Once they get a taste of blood, you have to put them down.

I've been a woodworker for a long time. I have all sorts of bladed and dangerous tools in my shop -- radial arm saws, table saws, band saws, routers, as well as draw knives, adzes, scorps and travishers. All of these things can reach out and bite you if you're not careful, and some can take very big bites indeed. I've always had a strict safety regimen and I very rarely deviate from it. I always wear my safety glasses like that tool whore Norm Abrams told me to, and I've never had a problem.

It's too bad he never warned me against doing cardio workouts, because if he did, I wouldn't be typing this with nine fingers right now -- although just by looking at him I probably should have guessed that he doesn't approve of that particular activity. So yes. I'm blaming Norm Abrams for this. And each individual member of the band Guster.

Before you get all grossed out, the finger that is sitting this one out is currently doing so at the end of my hand, right where he is usually stationed, however he's sticking straight out and covered in a bandage. He also has his own heartbeat and is throbbing like a mofo because he has a bunch of stitches that are holding his head on, and typing is a giant pain in the pointer. I currently spend most of the day with my hand in the air like I have a very important question.

So here's the short version of the story:

And here's the long version:

I was downstairs in the basement, and wasn't feeling quite up to a P90X workout because it was getting late, so I decided to do a mile or two on the treadmill. As I started running, I heard a loud clacking noise coming from the front of the treadmill. It's almost a gym-quality piece of equipment that we've had for over five years, and until now it's been flawless. I can't work out with the treadmill self-destructing, so I turned it off and decided to take a look. I removed the front cover, just to see if it was something obvious, or something more serious like a bearing.

It really didn't make a lot of noise when it was off, so I started it up slowly, and listened carefully to the drive mechanism, trying to figure out if it was coming from the motor side or the roller side. I still couldn't tell, so (here comes the stupid part) I lightly rested my hand on top of the motor side of the pulley. Hmmm. Felt OK. That meant it was the lower roller pulley. I reached down to touch the top of that pulley and I don't know if I slipped or if it grabbed my finger or what, but the next thing I know there was a noise like someone breaking a pretzel stick that had been wrapped in a wet paper towel, and I yanked my hand back and made a fist. I've had cuts on my fingers before, and this wasn't bleeding much yet so I figured it probably wasn't too serious. I ran upstairs to the bathroom, turned on the water and adjusted the temperature with one hand. I wanted to wash out the cut because my hands were completely covered in grease.

When I put my lacerated and now bleeding finger under the stream of water, the pain was incredible - probably because the tip of my finger from the nail-bed up bent back like a pez dispenser -- a pez dispenser exposing a pez candy that looked a lot like the flavor was "bone." I stopped the water and grabbed a gauze pad from under the sink and wrapped it up tight because it had started bleeding pretty heavily. Then I yelled upstairs for my wife. There must have been some urgency in my voice because when I said, "I fucked up my finger pretty bad," she went into professional EMT mode, even though she's not an EMT. After she made sure she didn't have to go into the basement to pick up any loose digits, she grabbed her keys and off we went.

When we got to the ER thirty minutes later (after following a car going 35 mph the whole way, driven by someone who either had multiple gunshot wounds to the chest or else was just really old) wonder of wonders, there wasn't a bunch of people there before us. The receptionist/nurse took my information and then made me come around the counter and sit in a chair next to her so she could assess the damage.

Of course, by that time, the gauze was extremely hard to remove, since it was stuck to the top half of the finger and every time I tried to unwrap it, it kept pulling the top of the finger back off. She gave me a little pink tray full of water and I tried soaking it off. I pulled lightly on it, and the cold water felt like fire. I was dropping a few F-bombs through clenched teeth as I did this, and suddenly a half-dozen black 3-ring binders came flying off a shelf behind us and hit the floor. I looked at my wife and said, "That's probably Paul telling me not to be such a pussy.*"

After it finally came loose, they stuck me in a wheelchair and gave me a ride to a room. Just the air going past it hurt, but it felt good compared to what pulling off that gauze was like.

