Friday, October 22, 2010

A Side-Splitting tale of Medical Marvel

I worked several jobs to get through college, both during the summers and while in school. The most consistent employment was the three year tenure I held at Walljasper construction, my grandfathers Vermeer baler implement. I never had an official title, but in practicality, it ranged from office manager to baler technician to farm hand.

Sporting a Walljasper Construction hat
I inventoried parts as they came in. I built hay mowers, rakes, and tedders like they were giant Lego sets. I serviced balers that stood fifteen feet high and spit out six foot round bails from their pneumatic maws. They were like giant jungle gyms for adults – the only differences being that this playground was equipped with giant roller bars that, if not properly restrained, could crush me like a corn flake, and generally I was required to scramble across its surface wielding a blowtorch and a hammer, the only tools capable of breaking free the ball bearings we commonly replaced. Every day was different, every task brought on a new challenge that generally led to a string of curse words that were common vernacular around the shop. There was a particular eight word expletive stream that flowed so easily from the mouth, it seemed to be the standard expression of complete frustration among men of my family. Any timidity I had when I first entered this job was soon lost as I smashed fingers, ran over toes, caught my hair, or banged my knee. Couple these mild injuries with the healthy dose of uber-machismo heckling I received from everyone save my grandfather, and I quickly learned that it was better to shut my mouth or let forth an exasperated fray of flower wilting utterances than to whine about the ailments that befell me.

The characters I met during my summers at the shop were among the most peculiar bunch I will ever encounter. Many of them lacked the book knowledge I was so proud of attaining as a sophomore in college, and I looked down on them for it. I thought that they were inferior for their ignorance. But what many of the farmers I met lacked in philosophical know-how, they made up for in honest labor and experiential wisdom. They knew more about the land they worked and the crops they harvested than I'll ever know about any one subject. They knew more about the weather than any meteorologist, and any one of the men I met in those ungodly hot Iowa summers could jury rig a broken down piece of machinery in a field a hundred miles from nowhere with some baler twine, a pair of pliers, and a can of chain lube.

The summer after my Sophomore year of college, I resumed my post in the shop, just in time for prime baling season to hit in mid May. Not three months earlier, I began dating a Junior at Monmouth College, the girl who would later become Mrs. Chris Walljasper. Before leaving school, we agreed that Annie would come down from suburban Chicago to visit and meet my family. She had experienced limited agrarian life, and was excited to meet my grandparents, learn about where I grew up, and see where I worked. So one sultry summer afternoon, she embarked upon the journey.

Annie was supposed to arrive a few hours after I got off work, giving me ample time to clean up before seeing her. In her excitement to be reunited with her new love, she showed up about three hours premature, discovering me at the shop, elbow deep in baler chains and grease. It was an amazing surprise, and I was ecstatic at the sight of my future wife, dressed like a million bucks and there just to see dirty ol' me.

She cutely attempted to help me on the baler for a few moments, but we soon realized that this was not the best idea, considering her polished attire. I sent her into the air conditioned office, where I would soon be finishing the day out before going home. I assumed that this would be the best place for Annie. Evidently, I was mistaken.

When I completed the repair on the machine, I joined my girl in the office, only to find that she was being entertained by an unintentional yet eccentric guest. And appearances were not as they seemed.

A farmer, who's name I'll leave out of this anecdote, had come by the shop office while I was busy, wanting a part for his hay mower. The man was honestly one of the nicest guys who worked with my grandfather, but did not come across as an incredibly learned man. The cleft pallet that divided his upper lip was the main culprit in giving our agrarian friend the appearance of a less than philosophical personality. He was never incredibly concerned about his attire, which on that particular day, was composed of a blue vented cap, a flannel button down shirt, a pair of shabby gray sweat pants, and Velcro strapped shoes. This was particularly slovenly for the farmer, but none of these characteristics, by themselves, were enough to be a cause for concern.

The thing that had Annie's jaw on the ground was the fact that one of the mans arms appeared to be firmly planted inside his jersey trousers, dangerously close to what she logically concluded were his genitalia. Upon entering the office, I strolled to the pop machine, grabbed a soda, and meandered to the counter before realizing that Annie was shooting me desperate looks as she feigned interest in whatever the farmer was chatting about. Mr. hand-in-pants, not phased by Annie's look of utter horror at the evident impropriety, kept talking, chatting away as if nothing was amiss.

I cordially assisted the man, providing the parts he'd come in for, and after he left, burst into laughter. I knew exactly what Annie had been thinking, and couldn't wait to hear what she had to say.

“What was that man doing?!? His hand was...Was he, TOUCHING HIMSELF?!?!?!”

Picking myself off the floor, I wiped the tears from my eyes and began to explain the bizarre story of our one armed friend.

The man owned a Model K baler. It was a newer vintage, equipped with an additional piece of equipment on the tail of the machine that, upon completion of a six foot round bale of hay, would administer a cellophane like wrapping around the circumference of the bale. This feature was the pride and joy of Vermeer, but after a few months of constant use, the rollers that conveyed the net wrap would collect remnants of the polyvinyl product and eventually stop the wrapping process. When this happens, it is recommended that the farmer bring the machine to the implement, where a technician could service it. Our farmer did not heed this advice.

I do not know the specifics of the incident, but evidently, the baler jammed up, so he hopped off the tractor to see what was the matter, and, finding the net wrap rollers incapacitated, took out his trusty pocket knife and began whittling away at the clog. This would have been a perfectly acceptable remedy, had the PTO been disconnected and the roller halted. But that was not the case. In seconds, both of his hands were caught by the spinning cylinder and forcibly run through the machine. At this point, I personally would have passed out. The grizzliness of this event is enough to make my stomach churn even now. But for his lack of foresight, this guy was tough. He retrieved the dismembered pieces of his opposable digits and made it across the field to his truck, where he proceeded to drive over ten miles back to his home, where his wife then escorted him to the hospital. Through all the pain and blood loss, he remained cognizant and focused enough to attain the medical attention necessary. But this isn't where the story ends.

The practice of reattaching a persons severed digits, then sewing them into the abdomen is evidently not common, as everyone who I've told this story to has been either appalled or dumbstruck. The technical term is Autografting, transferring flesh from one part of the body to another. By inserting the reattached thumb into his stomach, the healing properties of the abdominal cavity promoted blood circulation and nerve regeneration. To its credit, the unorthodox procedure resulted in a fairly successful use of his hand, when everything was said and done.

I explained all of this to Annie, who was dubious, to say the least. Upon verification from several other members of my family, she was finally convinced. I wouldn't believe it either, if I hadn't seen it myself. 

The miracle of modern scientific ingenuity prevailed to save this mans ability to hold up the underside of a sandwich for another day.

1 comment:

  1. Hilarious... yet mortifying. I have learned so much from Iowa.