My accident happened while working in the Makerspace I own on the wood router. Not today but 2 years ago...
Early Saturday morning I decided to get a jump start on a project I was commissioned to do for an old friend. He works for a large charity, and it turns out they needed some keepsakes made for a speaking event that was happening in less than a week.
The keepsakes would be 4 individual pieces about the size of Jenga blocks with words (prayer, love, etc.) engraved onto each block. These wooden pieces were designed to lock together and stack on top of each other through a dovetail at the top and bottom of each block. Each individual piece was about 4” long, and 1” high.
Now, the first mistake: I was in a rush to get the prototype done. Never be in a rush when using woodworking machinery. I went into this endeavor without a well thought out plan, and cut some corners in execution.
I gathered up my wood pieces, measured twice and cut once, and prepared 4 foot long blanks to cut the blocks out of.
Now typically, you world route the entire 4’ length of wood all in one shot- cut the dovetail through the entire length of the peice and then cut each piece down after it was complete into the final 4 inch sections.
Silly me. That would have been the logical way to do this, as it allows you to have control of the entire piece of wood as you push it through the table router.
Second mistake: Small block big mistake.
For those of you not familiar with the router table, it is a machine that has a spinning blade rotating at thousands of RPM. When placed on a router table this blade (spins like a drill bit) up through the surface of the table in the middle, and you push the piece along a fence into the spinning blade and out the other side. It chunks out the profile of the piece of wood as you push the wood along.
Primarily it used for cutting slots, dovetails, making molding (like on your wall or floor) or making rounded corners on wood.
For this application, you should never work with small pieces as they can be tough to control, and they do not make good contact with the fence (guide) as you push them through. This makes them prone to slip- if the spinning blade bites, it could gouge the piece, you, or hurl the entire thing back at you.
Third mistake: use a push stick
So, I’m in a hurry (stupid) and I decide to route a single 4” piece of wood, instead of the whole section and then cut it down. Efficient! Yes! I’m only making the one and I don’t want to waste the entire 4’ section if I screw up! So I cut off a 4 inch piece to test on the router.
Wrrrrrrrrrrrrr! I start up the router. Got my safety glasses on, my workspace well lit! Let’s do this. Grab the wood and...
Wrrrrrrrrrr! Screwwwwwww.... siereeeeeer! Wrrrr!
It’s a deafening sound. Like a blender or a wood chipper. In an instant I grab my hand- red splatters paint the table, a stream of crimson paints the fence of the machine. I can hear my pulse, thump thump, thump thump.
“That red stuff. It’s blood. My blood. My finger hurts. What’s happening.
Holy F%#*! What have I done?!!”
I look at my now clutched right right hand, and blood streams down my wrist to the floor. Left over right hand, must squeeze harder! I squeeze my index finger tight, not wanting to look at the damage- just holding on as tight as I possibly can.
I honestly can’t remember why I didn’t use a push stick to push the piece through the router. A push stick make sure your body parts don’t get in the path of the blade. The piece rocked as I pushed it through and drove my finger into the whirring blade.
Mistake 3: working alone.
At this point I’m still in shock. I turn around and make a bee-line for the bathroom. There is a trail of blood on the router, the off switch and now the floor to the bathroom. The best I can manage is to hold my finger and claw at the paper towel holder over the sink. I clumsily knock at the sink handles with my elbow to turn the water on and try simultaneously to keep pressure on the wound.
I take the pressure off my hand for a second and thrust my finger under the cold water. It’s a mess, but I still cannot see the real damage. Blood is everywhere. The contrast of the red against the porcelain of the sink sets off all those primitive alarms in my mind as I begin to realize the gravity of the situation.
It’s 8AM. We don’t open until noon. Steve my business partner is going to find me passed out in a pool of my own blood in this bathroom. I shouldn’t have worked alone. I’m going to die alone.
“Must. Get. Help.”
I start to feel faint. I’m afraid I’m going to go into actual shock. I feel dizzy, the walls are closing in. Vision blurry. I have to get outside to the street.
I stumbled out of the bathroom, trailing blood, water everywhere. Paper towel in hand. I walk the 30 feet towards the front of the metal shop, and to a roll-up door that opens to the street.
I slap at the garage door button leaving a bloody handprint as my signature.
The door opens slowly.
The white light from the sunshine temporally blinds me as I stumble outside to the sidewalk.
“Someone will see me!” I think to myself.
I turn, I look up and down the street.
Not a darn soul in site.
It’s Saturday morning.
No one is around.
What the hell?!
Suddenly a red flash drives by in front of me. It takes a second to register.
An ambulance! There’s a fire house a few blocks away! I have to get their attention!
“HEY HEY HEY! STOP FOR ME! HEY HEY! OVER HERE!!!”
I’ve got my hand up over my head. Bloody paper towel covering my injured finger, blood dripping down my arm. I’m holding my hand over my head with my other hand. I look like I’m in the shape of “A” in the YMCA song, as I wiggle my hips about and wave wildly.
Woosh! Ambulance speeds by me.
I can’t handle this. Is God really gonna throw this at me, too?
I spin around to go inside. I do an about face. The panic catches up with me, and I trip over my own feet and fall into a heap on the sidewalk.
A lady in a Subaru sees this whole thing happening as she passes by in the opposite direction- like some dark comedy.
She flips a u-turn and rolls down her window. I weakly call out, “I need an ambulance.”
She guns it. She chases down the ambulance that is now at a stop just down the street, and furiously honks to get their attention.
The ambulance remarkably sees the commotion, throws it in reverse and comes back to me.
By this time, I’m up on my feet. They didn’t see me go down, but they are here.
The roll down their window and ask, “Sir. Do you need some help here? There’s some blood, are you ok?”
