The thorn in this lion’s paw…

1 Mar

Safety first…

About nine months ago I was injured on the job. It was my first woodworking job. I’d only been there two months and a bit. I was eager to please and while I thought I was ever conscious of my own safety, I learnt otherwise. Most woodworking injuries you hear about are somewhat gory and have a dramatic tale to go along with it. This one includes none of the above. And I haven’t heard very many stories like mine, even though they must outnumber gory injuries in the trades.  So I thought I’d talk about it.

Yes, sir!

My injury was obtained through repeating a motion to excess. Since I worked at a studio that produced works of art as products, I often would work with sheet metal, cement board, and aluminum, and most often of course with wood. This particular day I was given a mountain of 1liter paper cups filled with dried epoxy. What was I to do with this mountain of dried epoxy you ask?

Picture 100 of the largest sized cup on the left with dried epoxy in them.

I was to peel the paper off each piece and chop the epoxy methodically until I had about 30 1″ cubes per cup. I had about 100 cups to process.  I soon found that the band saw I was to use had a dull blade. I mentioned this to my boss and he said that the other blades were out being sharpened. I accepted the challenge, thinking, “well, I’ll be sore tomorrow, but I’ll probably never have to do this again!”. I really wish I hadn’t accepted the challenge. After 7 hours of pushing hard and peeling super STUCK on paper, I felt my hands throbbing. I begged off early for the day.

Lesson learnt

I awoke the next morning and literally any movement I made with my right index finger was answered with searing and resonating pain . I took the day off work and the weekend to lay low. I realized I’d need to be more aware of my body’s limitations in the future and say no to my boss if his expectations were unreasonable. I felt thankful that my body usually recovered after a day or two of my overtaxing it.

The cold hard truth

But it didn’t recover. My index finger did thankfully, but a tendon in my thumb called a thumb flexor has yet to fully recover. I worked for months believing that surely time would cure what ailed me. Each month would pass and I would  believe in progress only to repeatedly trigger the injury. I never knew what would  inflame it, sometimes I’d just be watching tv and move my thumb slightly and it would be searing pain again.

This is not my hand. It is however, the brace that I used for many of the summer months. It limits a thumb's range of motion.

It’s been eight months, I’ve learned to adapt around the injury. The frequency and severity of inflammations have gone down, so I am feeling more optimistic. But I have come to terms with the possibility that I may have this injury for the long haul. I changed jobs so that my thumb would have more of a chance at recovery, and I believe it has helped.

I think the message I’d like to pass along to my fellow woodworkers is that we all feel the pressure to please at work, to be up for the task, to prove ourselves. But we need to listen to our bodies, think of our long term well being,  and stand up for our own safety. Another important message here is that there are many types of danger we need to protect our bodies from, not just the obvious or most immediate.

Next post will be a few words about my employment situation past and present.

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