We sat for a bit, and a PA came in. I'm pretty sure she was in high school. "What did you do?" she asked. I held up my hands and said "Well, let's compare these two hands." Since my hands were greasy, they immediately started me on an antibiotic IV drip and gave me a tetanus shot and some morphine. Then she broke out the giant Novocain needle and jacked it into about five places in my hand, and sent me down the hall for x-rays to see if the finger was broken. It was. So that meant the bone was exposed to air, which I guess is a bad thing, infection-wise, because her concern seemed to go up a notch. When she was talking to the orthopedic on call, I got to hear cheery words like "amputated" and "completely flayed" and then she continued her conversation outside the room.

Apparently he told her to "sew it up as best you can" and that he would see me the following day. I was a little apprehensive about that "as best you can" statement, since I wasn't sure if it was intended as a reflection of her ability or the relative state of my busticated pez dispenser. Since I'm so tactful, I said, "So....done many of these?" It sounded like I was trying to pick her up in a bar or something. "So, come here often?" Like that. She just laughed and said, "Tons." (Especially around the 4th of July, it turns out.) She seemed pretty confident, so I let her do her thing. She scrubbed my finger like it was an old pot, but I didn't feel a thing, other than spraying water. After she was done washing, the table looked like someone had killed a chicken on it. She cleaned that up, and then got to stitching up what was left.

When she was done, she had put twelve stitches in a semi-circle from one side to the other, and my finger looked like a tiny Frankenstein. She warned me that depending on the break and other trauma, I might not get to keep it. If it wouldn't have been an infection risk, I would have put a little face on it with a sharpie. While she was out finding some sort of special, non-stick, antibiotic impregnated bandages, I took a few more pictures. She came back and wrapped it up so my finger was sticking straight out like I was giving someone directions to a gas station. I looked at my wife and said, "I AM AWESOME AT DOORBELLS! OH! AND CAVITY SEARCHES!" I poked my finger forward a few times. The morphine had definitely kicked in. She just laughed and told me to stay away from her and the cats.

The PA handed me a prescription for antibiotics, a prescription for Vicodin, and a prescription for some other drug that is supposed to help you not get an upset stomach from the first two. She described all the drugs and what they were for and said, "The antibiotic may give you diarrhea," then followed it up with "The Vicodin will probably constipate you." I thought about that for a second then said, "So in other words --smooooooth sailin!" She didn't comment on that one. I guess Vicodin/poop jokes are pretty thin in the first place and my delivery at that point was lacking. They let us go, and told me I was supposed to come back to the ER if my finger got really cold or bled through the dressing.

After a night of feeling my heartbeat in my finger and getting no real sleep other than that provided by a Vicodin daze, I was pretty beat. Of course it had bled through during the night, but there was nothing I could do about it but hope it wouldn't make it too difficult to unwrap. I popped another Vicodin and we drove down to the orthopedic's office.

The followup was a bit anticlimactic. The ortho took a look at the x-rays, examined the stitches, and then told me to wait a few days and once it scabbed over, start rinsing it with hydrogen peroxide once a day to keep infection away. He said this as he's handling my finger without gloves on, so I'm treating his advice as suspect. Then he put a single piece of gauze over the finger, jammed a plastic thumb cover on it and taped the whole thing down. WTF, bone-doctor guy? Good thing it was still a little numb from the novocain. I think because it was just a finger and I didn't have a femur anywhere outside my body, he didn't feel it was worthy of his concern.

When we got back home, I actually dialed into work because I had a couple of phone meetings to attend. This was Thursday. At the end of the day, I filled out my time sheet for the week and signed off on it. It wasn't until the next day that I realized that I had gone the whole previous day thinking it had been Friday. To paraphrase Rick James, "Vicodin is a helluva drug."

Right now I'm getting pretty good at touch-typing with nine fingers, which kind of amazes me. It is my dominant hand, however, so things like button fly jeans are not my friend. Neither is my toothbrush.

Also, if I smell like poop for the next week or so, just know that I tried, OK?

