Hurrying hurts

The sweat was beading up on my forehead as I fumbled with the frozen meat while staring at the clock. It was getting later in the afternoon and I still had to get the ribs in the smoker for our Thursday night special.

I was finally by myself — everyone had departed after the lunch run at our bar and grill in Elgin. I was left with dishes and catch-up work but the biggest task at hand was to get smokin,’ so the meat would be just perfect that evening.

The problem was that I had forgotten to thaw out the ribs and I needed to get them separated to speed up the process. So, I decided to go against all I’d been told about prying apart frozen meat and just go for it.

I reached for my favorite butcher knife, with its easy-grip handle, deadly point and serrated blade. With my left hand, I held the baby backs while the right chopped, chopped away at the spots where I thought I could get the most leverage.

It was working quite well — the ribs, one by one, were becoming independent of the others. But the clock was still ticking away. So I decided to use more of a downward thrust — a jab, if you will — like I was stabbing someone to death.

The thing about frozen meat, however, is that it’s slick. Quickly, that scientific theory was proven as were the warnings from all the cooks in the world who tell you to never, ever pry apart frozen meat with a butcher knife.

I was stabbing away when suddenly — “Oh, no.”

The knife’s blade skidded from its original course, and the power of my thrusting resulted in one big piercing pain followed by an eerie numbness.

I didn’t want to look, but I had to. Instead of between the two ribs, the knife was firmly planted inside my own hand — in that odd space between the thumb and pointer-finger. Yes, I had successfully stabbed myself.

I could have dealt with the hole that it caused, but the real issue was the spreading awareness the feeling was dying in my fingers.

“Oh, geez, I must have cut an important cord of some sort,” I said to myself, knowing I needed quick medical care.

The blood alone, on the hallway floor outside the kitchen, was a testament to the fact that something needed to be done, even though I knew I didn’t have the time.

My only option was Old Doc Halls down the street. Dr. Halls had been the doctor in Elgin for years and years. He was a nice enough guy — just some of the things in his office were a little creepy. Like the iodine jar that had been in the examining room since I was in kindergarten, where he stuck all the thermometers after they came out from under the tongues of a multitude of Elginites.

Old school or not, I needed some help. So, with the butcher knife protruding from my hand and blood streaming, I telephoned the good doctor. I was told to come to the office right away.

“And DO NOT pull the knife out,” his nurse said. “He’ll do that, because he doesn’t want you to do any more damage than you’ve already done, especially if you cut nerves or something.”

So I grabbed a couple of clean bar towels and put my hand inside. As I locked the doors, I realized the towels had already soaked through and were falling off my hand. With no time to re-wrap, I headed down Main Street.

I realized I couldn’t drive with a butcher knife sticking out of my hand as it kept getting in the way of the steering wheel, so I decided I could surely walk the short distance. The thing about Elgin, however, on a Thursday afternoon, is there were quite a few people around. There were a bunch of women coming out of Getz Grocery (which was next door and on my way to Dr. Halls). I tried to be nonchalant, but people noticed me anyway. Getzfred, the owner of the grocery, was carrying bags and nearly fell down.

“What in the world?” he said, almost slamming his own hand in the trunk of a customer’s car. “There’s blood streaming everywhere, there’s a trail down the sidewalk! And if you haven’t noticed, there’s a butcher knife sticking out of your hand!”

“Yes, I know, that’s why I walking down to see Dr. Halls,” I said.

I apologized to Getz, for the red spill in front of his store and jokingly advised him to use Chem-Dry.

People stared while they drove past me, as I marched south to have the knife removed and obviously have some stitches put in place. Some rolled their windows down and yelled, “What happened to you?” I just smiled and waved my good hand.

Dr. Halls assessed the damage, his beady little eyes peering through his wire-rimmed glasses.

“Well, you stabbed yourself pretty good,” he said. “Let’s go ahead and get rid of that knife.”

And just like in an old western movie, he grabbed the handle and gave it a rip. The only difference between my situation and a western movie is that I didn’t get a piece of wood on which to bite down.

The hole it left behind quickly filled with blood and he rinsed it out with some solution they used in the 1940s — so he could “get a good luck at how much interior stitching we’ll need.” The solution burned like it was gasoline and had the smell of ether — then I was feeling sick to my stomach, but that was only from the fumes.

The good news was that as soon as the knife was gone, the feeling started coming back to my fingers. Doc Halls said I probably “just pressed against ‘a cable’ or two and they’ll work just fine now. If not, go see someone else.”

That was reassuring.

He shot me full of deadening agent, which really didn’t work — but I was seriously running out of time (regarding all the work I had left to do).

He put stitches inside, outside and anywhere that looked ragged. Then he bandaged me up and told me “to not get in such a hurry.”

That was the best medical advice he ever gave me and wasn’t that the truth? As I walked back to our business, my left hand bandaged up with my sterilized butcher knife in the other, I saw on the bank clock that I was even more behind, time-wise, than I was when all this started. Plus, I had blood to clean up, floors to sanitize and frozen ribs to throw away because they’d been marinated in my plasma.

If I just hadn’t been in such a hurry.

The funny thing is that I remember every detail of that day — except how the evening went or what we did on Rib Night after I screwed the whole thing up. I guess it doesn’t pay to hurry.

Sure, in the years that followed, I had the blade of a paring knife come loose from its handle and fly into my eyeball. I nearly cut off my little finger on a heavy new industrial-sized box of aluminum foil. And once I nearly jabbed out one of my eyes when I hit my head on the grinding lever of our snow cone machine. And every time, I was in a hurry . . . or maybe just plain stupid.

Whatever the case, I can testify that I’ve learned one thing: hurrying hurts.


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