Truth…yes, I shot myself. More truth, it was with a nail gun.
So there I was…10′ up in the air, on a ladder, using my air-powered nail gun to install soffit under the eves of our 1000sq’ retirement house. Things were going along nicely until I felt a dull stabbing pain in my left index finger. I looked at the finger and there was a nail that had gone through the piece of soffit, through the furring strip and into my finger having entered right beside the knuckle. And yes…I was kind of in disbelief.
So I had to lift my hand up to pull the nail out of my finger, then climb down the ladder. Of course I gently lowered my Hitachi nail gun to the ground first. Once on the ground it really dawned on me what I had just done…and the pain started to show up. Strangely enough it wasn’t a searing or sharp pain…more like a dull ache. I wrapped my handkerchief around my finger to stem the blood flow.
I started to walk to the cabin…then it dawned on me, “Why walk the 100 yards?” So I turned and headed to the UTV to drive the 100yards to the cabin where my Family First Aid Kit (FFAK) was. All I could think about was getting it washed out, cleaned up, bandaged, and get back to work. Yeah…not thinking real well at the time.
I got to the cabin, retrieved my FFAK, went out to the front deck, and started to asses the damage. I didn’t really think about it at the time…but I was shaking. I used the BandAid Wound Wash to clear away the blood and allow the lidocaine in the Wound Wash to dull some of the pain. It would also help prevent infection due to the antiseptic in it.
I had been thinking about it and while it wasn’t too painful, I started wondering if there was any bone damage…as in penetration of the bone or splintering. Having been an EMT on the street with the fire department for a number of years I knew that if bone damage or fragments were present I could be dealing with not only infection but other more serious issues.
I flexed the finger, it hurt, but was flexible, although not as much as normal, I didn’t sense and grating. I then felt around the entry hole, joint, etc. and could feel no unusual movement or anything like bone fragments. But, I am no expert or doctor so I decided an x-ray was the safe bet on this one.
It was weird…there was this tiny entry hole and no exit hole. I remembered not seeing the tip of the nail poking out the skin. I figured it had slid up the finger right along the bone. Total length inside my finger…about 1-1/4″.
I got it cleaned up, applied some triple antibiotic, and then wrapped 1-1/2″ gauze around it. Now, time to call my wife. After a somewhat brief conversation, once I got her on the phone, it was decided she would double check to see if there was a closer place for treatment than the hospital in the nearby larger town while I would start the 30 minute drive. No, no need for a medi-vac or even an ambulance…not really life threatening or even all that serious in reality.
On the way to town, about half way, she found an emergency clinic that was closer than the hospital emergency room. Cool…it would be closer, probably less waiting time, and obviously cheaper. I asked her to call them back and make sure they accepted our medical insurance.
Making the story much shorter…got to the clinic, I was patient #2, got in quick, x-ray, bandaged up, prescription for 10-days of cephalexin, and I was on my way back to the cabin.
- Issue: I am building a house which can be fairly dangerous due to the potential of construction accidents. Mitigation: I would keep my phone on me at all times in case I was hurt I could call for help. Reality: I had been working on the house for 4 months with not even a close call with an accident. My phone was in the UTV not in my pocket where it should have been.
- Issue: Accidents do happen. Mitigation: We have a well-stocked FFAK for just such instances. Reality: The FFAK was 100 yards away in the cabin
- Issue: Our house is located out in the sticks. Our closest neighbor is 500 yards away. The closest nice neighbor is 1000 yards away, small town 20 minutes away, larger town 30 minutes away. 10 – 12 minutes of fairly rough dirt road just to get to the highway. Mitigation: Keep truck ready to go, keys in the ignition during the day, UTV handy at all times. Reality: Truck improperly parked, no keys in the ignition, didn’t even think about the UTV at first.
- Issue: There is the potential need for emergency medical/accident care. Mitigation: In addition to the FFAK and training, we have a great trauma hospital 30 minutes away, there are two life-flight helicopters available. Reality: I wasn’t sure that I would make the drive myself if shock set in. I don’t know our address to give to 911 to get an ambulance there. I don’t have the GPS coordinates to my house to facilitate a helicopter ride to the hospital.
- Issue: While there is a great trauma hospital 30 minutes away, there might have been closer medical care facilities but I didn’t know that. Mitigation: Pre-identify any potential medical treatment facility. Reality: Not done.
So there I was…accident victim, alone, 30 minutes from medical care, and honestly…fairly unprepared for it. I always thought that if something serious happened I would call my wife (320 miles and 6 hours away) and let her coordinate the response via phone. Well…reality time! She was busy at work. First call to her office got someone who didn’t know where she was. I then called her cell-phone…ignored. Called her right back…ignored. Called her right back…text message response…she was busy and would call me back later. Called her right back…text message response…she was busy right then and couldn’t talk. Called her right back…she answered and was a little miffed, she had been working with a client.
While she was talking I spoke over her, “I just shot myself and I need to go to the hospital.”
Yeah, that got her quiet. Shortening the story…the plan…
- She started to coordinate the response while I headed into town.
- She was to call me back in 20 minutes to make sure I was still mobile.
- She would check to see if there was a closer medical treatment facility. Yeah…Google it!
- She would call ahead to the hospital to let them know I was coming.
- She found a closer emergency treatment clinic.
- I went there instead.
- She called ahead to let them know I was coming.
- She called them back to make sure they took our medical insurance.
- She called me back and kept me on speaker phone while I drove to the clinic…about 15 minutes.
Lessons Learned –
- Having the cell phone on me as a mitigation step was a great idea…if I would have had it on me. I had grown complacent. So, I need to stick with our mitigation strategy and avoid complacency.
- Having a great FFAK was wonderful! Having it 100 yards away from the worksite was not a very good idea. So maybe a better idea would be to move it to the worksite. But, considering I spend more time at the cabin than the worksite…maybe not such a great idea. Better idea might be to have two FFAKs…or at least a scaled down version at the worksite to provide immediate first aid till I got to the FFAK at the cabin.
- Having cell-phone communications with my wife is great! Depending on her to coordinate a medical response…not so much. Rework that whole mitigation strategy for more practical response/coordination.
- Having great medical treatment centers nearby is fantastic! Knowing where each is, what their level of trauma care they can handle, and how to get there is absolutely necessary. And all of that needs to be done in advance of the actual accident.
- Having ambulances and life-flight helicopters available is an incredible blessing. Knowing how to get them to your location could be considered imperative. Knowing that in advance of an accident is a necessity.
I am recovering nicely. Finger is at about 75%, mostly no swelling, no infection, and very little discomfort. And I know I got lucky. There were a number of points along the way that could have made things turn out far differently. Fortunately, I can learn from this experience…and maybe you can learn something from my experience as well.
It’s great to have plans in-place to deal with risks/threats…but only if they are realistic. And part of that means that you actually have taken the mitigation steps. The other main take-away for me…avoid complacency. I became complacent and left my cell-phone in the UTV vs. having it on my person. What if the nail had actually nailed my hand to the house where I couldn’t climb down off the ladder? Then what? Yeah, I hate to think about that one.
Accidents are real. Risks and threats are real. It doesn’t take an emergency, disaster, or grid-down event to require advance planning to mitigate the potential of injury or worse. Neglect mitigation steps at your own peril…or that of your family.
Whatever project/task you are involved with:
- Identify what realistically can hurt you.
- Develop a realistic mitigation plan.
- Stick to the plan.
- Avoid complacency.
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