Self Preservation

As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed that the rate of personal injuries and accidents has dropped somewhat dramatically. I’ve learned from hard experience that when the thought, “I should probably move my thumb before I cut that direction”, crops up in my mind, I should act on it. These days, my life is filled with little warnings of a similar kind. Consider this morning alone:

  • (Lifting at the gym): I should probably make sure the plate is tight against the bar before I start my next set of military presses.
  • (Walking downstairs in the dark): I think I remember the vacuum sitting next to the closet door, near the kitchen. I should avoid that.
  • (Driving to work): Red lights two cars ahead of the person in front of me. He’s going to have to slow down soon. I’d better give him a little space.

I attribute the marked reduction in personal accidents to lending an ear to this voice of reason. And still, there are times when I revert back to the boyishness that frustrated my father so much. A timely example happened over the weekend.

I won’t go into the details, but I’ve spent the past couple of years replacing parts for the entire sounds system of my 1996 Corolla, culminating in the pair of speakers I put in on Saturday.

Installation for the rear speakers is actually pretty easy: pop the back off, unscrew the speaker mounts, unplug the speakers, and reverse the process with the new speakers. I did need to unsolder the original set (for reasons I won’t get into here, they had needed to be soldered in) – a procedure I could usually do in my sleep. In fact, I finished the soldering without a hitch and started on the new speaker installation. That’s when the voice in the back of my head said:

“You should really unplug that soldering iron and let it cool off… somewhere else… while you work on the rest of this.”

As I mentioned before, I typically pay heed to this voice. I’d go so far as to say that I do as it suggests more often than I ignore it. Unfortunately, I rationalized the voice away this time, thinking, “I only need to put a couple of screws in. Not a worry. Then I can get up and put the soldering iron away.”

Spoiler: I should have listened to that voice. I really, really should have listened.

What happened next is comically epic. First, I unthinkingly rolled over a bit to get a better position to put a screw in. The consequence: I heard a faint hissing on my chest. Then the smell of burning wool. In an instant, I realized what had happened: I had rolled over the soldering iron’s power cord, causing it to fall – on my chest.

As I reached down to pull the extremely hot piece of hardware off of my good wool coat, I remember thinking: “I sincerely hope I grab the right part of this thing”. That thought came just a little too late. I realized this when I heard the hiss of burning skin and saw my hand – my thumb and forefinger – gripping the hottest part of the iron, right at the metallic base, just beyond the plastic grip. I literally threw the iron down, yelled out in alarm, and jumped out of the car.

The fun part of this whole story is the aftermath, of course. If you haven’t yet, please look at the domain name for this site: “Accident Prone”. It’s legit and hard-earned. My reaction demonstrates this.

First, I knew that the pain wouldn’t set in for about 90 seconds. I also knew that it was critical to stop the continued burning as soon as possible. I called to my wife, who was in the kitchen, just beyond the garage door. I told her that I was going to need the first aid kit -specifically gauze, medical tape, and antibiotic cream. She came running out to see what I had done to myself this time.

I had little over a minute remaining at this point – and told her so: “Honey, I have about a minute before the pain sets in. I need that cream and the first-aid materials. Would you please get them?”

Before heading inside, I grabbed the soldering iron (by the handle this time), unplugged it, and set it down inside the kitchen. I walked over to the bathroom and started to run my hand under cold water. My wife, bless her heart, was still trying to find everything I needed. I shouted, “Honey, I’ve got about 30 seconds before this starts to really hurt. Please hurry!”.

This time between the actual injury and the associated pain is like the eye of a storm. And I know that eye ever so well. It was indeed about 30 seconds later that the pain actually hit – a nearly crippling, almost overwhelming pain. Oddly, it wasn’t in the areas most directly burned – it was all around it that hurt the most. This is apparently typical of very serious burns (as in the 3rd-degree kind).

At the end of the day I had a long, painful weekend with a thumb bandaged from base to tip, covering skin that was literally cooked straight through. There are a couple of sections (thankfully small ones) where the skin has started to crumble away. Fortunately, it appears to be healing.

The moral of the story is clearly this: make sure you put that precious time between injury and pain to good use. Oh, also, don’t ever ignore that voice in the back of your head. I suppose that’s important too.