I once lost an argument with half a ton of pissed off cast iron disguised as an extra large steam radiator. Demolishing an ancient steam heating system is always a challenge. Once the rusted joints are broken there is still the matter of moving the the debris-in my case down from a third floor commercial loft. The good thing about cast iron radiators is that they are brittle enough to be broken up with a sledgehammer. The first part of the task is to get the radiator over onto some old tires. Most radiators can just be pushed over-but the largest had to be rocked until they went over. The trick was getting out of the way when they finally did come off balance. Which is what I was doing. When it started to go over I jerked my hands back and jumped out of the way. What I had not known was that one of my knuckles was jammed between the radiator's fins. I pulled my hand back so hard that I broke one of the long bones in my hand and dislocated two joints in the same finger. None of this I felt at first-just that odd numbness, which coupled with the hump in the back of my hand promised agonies later on.
The crash was dreadful, and Nancy came running up from the floor below wondering how much damage there was. Two things I knew-the first was that the longer my hand stayed that way, the more pain and swelling there would be, the second was that the nearest hospital was over an hour's drive away, and I didn't want Nancy to have to spend the day there with our infant son. So the first order of business was to reduce the fracture. Long ago I'd had some wilderness first aid training and knew more or less how to do this. The trick, as I explained to Nancy, was quite simple. Grip the forearm with one hand, the finger with the other, and pull, strong and slow, until the patient either screamed or passed out, then relax everything back into line. (Doctors reading this should refrain from pointing out all the ways this is wrong.) All this Nancy did-taking two tries, as like most people, she found the hollering and flopping about distracting. With the bones back in place, this left me the task of driving a manual transmission pickup truck to the emergency room with a broken right hand. Knowing that I would spend most of the day waiting to be treated, I stopped at a bookstore to buy a novel- good thing too, as I arrived about the same time as the victims of a major multi-car freeway accident. It was a good five hours later that I left with one hand in a cast.
Dale Austin 2006
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008