As I diligently plowed through the mountainous pile of paperwork, I glanced at my watch. It read 6:30 PM. “Wonderful, at least it’s Friday”; I thought out loud, “48 hours down and only 15 more to go.” Such was the life of a second shift production supervisor at American Air Filter in Zion, Illinois. I let out a deep sigh as I reminded myself that at least I had a job, it could be worse. Ten minutes later this self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition with five words.
“Jackie cut her finger off!”
Those chilling words would turn a tedious and mundane evening into a hair-raising night of drama and mayhem. But not initially.
When Kathy burst into the small cramped office and shouted those horrifying words, I looked up from my work and said, “Kathy, don’t f*ck with me, I’m in no mood.” I honestly thought she was messing with me. Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t believe her, knowing what chaos would ensue if it was true.
She then shrieked a second time, this time much louder, “Paul, I’m serious, Jackie cut her finger off!”
Before I could respond, a quivering Jackie appeared in the doorway holding a blood covered left hand. A multitude of crimson splatters covered her white top and were an extreme contrast to the ashen hue of terrified face.
Evidently, while Jackie was adjusting the plastic film in a packaging machine, Kathy thought she heard her say to turn it on. When she mistakenly started the machine, the tip of Jackie’s left middle finger was chopped off.
I immediately guided the injured employee to a chair in the middle of the office. She was trembling and sobbing uncontrollably. Steve, my maintenance man, came rushing into the office and murmured, “Oh my God.”
As I attempted to get Jackie to hold her bloody hand above her heart, I told Steve to call 911. By then, a small crowd of employees had gathered outside of the office, trying to see what the commotion was all about. I quickly told them to take an early break.
Steve hung up the phone and told me that the rescue squad was on the way. Still doing my best to calm the panic-stricken Jackie, I directed Steve to go to the front entrance so he could guide the paramedics to our department when they arrived. As he was scurrying off, I barked, “Tell Victor to get over here!”
Moments later, Victor, the supervisor of the high-speed production area, skidded to a stop on his golf cart outside the office. “Holy shit” were the first words out of his mouth. My glare made him aware that I needed help, not added drama.
Kathy was providing all the extra drama I could handle at the moment.
While Jackie bawled hysterically and tried to catch her breath, Kathy was screaming at her, “It’s my fault, I turned the machine on!” Tears smeared her mascara as she continued to screech, “It’s all my fault, hit me, Jackie, hit me!”
Obviously this wasn’t helping the situation at all.
I instructed Victor to take the distraught Kathy to the lunchroom, get her a Coke or something and calm her down. I just wanted her out of there. Jackie was frantic enough without Kathy adding to the turmoil.
Thankfully, the paramedics showed up as Victor was escorting Kathy from the office. As one asked me for details, the rest of the emergency medical crew began administering first aid to Jackie.
As the EMTs tended to her severed digit, they also attempted to control her frenetic breathing. Seeing that they no longer needed my services, I grabbed a piece of gauze and I excused myself from the office.
As I briskly walked over to the machine where the accident had occurred, I kept my head down, eyeballing the shop floor. A quick inspection of the east side of the machine proved fruitless. Determined, I continued my search to the other side, just hoping…
Yes, there it was! I had found what I was looking for.
Bending over, I used the gauze to carefully scoop up the small portion of jagged pale flesh from the dusty floor. Wrapping it up, I noticed that the fingernail was still intact. Nice.
When I got back to the office, I asked one of the medical techs to step outside, making sure not to draw Jackie’s attention. She was somewhat more composed and I didn’t want to do anything to change that.
Outside the office, I discreetly handed the paramedic the small package containing the tip of Jackie’s middle finger. Somewhat surprised, he said, “Wow, you found it.” He then packed it into a small cup of ice and told me he would see what they could do, but it was probably too small to reattach.
Somewhat disheartened, I returned to the office. Jackie’s left hand was now heavily bandaged and she was being helped onto a gurney. Although her breathing was now under control, she was still trembling and had tears streaming down her freckled face.
As the EMTs wheeled her out of the office, Jackie asked me if I would go with her to the hospital and stay with her until Roger could get there. I said sure I would. Roger was her fiancé and worked in Racine, Wisconsin. It would him at least an hour to drive to St. Therese Medical Center where she was being taken.
The emergency people told me to follow them in my truck, that way I could return when Roger arrived. Before leaving I made sure that Roger was contacted and asked Victor to keep an eye on my crew until I returned. As harrowing and gruesome as this situation was, I was surprised that I had remained so composed.
That all changed the moment I got in my truck to follow the ambulance to the medical facility in Waukegan.
The gravity of what had just transpired finally hit me. It hit me like a brick. I didn’t cry. I didn’t puke. I didn’t pass out. But I did feel that I was about to do all three. I did hyperventilate for most of the 15-minute trip.
After I arrived, I was able to regain my composure and stayed with Jackie until her fiancé showed up. Thankfully, the remainder of the night was event free. On their way home, Jackie and Roger stopped by the plant to let everyone know she was okay. No one was happier than Kathy to see her.
Sadly, the doctors were not able to reattach the piece of Jackie’s finger that I had recovered. She did, however, receive a considerable compensation check from American Air Filter’s insurance company. Shortly after the accident, Jackie married Roger, albeit with a left middle finger that was now 1⁄4” shorter.
When all was said and done, I guess Kathy was right – Jackie cut her finger off.
Until next time…from the booth.