Oh yes, one more thing -- when I was down in the basement unplugging the treadmill (never trust them after they've eaten flesh) I found this on the floor:

I'm saving it in case I need it later. I probably won't though, because my friend Vidna sent me this link. Bastard.

* A bunch of years ago, I got a call from Paul on a Sunday afternoon. He said, "Hey, I cut myself pretty bad, can you drive me over to that urgent care place?" I said sure, and headed over to pick him up. When I got there, he had his forearm and hand wrapped in a towel. He had been testing a sword to failure, and when it snapped he put it through the bottom of his hand and his wrist. He pulled the towel aside and wiggled his fingers. "Check this out," he said. "You can see the tendons in my wrist moving up and down through the hole in my wrist bone." We didn't know it at the time, but one of the other tendons had snapped back up into his forearm. It was a mess. The dude had a pain tolerance you would NOT believe.


  1. All the crazy shit you did as a kid and wrote about in your book, and it's a TREADMILL that finally got you?!?!?!

  2. I know, it's completely ridiculous.

  3. Mackerel8:20 PM

    Well, I wouldn't say that the treadmill "got" JV. But, this is definitely a set-back. Really sorry about your fingernail, but thanks for the story. Quite a few laughs in there - for a near dismemberment. I have one question: Do you remember feeling intensely thirsty after the accident? My brother has this peculiar theory about thirst following digit threatening events...

  4. I'm telling you: One way or another, exercise will kill you! (BTW, how are you going to fix the tresdmill now?) Glad you're OK, but that story made me wince several times. And LOL once - I love that Paul sent you that message!

  5. Ouch! And funny. And gross.

    Hope the Vicodin lasts longer than the pain.

  6. Ew and ow!

  7. Once agsin Ouch... At least they could re-attach the tip, the machine I ran my finger though about 17 years ago popped the tip right off and ate it, so now I am a 9 fingered touch typist as well.

  8. Bet you wish you'd kept the Klingon ass-torture device now, hm?

    I think your orthopedic surgeon's advice was intended to have you back for a finger amputation (because orthopedic surgeons want to operate on everything). Hydrogen peroxide? Seriously? I think they stopped using that on (hopefully) living tissue thirty years ago.

  9. Been there, done that.

    Times 3.


    5 yrs old, Left ring finger caught in folding legs of a foot stool, from last knuckle to tip hanging by a 1/4 inch piece of skin. 11 stitches. Fractured bone and growth plate. It's still shorter than the rest.

    9 yrs old, same finger, caught between chain and spocket on bicycle. broken again. 5 stitches.

    11 yrs old. Right middle finger (best bandage EVER) caught between chain and sprocket of bicycle AGAIN! I stopped working on bikes after that. Broken. Butterflies & bandage.

  10. Anonymous11:01 AM

    Ouch Johnny! Where were your safety glasses? Maybe you would have seen it coming and moved your finger.

  11. Anonymous11:13 AM

    Sorry to hear this. I got clumsy with a chain saw and cut about halfway through my left index finger years ago. The most interesting thing was how long it took it to really start bleeding seriously and how long it took it to hurt. MUCH longer than when I slammed a safe door on one of my fingertips. That sucker hurt immediately. The second most interesting thing was looking at my finger bone and not passing out on the spot. Good luck on the recovery.

  12. A friend of mine has a term for this sort of thing. It's called "the weekend dumbass award".
    Hope you feel better!

  13. kristina2:23 PM

    That fingernail looks a bit funky anyway - did you really need it? Hope you heal well and quickly.

    They have proven hydrogen peroxide actual impairs healing, so what decade is this guy from?

    A couple of years ago, a ceramic lamp came hurtling down from the shelf atop our computer desk and shattered into about 50 pieces on the keyboard, where my waiting open fingers were there to receive the razor-sharp shards. Thankfully, only one finger (left index) was sliced open down to the bone. With copious amounts of blood spurting and holding some gauze around that finger as tightly as possible, I got my man to drive me (along with our none-too-happy 6-month-old) to emergency at 10 pm.

