Weekly Edgework #7 - Aug 16, 2004

Another Cut or Two

I remember as a youth being enamored with the poetry of Robert Frost. His imagery was vivid, stark and always full of life. In his poem, Out, Out, he recounts the tragic story of how a young lad lost his hand – and his life - to the buzz-saw while helping his father cut wood for the winter’s fuel supply. I never forgot the first line: The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard… It was time to quit, but in spite of a daughter’s pleas to come to supper, the father decides to cut just a few more pieces of firewood. Supper could wait. But, as Frost has it, At the word, (supper) the saw leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap. He must have given the hand. However it was, neither refused the meeting.

As a young man I could relate to the poem because I too had often helped my father cut wood on our buzz-saw. And my father also had a habit of making supper wait while we finished up a job – squeezed in just a little more work. See, I told myself, if only one weren’t so eager to work on an empty stomach – when supper is waiting - accidents could be avoided.

Fourteen months ago the words of Robert Frost came back to haunt me in a more literal sense. I was cutting baseboards in our basement on my brother-in-law’s mitre saw. It was almost supper-time but I wanted the job finished before I ate. Measure, mark, hold, cut, fasten. Measure, mark, hold, cut, fasten. And then it happened. Two cuts short of the end, I held the baseboard with the wrong hand. In a split second the saw leaped out – or did I give my arm – and the damage was done. A deep cut just above the wrist!

This afternoon, after two surgeries, dozens of physio-therapy appointments, and lots of pain and inconvenience, I shook Diane’s hand firmly, thanked her for sticking with me through it all, and walked out of the physio-therapy department of our local hospital for the last time. I am fortunate to have regained almost full use of my hand on the cut arm. Unlike the boy in Robert Frost’s poem, I still have life and limb.

On my bike ride home this afternoon, I reflected back on the accident and the long journey toward healing. Yes, the entire experience was so senseless. If only I had slowed down and been more careful, I could have skirted this fourteen-month journey. If only! But now, riding back into life with two hands that work reasonably well, I am thankful. It could have been worse.

Indeed, on my many visits to the Health Science Center in Winnipeg and my physio-therapist in Steinbach, I met, oh, so many persons whose personal situations were much worse than mine. I saw a burn victim with nothing but scar tissue on her face. I saw people without limbs. I talked to some who live with constant pain. I noticed that some people had given up hope for any kind of normal life. Always when I was discouraged, I was reminded that my suffering and inconvenience was minor compared to that of many others. I am thankful that my accident, careless as it was, has put me in touch with a wide swath of humanity that suffers daily. I will be more sensitive to their sufferings in the future because of this fourteen-month journey.

I have also come to appreciate much more the many medical practitioners who lend their skills and often their hearts to the recovery process of so many! I saw people under tremendous pressure give careful and focused attention to individuals one at a time. Some were people of faith, others were not. But always the human spirit of grace and gentleness rose to the surface to care for me and my fellow pilgrims who had been side-lined for a time.

As I glided down the side-garden path to park my bike behind the house, I was filled with a deep sense of joy. I have a few more scars on a body rapidly sweeping past its prime. But I also have an enlarged experience and an enlarged heart because of this fourteen-month trek. On the one hand I would rather not have taken this journey. On the other, I wouldn’t want to be without it.

In Robert Frost’s account, the boy dies from loss of blood. No more to build on there. And they, since they were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

In my case, I am alive to reflect on what happened. So I finish my poem with a slight alteration. Something to build on here. And I, since I live to tell the tale, turn to my affairs – a little wiser and a whole lot more careful!