The cruelest cut, or “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Today I was going to blog about my recent weekend in New Orleans at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, where I spent time with writers and editors and publishers and as always came away re-energized and inspired to pursue my own writing with renewed vigor.

Instead, let me tell you a far more exciting story about how I nearly cut off my finger!

Emphasis on “nearly.” My ring finger on my left hand may be slightly mangled but it’s still hanging on.

Let me back up. Folks may recall how I swore off yardwork in 2003 after I threw out my back for the first time. (When I did it again in 2011, I swore off spinning classes. Seriously, seems like just moving is a hazard.) However, now that I’m home for the summer and am essentially a stay-at-home writer/dogsitter/chef, it seems only fair that I make some time to do things around the house that need doing, especially since Mike’s been handling everything solo while I’ve been in grad school. (He’s a mensch, he is.) So, the last couple times the grass has needed mowing, I’ve pitched in and done it.

Now, let me tell you about our lawn mower, which I think I’m going to rename spawn of Satan or Damien or something similarly appropriate. It’s a rechargeable electric model that Mike bought shortly after we moved into this house. At my old place, which had a much smaller yard, I had a reel mower. You know the kind—with the canister of blades that spins around and runs on a one-horsepower motor. In this case, I was the horse. It was a gift from a friend and it was a great little mower for my little yard. Mike’s gas mower gave up the ghost about a year after we moved in (note to self: where did that cliché phrase originate? Not that I’m going to interrupt my flow right now to look it up). When he replaced it, he decided to go with the rechargeable electric one—turn a key and hold down a lever and it starts right up, with no gas fumes, so it’s a little friendlier for the environment.

It’s also a temperamental, fragile cantankerous beast that barely had enough battery life when it was new to get through both the front and back yards. Did I mention that it also weighs a ton? Anyway, now that it’s over five years old, that battery life doesn’t even get through the entire back yard on a single charge. Naturally, the cost to replace the battery is higher than the blasted thing cost in the first place.

But let’s get to the heart of the problem with it, which is that the switch gave out over a year ago, so the beast didn’t even run until his dad rewired it and bypassed the safety lever. Unfortunately, now the only way to shut it off is to turn off the key and pull it out, and when you do, the blade doesn’t stop; it just spins down until it finally loses momentum and stops.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I started mowing yesterday and only got through half the back yard before the battery gave out. I finished the rest of the back roughly with the weed trimmer (which is also rechargeable, but at least in this case the batteries are replaceable). However, cutting a lawn with a weed trimmer? Not a lot of fun. So yesterday afternoon it looked like it was about to start pouring and I hadn’t gotten around to mowing, so I hurried out and finished it up before the skies burst open like they were threatening to do. For the record, the rain held off until the evening, so there was really no need for me to rush.

But rushing I was, and when I finished the mowing and took the bag off the mower, I reached into the little ejector chute to clear out the last of the grass clippings.

For the record, I’d like to point out that I’d switched off the mower and removed the key at least a minute beforehand, so the blade wasn’t spinning that fast, but it was still going fast enough when it made contact with my ring finger.

Yes, I should have been wearing gardening gloves and yes I should have checked to make sure the blade had stopped and yes, I’ll skip the shock and the flailing and the surprising lack of curse words (much to my amazement, the strongest thing I said for the first few minutes was “Dang it all!”). I ran inside and grabbed a tea towel (which started out tan but is decidedly less so now) and held it for what felt like eleventy million hours before it finally stopped bleeding. It looks nasty but it doesn’t feel so bad now, though I’m not looking forward to unwrapping it later. Anyway, I could go on about how it probably needs a stitch but I’m on Canadian health care and this being the U.S. I’ve had enough of jumping through those particular hoops, and if I get a scar then at least I’ll have something interesting to talk about.

I am not, however, ever using that lawn mower again.

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4 thoughts on “The cruelest cut, or “How many fingers am I holding up?”

    • My dad knew a guy in explosive ordinance disposal in a similar situation. At a Marine Corps picnic he said for a nickel he’d show me his thumb and my mom wondered why I kept asking her for nickels when we were in the middle of nowhere.

  1. I’ve found it’s much cheaper and less stressful to hire it done. I said a continuous stream of words that were way worse than you said, and never cut anything but grass. An experience best done once and not repeated.

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