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A Few Words

Split Second Events
      The Importance
   Of Keeping Track
Of The Little Things

Part 1: The Event.

The next day, when I recounted the previous night's events to my neighbor, he simply responded "Shit." He was right.

There's comfort embedded in obvious things and inadequacy in those overlooked. When a ten pound log got bound in the band saw blade and it gained sufficient torque to leap off the table and smash my wife's nose — let's just say that wasn't an obvious chain of events.

Perhaps the chain of events was very short, or perhaps it passed too quickly for me to absorb its violent effects. Split-second events have a peculiar way of distorting geometry. Whatever the case, after I tipped forward from my heels to my toes and dropped my hands from my eyes, the shape of the workshop had changed.

Tanya was no longer standing behind the band saw. The log that she had started to cut was no longer on the band saw. Her face mask was no longer on her face. Sparks exploded off the blade on every revolution. And what would have been an eerie yet pleasant silence following the sonic decay of the log's smash was only betrayed by Tanya's colorfully descriptive utterings about the recently altered state of her nose.

At first, the apparent lack of blood puzzled me. A triangular glance from the log rolling to a stop on the cracked concrete floor, to the sparking grind of the blade against the ceramic guides, to Tanya's hands cupped over her face set the situation into perspective. The blood was pouring into her hands. There was much to be done.

As Tanya dashed from the workshop toward the back stairs, I paused to worry. What if she was disoriented and tripped on the loose redwood step that I hadn't yet repaired? This mental pause happened as I turned off the workshop lights, realized that the band saw was still running and sparking, turned the lights back on, hit the green — wrong — the red button on the saw, glanced at the drop of blood on the log which had by this point come to a stop, hit the lights again, pushed the dog aside because we were not playing this time, and found Tanya in the kitchen some 7 seconds later. It's amazing how much one can accomplish in 7 seconds.

Part 2: The Realization.

Our honeymoon, last April, was three weeks in New Zealand. The first week passed quickly as we unpacked and packed and toured from Christchurch to Greymouth to Cape Foulwind to Nelson to Picton through two days of the Queen Charlotte Track by train, car, bus, boat and on foot. When we arrived in Wellington, we realized that our itinerary was too ambitious. We rearranged and spent a week mingling with friends and soaked in the good life of the swanky parts of town.

We settled on staying at our next stop, Napier, for the last week of the trip. Tanya immediately fell in love with the suites at the County Hotel, a block from the water, with a balcony, and walking distance from much that we planned to see. It was the claw foot bathtub and the fluffy bathrobes that convinced her most. Here we would muse about making this our home and settle into their languid pace and try to make it our own.

We agreed that every day we would visit one place and eat one good meal. Churchill's was, for me, the best meal — the best steak and stout I've yet had. And the National Aquarium was our most fun as we bounced around like school kids, renaming the fish to suit their geometry. The round puffy yellow spike ball fish. The two dimensional blue striped fluke fish. The New Zealand moon frog, whose posterior was pasted firmly and fervently against the side of the tank.

We decided to do our souvenir shopping during our last leg of the trip since we were backpacking and so severely limited on space. It was at the tourist gift shop on the marine parade that we got our kiwi tea towel. This is what Tanya used to abate the gush of blood from the sliced-pie-shaped gash on the side of her nose.

This gave me pause, but it was too late to salvage the towel. I wondered if she knew that she had grabbed the kiwi towel? During this mental pause and against Tanya's protestations, I packed ice into a zippered sandwich bag. Within ten seconds, I asked her to let me survey the damage — she was insisting on going immediately to the hospital. Even when I drove a chisel into the fleshiest lobe of my left thumb, I oddly hesitated to get it stitched. When she pulled the towel back, my reaction clarified for her the extent of the injury.

Part 3: The Trip.

"No shit, we're going to the ER. Ice it and keep your head tipped back. Where's your insurance card?"

"In my wallet."

"Where's you wallet?"

"In my purse."

"Where's your purse?"

"On the chair."

Neither of us are particularly good at keeping track of the little things, like shoes, watches, belts, anything made of paper, keys and so on. We go through this same sort of exchange virtually daily and it never goes particularly well. However, within the next ten seconds, I was locking the front door and loading Tanya into the Jeep.

The decision to drive was simple: the hospital is one mile away and I give a shit. I will get there faster than any ambulance. Period.

