I keep my mower in a white-block detached garage. A large, zero-radius turn, riding mower with a 52-inch deck, it is a beast powered by a three-cylinder diesel engine located just behind the driver’s seat.
The old, well-used lawnmower was bequeathed to me by Grandpa Larry. A genius with machines, metal and wood, he had cut away the bottom half of the front and sides of the mower’s deck. He did this so tall grass or weeds would stand straight when the whirling blades sliced them, not bent over safe beneath the blades.
The modification works. The only drawback is chopped greenery spews skyward ahead of the mower, and the mower’s operator is covered in dust and grass clippings. It’s a foliaged form of Chinese water torture.
Luckily, Grandpa Larry constructed his alteration so the cut-off half could be bolted back onto the mower deck, thus limiting the roughage tossed into the air. Not real keen on having grass constantly thrown in my face, I mostly run the mower with the deck intact.
Earlier this summer, while backing near a tree, a small portion of the cut-off (now bolted back on) part at the rear of the deck caught and bent. About three or four inches long, it curved outward in the shape of a bear’s claw.
The accident happened after work, after coaching youth football, after making supper for me and my two sons, after changing into work clothes (including old running shoes).
The shed was cluttered with only a narrow path between the mower to my right and my boys’ red go-kart. I prepped the mower with an eye toward the sun as it plunged closer to the horizon. I checked the tires and fuel, greased the three, cutting-blade bearings and pulled the radiator screen from behind the driver’s seat to take it outdoors and clean it.
I held the screen in my left hand. As I walked toward the front of the mower, the toe of my right shoe caught momentarily on the deck’s bent metal claw-shaped point. I hopped once, tried to step and came down on one of the go-kart’s tires. I felt myself spinning toward the mower with nowhere else to place a foot. I fell.
I have – as a general rule – embraced the concept of falling. It is inevitable. Human beings, after all, don’t crawl around on our bellies like snakes. Once we find balance enough to stand and courage enough to take a step, our risk level for tipping over rises in direct correlation to the height of our noggins.
With each fall, we expand our evolving survival skills. Tuck and roll. In fact, many times I’ve felt invigorated when I’ve dusted myself off after a fall and realized I’d come unscathed through another unexpected close encounter with the ground or floor or basketball court.
It’s going to be OK, I thought, as my balance vanished and I spun toward the mower.
Now, I know my awkward spill across the mower deck, relatively speaking, pales in comparison to what some have experienced. But it happened so quickly, I had no opportunity to brace myself or roll away to help deflect the momentum of my fall. It was just turn, linger upright for a freeze-frame fraction of a moment, tilting, then whump. Like a high diver at the county fair, I struck the mower’s metal deck.
Everything hit at the same instant. My ribs, under my right arm, took the brunt of the impact, and my left hand smashed the screen flat against the concrete floor. My left knee collided with the deck or the floor.
“This is bad,” I told myself.
I lay sprawled across the mower trying to breathe. Luckily, I hadn’t struck my head. Somehow, I pushed off the mower and pulled my knees under me. I didn’t think I’d be able to stand. The boys were in the house and wouldn’t come looking for me. Somewhere, someone or something was making a weird noise. I realized the sound was coming from me. I sucked air in short gasps. Both hands hurt. My chest hurt. I couldn’t breathe.
After what I suppose was a couple of minutes, I was able to put my hands against the white frame of the garage door and push myself to my feet. It was here I noticed my left hand was bleeding. Also, I had enough clarity of thought to notice – but think it strange – the inside half of my right thumbnail was black. I remember thinking, “How do you hurt only the inside half of a thumbnail?”
To make an already too long story a little shorter, the doctor put 10 stitches in my left hand, and smoothed a 3×5 bandage over the spot on my ribs where the mower deck had poked a hole.
I think there is a safety lesson to be learned.
Here are precursors to my accident, the SAFETY TRAPS I ignored: I was in a hurry, rushing against a deadline (sunset); I had neglected maintenance (bent metal claw); I wore improper safety gear (old running shoes with slick soles); and I was working in a cluttered work area.
I feel foolish. Taking care of any of these would almost certainly have prevented my fall.
Since the unkind embrace with my mower’s deck, I have mostly healed. I have a scar about an inch-and-a-half long on my left palm. The ugly, rectangular, mottled red and purple bruise on my ribs has faded away, and my thumbnail is growing back. The black half of my thumbnail fell off after a couple of months, replaced by a thin, bumpy slice of nail. Slowly, like a smooth-topped glacier, a thicker nail has grown in, pushing its way toward the end of my thumb.
And, it’s my thumbnail I’ve found most intriguing, a metaphor, it occurs to me, of the stages a person goes through while healing. There is trauma, a wound, and the body responds. A little at first, then (if it is able) eventually fixing what has been damaged.
My thumbnail is not healed completely. I don’t know if it ever will be. Maybe it serves as both a reminder of what used to be and could have been, and it will from now on help keep me safe by reminding me of my safety errors.
Just, perhaps, like this story may help you stay safe, too. I hope so.