    I didn't get Vicodin or freezing for the 9 stitches (bastards!), I had a new guy who kept asking the nurse questions, and apparently I held so tightly to staunch the bleeding I gave myself nerve-damage (at least that's what they tell me...).

  14. Mackerel, I actually do, but attributed it to the Vicodin.

    KC - I will beat this treadmill until it's my bitch.

    Robin, so far so good.

    Rick, what got you? A joiner?

    Theresa, I think he was going for this bit: The American Medical Association concluded that the effervescence of hydrogen peroxide might provide some mechanical benefit in loosening debris and necrotic tissue of the wound

    Ed. Dude. I bet you were relieved when you got your first car.

    Anon, a ChaINSAW? How did that go halfway through?

    Sweetpea, I've won that award many times.

    Kristina, to be fair, it's covered in grease and had been lying on the floor for 3 days, so it's not as bad as it looks. My fingernail area is just one big scab now and the stiches go right through it. Those should be fun to pull out...

  15. That working out s!@t is bad for you, I'm convinced of it. At least I did my finger-wreckage at work, and on the non-dominant hand. Fingertip all gone now. Busy ED, so no one thought to give any pain med (and I didn't think to ask) until after the first of two sets of rads. I don't remember being thirsty though, and they gave me tylenol 3, so maybe it *is* the Vicodin.

  16. Finger injuries are the WORST. I myself have been lucky in that department, but both of my parents made ER trips when I was a kid. My dad (also a woodworker) was on the other side of the basement, running his table saw, when I heard the motor power down and him calmly say, "Okay, time to go to the hospital." Just like that. I went flying in there expecting to find a severed digit on the floor, as he was holding up his hand, but it turned out he had merely run his index finger into the blade "the other way." So nothing was cut off but he had a nice trench in the end of his finger. That was stitched, and my usually stoic father spent a couple weeks drinking extra Black Labels every night. Hurt BAD.
    My mother managed to run a seam ripper (small, sharp and extremely pointy thing used to remove stitches from garments) deep into a finger. She is the queen of "Oh, it will be fine" so attempted to ignore the injury, until about 3:00 AM that night when she woke up Dad and informed him that she needed the ER, stat.
    Here's hoping I never have to find out what that feels like, and your poor digit heals up nicely. Plan on some numbness/nerve damage, which ought to dissipate over time.

  17. Anonymous5:36 PM

    How did the chainsaw only go halfway through? That's a longer story, Johnny. I was holding small logs in front of me in my left hand and using the saw (held in my right hand) to trim off protruding branches. I know at this point you're thinking "oh, jackhead here confused his finger with another branch." Nope...I had a pile of logs like this, and what I was doing was one of those sequences some of us invent when doing a repetitive task. When I finished, I would release the trigger (to stop the chain) and toss the log underhanded into the truck. In this case, for some reason my sequence fell apart. I didn't release the trigger until I started the toss and somehow the arc of my swing took my forefinger across the still spinning blade. Very happy to have just grazed the saw blade enough to cut a slot about 1cm deep. Good luck on the healing. For some reason I think fingers mend faster. Maybe a visceral self-preservation thing?

    I was told to put hydrogen peroxide on mine, too (if that makes you feel any better). Mine throbbed for a few days...maybe 4 or 5.

  18. StuntDouble6:22 PM

    That reminds me of my oops moment last summer. I was carving a small keychain for my girlfriend, and I was shaving a chip of wood off when the knife slipped and sliced into my thumb up to the first knuckle. About a 1/4 of my thumb was hanging off to the side. Scary thing was, that knife was so sharp, I don't even think it knew my thumb was there. 7 stitches later and it only looks a little funny if you look at it right.

    When I was 18, I put my foot through a glass table top. I thought I was fine until my mom turned on the living room light and I noticed I could see into the side of my foot.

    Funny thing was, neither one of those hurt, which makes me come to the conclusion that the painless cuts are the worst ones.

