Pain in my arm woke me last night. It was the cumulative effect of the accident that broke my arm when I was 18, last year's surgery that left a metal plate in my forearm, just above my wrist, and the spring yard work of the past few days. But what I thought of when I woke up was the first big injury to that arm, when I crushed my thumb in my father’s cement mixer when I was in the fourth grade. My dad was a bricklayer and he kept one of those small (well, huge to me at the time) mixers that he could load up on his pick up truck and bring along to jobs. By then he was a weekend bricklayer, working as a job safety inspector for the state during the week. So the mixer was left idle in the yard Monday through Friday. But not idle, we used to love to just spin that bowl around on the gear wheel to see how fast it could go. I had it going pretty fast that afternoon. I’d done it a million times before, there was no real danger in it. Except this time I decided I should make it stop before I went into the house so I grabbed the big gear to slow it down. Nine year old hands are no match for a spinning gear and my fingers just stayed on the edge and followed it until my thumb forced a full stop, wedged between the gear and the metal bar that supported the side of the contraption. It can’t be right, but I have this strange memory of the cousins who were with my brothers and sister and me running home at the sound of my first scream. They perhaps thought we were breaking the rules by playing with the mixer and did not want to get caught. I don’t remember what happened next but I know I didn’t go to a doctor right away. By the time my dad got home to look at my thumb the odd blue color inspired a trip to the emergency room. The doctor used a small drill to release the pressure buildup under my thumbnail and then put a brace on my thumb that kept my whole hand at an odd angle. It took a few days for the thumbnail to fall off, as the doctor warned me it would. It was sort of creepy looking, my nail-less thumb. I was in the brace for long enough to have to complete some school assignments left handed. I wrote a prize-winning story during that time, earning a butterfly sticker and praise from Sister Mary Someone or Other.
That day’s stupidity left no lasting mark or pain in my hand but when I woke last night wanting to cry with my throbbing forearm and stiff elbow, a picture of the cement mixer flashed in my head. I’m 45 years old now. That injury, barely thought about in 39 years, apparently left more of a scare than I’d imagined.
A few years before he died, my Dad’s sister gave him a coffee mug that says “Proud to be a scaffold erecting, cement mixing, brick laying Construction Worker” and on the inside of the mug is a little drawing of a cement mixer that looks exactly (in my imagination) like the one that smushed my thumb. I pulled that mug out of the cupboard this morning and started typing.