The Chainsaw Saga
By Clyde Edgerton
I am groggy (after a nap) when, chainsaw in hand, I head for the small, dead tree in the yard adjoining our yard. My neighbor has asked me to cut it down — and I’m always looking for an excuse to use our trusty chainsaw. My youngest son, age 14, is with me. This is a good parent-child bonding opportunity. Had my daughter been around — same.
One thing I can teach my children is that old Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Gas and chain oil are nearby, as well as a spare chain. “See, I’m prepared,” I say to my son.
As we walk up to the tree, I set the toggle switch to “choke,” pull the crank cord, reset the toggle switch to normal, pull the cord again. “Wang-wang.” It’s running. Sweet.
My son points to the chainsaw. Covering the chainsaw bar and chain is a lightweight orange plastic sleeve — a safety cover. I’ve forgotten to remove it. I haven’t even seen it. The sleeve is there for a reason: The bare chain, with the engine off, is sharp enough cut you.
You are, of course, supposed to take that plastic cover off before cranking the engine, but being groggy from my nap, I’d been . . . well, groggy from my nap. I’d forgotten.
When I grab the sleeve to remove it, I do not realize that the engine is idling at a good clip and thus the chain is rotating rapidly. In less than a second, I pinch the plastic just enough for the rotating chain to 1) engage the sleeve; 2) cut through it and into my middle finger; and 3) shoot the plastic sleeve off the chain. It lands about 20 feet away.
I look at my finger, look away, and manage to quickly cut off the chainsaw and place it on the ground. I look at my finger again. The cut, just above that first joint, is deep, and jagged, and I see something white. The skin is kind of like a large flap, if you know what I mean. I am not prepared for this.
But while in pain — during this emergency — I’ll be a role model for my son. Isn’t there another part of the Boy Scout motto somewhere that says Be Brave or Be Calm or something like that?
My son walks over and I show him. Blood is flowing. Normally, I would be able to deliver a lecture: “Be prepared: thick gloves, removal of chain sleeve.”
But now that’s out the window, I’ll Be Brave and Calm. I’ll be a role model.
My wife is not at home, so my oldest son, 16, with a driver’s permit, will have to take me to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room. He calls Urgent Care. They are open. We will go there — and avoid a long wait, perhaps.
I’m in the car and my oldest son is driving. The youngest decided to sit out this next part. I’m holding my right hand up, my left providing towel pressure on that middle finger to stanch the bleeding.
“What happened?” he says.
I tell him.
He says, “Aren’t you supposed to . . . ”
“Yes,” I say.
We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I
We are at another intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I tell him.
This happens a few times.
We finally park and walk into the large Urgent Care waiting room. Ah! It’s empty! What luck. We walk over to the little window. The receptionist smiles, then sees blood. “Oh, my goodness,” she says. “Can I get your insurance card and an ID?”
With my good hand I reach for my billfold. Back
The pocket is empty.
“Forgot my billfold,” I say. I’m sure my smile doesn’t mask the deep pain in my eyes. “Can I go get it after my finger is sewed up?” I ask. “My son has a permit only, and I’d have to ride back with him home to get my billfold. And then back here.”
“I’m sorry sir. We can’t treat you if we don’t have an ID and insurance information.”
We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks. I tell him.
“How could you forget your wallet?” he asks.
I don’t answer. Then I say, “It’s a billfold.”
“Not these days, Dad.” We are at an intersection. “Which way?” he asks.
“Straight ahead. Then right at the stop light.”
“I can’t believe you forgot your wallet,” he says.
Not only will I stay calm and brave, I will be humble.
I retrieve the billfold. When we get back to Urgent Care, six people sit in the waiting area — honest — with two standing at the window.
About a half-hour later, I’m in a room waiting for the doctor. My son is with me. I want him to see my calmness. The doctor comes and explains that getting stitches means you must lie down on the patient table, so that you can’t watch and faint. So OK. To deaden my finger before the stitches go in, the doctor will give me a couple of shots. It’s a very long needle. The very long needle will be inserted all the way into the joint on one side of my middle knuckle. I tell myself to stay calm. The needle goes in.
I scream. Then, “What the hell,” I say. That kind of pain has to be rare.
The needle is then inserted into the joint on the other side of my middle knuckle. I scream again.
In about 10 minutes six stitches go in. No pain.
As I prepare to return a couple of weeks later for stitches removal, I don’t ask my sons or daughter to go with me to the doctor for any role model stuff.
They’ve learned enough from Papadaddy.
Be prepared. Be brave. Be calm. OH
Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.
Illustration by Harry Blair