We live in a neighborhood that is part of an historic district called The Wood Streets. This was one of the first areas populated in Riverside, California. Prior to about 1910, the whole area was orange groves. Development started along what was called The Red Line, which was a streetcar line that ran to Los Angeles. The streets are all straight and narrow. Our street, on which building started in around 1912, is wide enough for two cars designed and built at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Automobile sizes have obviously changed since then, and so too has the number of residents who own cars; the street is lined with vehicles.

The 2000 Jeep Wrangler's torque peak is at around 3600 rpm. The 4.0L inline six cylinder engine makes quite a whirr at the peak. That is the sound that my neighbor heard as he enjoyed his evening's last cigarette, shifting from foot to foot on his curb, as I leaned on the gas and the horn, power shifting our way to 60 mph on a little streetcar suburb street built for vehicles with horsepower no more than half my current speed.

Part 4: The Story.

Five minutes after the split-second distortion of geometry, I was filling out paperwork, the ice had stopped the bleeding and the trauma nurse was about to have a look. Tanya had made a joke (a good sign) that they would probably think that I did this to her. It was immediately clear that many of the ER staff more than entertained the thought.

The gentleman who first saw the injury, upon hearing the story, said

"It must have hit a knot. That can be a real bitch. Excuse me, but it can."

The story, which they insisted that we tell over and over, was that Tanya wanted to try out a new bowl design. She wanted to make a gift for a restoration contractor who had worked on a friend's house after a carob tree fell on it. We had acquired part of that tree and had already designed a few things from it. The idea was to cut a round slice out of a log and turn it on the lathe, leaving a natural edge.

We both surveyed the cut and decided on a safe course of action. I would stand on the back side of the saw to help guide the piece through, if necessary. Tanya wanted to make the cut. She would hold the bulk of the log with her left hand and push with a stick in her right hand. In all, it's a simple cut.

In retrospect, a few complications collided in the explosive accident. First, the upper blade guide on the saw was not sufficiently tightened. This allowed the blade to twist, which started it to binding. Second, the log was just large enough to do damage, but not large enough that Tanya could keep hold of it. The safer route is to use a V-shaped jig to hold the round log, thus reducing amount of torque imparted by the blade.

Were the piece flat on the bottom, the force of the blade would have jammed the piece harder against the table. Instead, when the blade bound, the round log started to rotate. We could see, later, the tracks of the blade on the log. The band saw motor is powerful, and so the force applied to the edge of the log was enormous. When it came out of Tanya's hand, we estimate that it was traveling at somewhere near 20 mph. Her face was no more than 18 inches from the log, so she took a ridiculously hard shot. If not for the protection afforded by her wood turner's face mask... well, we prefer not to think about that.

This was our story, and it was met with sideways skepticism. True, it's not common that a female sustains a facial injury in other-than-a-car-accident, and I understand that the ER staff has to make judgements about whether it was the result of a criminal act. The situation just makes us rather sad.

Our story was vindicated when the doctor removed a chunk of bark from the wound. Ten stitches, five hours and a Vicodin prescription later, we were home to contemplate our charmed lives.

Part 5: The Aftermath.

(The link is to pictures taken the day after: viewer discretion is advised.)

This was two weeks ago. By now, the stitches are out and we've seen the specialist twice. The x-rays showed "multiple fractures of the nasal bone with spaces between the fragments." For as graphic as that sounds, it turns out that there is no medical need to set the nose, as the sinuses were unaffected by the blow. Tanya will keep her new nose and her new scars, partly as reminders to wear safety gear, partly just for bragging rights.

I'm usually the one to do the big cuts on the band saw, so I was devastated that it was Tanya's and not my nose. I don't give a hoot about my nose, and I'm as ready as can be to take a shot for the team. But as she aptly points out: with our height difference, it would have crushed my jaw. She raises a good point, but those feelings of inadequacy — the feelings you get from things overlooked — they linger.

Tanya will get back into the workshop when her new face mask arrives. Her dad taught her, literally, when you fall off the horse, you've still got to ride it home. I've been plugging away ever so slowly on new projects as afterimages of the accident float through the shop with each blink. But I savor the minutes and hours I get to spend designing and building. And I savor the days and years I will get to spend with Tanya and her slightly broader nose, for truly, the shapes of our lives hang in a split second.

January, 2006