  19. Sweet...sorry...

    30+ years ago, took all 4 fingers of my left hand to the bone with a bow saw (still can't get near one). Wrapped fingers up with strips off my shirt and hid it from my parents (afraid of stitches). Healed fine, cool scars. Yes, I have a high pain tolerance, fall asleep getting tattoos.

  20. Anonymous8:18 PM

    Fuck dude, that's awful! Great writing though, just please try not to sever anything else... it's way too hard to read without crossing the legs and making that shiver-twitch-convulse thing.


  21. That fake nail how-to article you linked was hysterical. I had a bizarre freak-near-partial-finger-amputation thing happen a few months ago and have been wanting to blog about it, as sort of, I dunno, a cathartic thing? Do you feel you've exercised your demons, too?

    Re: your post title, I had the darnedest time keeping my two pit bulls from going mad with utter bloodlust when my frankenfinger was around.

  22. It was the transport band on a lathe that got me, one of the links was broken, and somehow my left index finger slipped inside and was ran though a bogey wheel, bled like a bastard. I got the hydrogen peroxide treatment too, as well as a chunk of skin cut out of my wrist to use as a graft, so not only is the finger tip funky looking with a real claw for a nail, but I also look like I have an unsuccessful suicide attempt behind me as well.

  23. just don't do this http://www.youtube.com/stevemcgranahan#p/u/15/dyWzk31p3lk or anything else thi guy does and I think its safe to say you'll make it out of this world with all your limbs. Hope you feel better soon though!

  24. Well JV, I'm glad my cornflakes are a golden color as I was eating a bowl when I finally got to the FINGERNAIL picture at the bottom. Pretty sure that is the grossest thing I've ever seen on this blog and that counts the septic system story CSI Poopsmith ;)

  25. It took me three tries to get all the way through this. I kept getting that feeling in my chest that I never used to get when people talk about things getting amputated and flayed. Great writing.

    Also, I want to spend some time in your woodworking shop. Is that something that comes with every country house in upstate New York? Wait, did I miss the point of the story somehow? Oh, right. Don't exercise.

  26. beware the bastard file. not the file you know is somewhere on your laptop, the file you use when woodworking (or maybe metal work?). the bastard file will be looking for you for leaving it off your list.

    proud owner of unsigned, The Snitch,et al, which i believe is actually about me, my brother, and my cousin. you have plagiarized my life.

    thanks for the many good reads.

  27. Ouch! I'm still gritting my teeth from the empathy pains. I know that must have hurt. Hope it heals soon.

  28. Am I the only one seeing a high correlation between the insecticide truck you used to chase (and breath deeply behind whilst it was dumping enough chemicals to kill every bug on an ENTIRE street!) and this twist of "fate"? Maybe just remembering those days activated the chemical in your brain! :-P

    Use as much vicoden as you need without becoming an after-school-special JV!!

  29. P.s. after reading the story and the title again for some reason I got the image of you standing over your exercise equipment with a shotgun ala Old Yeller

  30. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Ouch, JV--

    Was this the same finger that you got stuck in the back end of your boat? Seems to me on that story I mentioned how I had gotten mine stuck in the gas tank of my Buick...

    Then there was this other occasion. On a drunken college night I leapfrogged over a post that, unbeknownst to me, had a single chain link welded to the top. My middle finger slipped through the link, and my digit almost didn't come with the rest of my body. Fortunately it turned out to be just a pretty good laceration and ugly scar.

    So happy healing on your close call, from a fellow finger trauma survivor.


  31. wow that woulda been gross

  32. Oh JV, I've missed your posts. In my own blogging MIA I've been terrible about reading yours. I'm so glad you've still got your sense of humor. Only you can describe an involuntary amputation in a comedic way.

  33. The best safty poster I ever saw was at an AF base I used to work at. It was very simple. There was no type on it. It merely shown the man's hand, with the dead grey ring finger where it had been ripped off at the knukle, and his now masively malformed wedding ring lying NEXT to his hand on the table. A picture is worth a thousand words.

  34. I knew there was a reason I don't do treadmills.

    Damn, that was funny...and a bit nauseating.