Mistake four: don’t overdo it on NPR
I smile (deliriously) and say, “Yeah, I seem to be having a bit of trouble. I cut myself. I think I need some assistance.”
“Ok the medic says, we will get out and take care of you- let’s have a look!”
“WAIT! I think I’m ok now! I just need to go to the hospital.” I said.
“Ok, we can take you to Saint Joes right down the street” the driver said. “Get in, so we can look.”
Here is where my logic began to get the best of me.
“WAIT! I just heard a story on NPR about PEOPLE GETTING TAKEN TO OUT OF NETWORK HOSPITALS when they need an ambulance! I don’t want to end up with a $5000 bill!”
Uh... (both medics look at me in pause)
“Sir. What insurance do you have?”
“Aetna!”, I responded!
“We’re pretty sure you are covered.” They said.
“Pretty sure? I’ll take my chances!” I stupidly retorted.
“You really should come with us!” They said.
“No, I’m good. My wife will be here soon.” (What was I thinking?)
“Uh, so if you refuse service, I guess we’ll be on our way.” The said.
I waived at them with my bloody hand as they drive off
“Ok me! (I talk to myself to psyche myself up) “Let’s do this!”
I wander back to the front door of the shop, next to the roll up door.
I place my bloody hand on the front knob and open the door. I stumble to the back of the room towards the newly purchased med kit. I’m gonna fix myself up.
“Yes I should call my wife!” I think to myself.
I wrestle the phone from my pocket, lift the med to the table. And ask Siri to dial my wife.
“High you’ve reached [Wife name] and I can’t come to the phone right now.”
I knew this would happen! Pick up. Your phone! You never have it on! I told you, “What if we have an emergency? THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!”
I forgot to wait for the beep.
THE MAIL BOX BELONGING TO [wife] IS FULL
slams phone down
“Ok brain, it’s just you and me.” I thought.
“Great how am I gonna do this? My head hurts now. I need some liquid courage if I’m gonna stitch myself up!”
Mistake 5: Beer the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.
I remembered I was given a six-pack of beer from a friend last Christmas, and I left it in our back office. Yes! I need beer!
I stumble back to the office. Blood trail follows my path across the carpet, back to the shop into the small storage area. I grasp at the file cabinet.
Success! A six pack greets me as the reward for my quest. I twist a can out of the ring and make my way back to the med kit.
I call my friend Donald and he says he’s on his way! He’s just down the street!
In the mean time, I am convinced I need to at least try to bandage myself up so I don’t look completely helpless.
A few minutes pass... ....
I sit down at the table. Open up the med kit and dump out all the alcohol swabs and bandages.
Donald comes charging in through the door, and what does he find?
Me. Awkwardly sitting at a table. Blood everywhere, a scene punctuated by dirty paper towels, Bandaid wrappers and gauze.
And I have a beer in one hand and a roll of bandages in the other. I’m awkwardly trying to figure out how to open the beer with my wounded hand using my thumb, and at the same time bandage my finger with my left hand.
Donald runs over and takes the beer from me— no, he practically slaps the beer from me and shuts, “No, beer is probably not the best idea right now!”
Donald bandages me up, carefully and quickly. I start to get my wits about me and think, “Steve is gonna be pissed when this place looks like a murder scene.”
Donald agreed to help me clean up a little bit before I go to the urgent care. The double doors swing open that separate the front of our business from the shop in back. EVERYTHING IS COVERED IN BLOOD.
We clean a little and Donald demands to take me to the urgent care. He asks, “where do you want to go?”
Here we go again.
I recall the story to him about my NPR revelation. We search online through Aetnas stupid site to find one that’s in-network.
We get to the urgent care and walk through the door. The nurse says there’s a 2 hour wait.
A old guy in line says, “This dude look like he’s in pretty bad shape- you might want to take care of him now!”
We decide to go to the next nearest faculty. Gig Harbor. Across the bridge and other 15 minute drive.
We finally get to the ER, and my wife arrives. The nurse takes my back and tells me that I’ve cut up the top of my finger pretty bad. Because of the damage, she can’t do stitches. She dabs it with glue, gives me a shot and sends my on the way.
This whole time I couldn’t look. I was too scared. The bandage is big, but at least it looks like I don’t actually loose the finger. .....
Back at home.
I tell my wife I’d like a margarita, but I can’t have any alcohol because of the pain killers. We get into a little argument because she did not pick up the phone when I called. I said some stupid things.
In her anger, she says that, “it can’t be that bad. If I’m gonna make you this thing- come into the kitchen with me. Stop being a jerk about it!”
“But I need you to change my bandage!” I said.
She agrees to do it after she makes my drink.
I follow her into the kitchen. She puts ice in the blender, and plugs it in.
WRRRRRRRRRRR CRUNCH CRUNCH
I FREAK THE F##** OUT!
Full on panic attack.
The blender makes the exact same sound as the router. I start crying.
She grabs me and asks to look at it. She takes the bandage off to change it out after calming me down.
“Oh... I guess it is pretty bad” she says.
I look over, the top third of my finger is nipped off halfway down the nail to the first knuckle. The entire thing is not gone, but part of it- a chunk about half the width of a pencil.
No my wife picks up her phone :)
Ps: I’m ok now! We got the project done. Steve wasn’t pissed. I have most of my finger back, and now it feels teengly when the weather changes!
So... wins all around I guess?
Somewhere there is some hilarious security footage of this whole episode. I wish I had it.
TL;DR didn’t follow wood shop rules, worked too quickly, router nipped the tip of my finger, bloodbath ensued, didn’t want to be rude. stumbled outside and NPR got the best of me. Tried to drink, Donald made me think. Now I’m scared of the blender.