobby into a second income. The day was October 22, 2000, a day that would try every aspect of my life, from my love of woodworking to my mental strength.
The day began like any other Sunday. My two oldest children were off at friends for the day, the wife was at work, and it was only an hour from kick-off. As the game was about to start, I had made a large bowl of popcorn and poured a glass of Pepsi for my three year old and me. My team, the Minnesota Vikings, was televised on Fox 18 that day, and with the fact that I live in Illinois I anticipated the phone calls from those poor Bears fans I called friends. During the game I received several phone calls criticizing every mistake that my team happened to commit.
As the game came to an exciting eleven point fourth quarter, come from behind victory over the Buffalo Bills, it was time to begin the work in my wood-shop, which was located in a secluded corner of my basement. My three-year-old went to her room to play with her dolls while I headed down the stairs. Once in my shop I gathered the pine two-by-eights which were needed to start my project. The boards first needed to be crosscut to a 16-inch length using a Black and Decker compound miter-saw. After cutting about ten pieces to length, I needed to set up the 10 inch Bench Top table saw, which would be used to rip the boards to a 1/2-inch thickness. While setting up the table saw, I realized that the safety guards, which cover the 10-inch, saw blade did not fit between the rip-fence and the blade. Against all prior safety training, I removed the guard, determined to complete the project regardless of the risk I had been taking.
With my mindset, and the materials ready, I flicked the switch to its on position. The blade began screaming as it turned at over 1200 RPM's. Just the sound of the power emanating before me, erased all the thoughts of negligence I had once envisioned. As I began to feed the boards slowly into the blade, it whined deeply as it ripped through the thick sappy wood. I repeated the operation over and over, with my fingers inching closer with every pass. Several repetitions later, the first board had been ripped into fifteen identical pieces without incident. Now, with more confidence about not working safely, I continued the steps for several hours, glancing at my watch after every board was completed. With the Sunday night game approaching rapidly, I began to feed the boards into the saw at a more upbeat pace, causing the saws motor to strain, not only because of the faster pace, but also the impounding buildup of hot sticky sap on the blade.
After about 300 cuts and the air filled with a harsh smelling grayish fog, and my fingers dangerously close to the blade, I heard an echoing pop. At first thought, it was simply a knot having been shattered from the wood's core. Just as a precaution, I flipped the power switch off. As the hum of the blade slowed, I glanced in the direction of my left hand. There, in the center of my hand, dangled the tip of my middle finger, blood spurting profusely from the nearly decapitated first knuckle. Due to being in shock, I finally realized the loud pop previously heard was the bone in the tip of my middle finger shattering. As I saw the blood steaming from my hand, my head became light, my knees weakened, and the room darkened. Just at that instant, a vision of my daughter, alone and scared, appeared in my darkening eyes, forcing me to refocus and face the reality of the nightmare I was now part of With the pain more intense and the blood loss mounting, I reached for a clean shop rag and wrapped it tightly around my hand and fingers. Then with my hand wrapped, I dashed up the stairs, skipping several steps, leaving a trail of splattered blood as I rushed for the bathroom. Once in the bathroom, I slowly removed the rag from my fingers, hoping not to tear the tiny piece of skin that was joining what was left of its' tip, and immersed them under cool running water to rinse away any sawdust that may have penetrated the wound.
Just then, my daughter (Destiny) entered the room, curious to my state of urgency. As she approached, she was able to see the vast amount of blood scattered across the base of the tub, and sense my discomfort. She crept up behind me and began rubbing my back gently "Are you ok?" she asked. Her concern was obvious, and the comfort of her touch gave me the focus I had lost just a short time ago. Now, knowing what needed to be done, I called my sister-in-law for a ride to the Emergency Room. While I waited for her to arrive, I began to clean up the blood, which I had tracked, throughout the house. Once my headstrong three-year-old realized what I was doing, she grabbed a damp rag, and assisted me with my task. As we work together, I explained to her what had happened, while trying to hide the extreme pain I was in. After reaching the hospital, Destiny told everyone who entered the room the purpose of my visit, "My daddy cut his fingers." After having the tip of my middle finger amputated, I realized that if it hadn't been for her presence and adult-like behavior, I just might not have survived, or at least kept my love for woodworking.