My wife says I am over-obsessed with safety. I don’t think that is is a bad thing.
My dad began teaching me safety from my earliest memories. “Always wear a life jacket.” “Treat all guns as if they were loaded.” “Don’t use the axe near other people.” “Don’t walk around with an open knife.” “Don’t cut toward yourself.”
I have carried a knife continually since I was 5 years old, when I began carrying my uncle’s old cub scout knife. I have used knives for carving, building, and working on little projects as a kid. I have used them for cutting fish, for cutting meat, for cutting explosives. As a kid I cut myself occasionally at first when carving, but never very bad. Each time I learned something from the experience, and I recognized that it is better to learn from the pain of others.
I have known people who have been injured badly with knives. I have learned from their mistakes. Often, though, what we know about safety and what we do are different. Sometimes we need to be reminded that just knowing is not enough.
Sometimes, we know all the right things, but we just consider ourselves a little better, a little more skillful. Sometimes, we are just in a little to much of a hurry. Sometimes, we just go ahead using the wrong or damaged tool because, usually, we get away with it. So I learned a few things that I already knew. I learned a few that I did not. I already knew a dull knife is dangerous. I knew that rushing a cutting job is dangerous. I knew that thought should go into the direction of each cut. I already knew an animal being worked on should be held securely.
I learned that it takes a lot of force to punch a dull tip through an animal’s hide from the inside out. I learned that when the tip does break through, all of that force is released quickly and uncontrollably. I learned that a knife blade puncturing the thigh and slamming into the femur leaves you feeling like your leg got whacked with a bat.
I had plenty of time during the steep climb down the mountain to the lake, blood running down my leg and soaking into my sock, to think about what I did wrong.
It was not one huge mistake, but a number of serious safety violations that combined to result in a serious injury. We had hunted up and down a steep face. Going up and down the dangerous climb with three small children was more exhausting than usual. Darkness was coming quickly and we still had a bit of a climb down to the skiff when we saw the wallaby. It hopped away, but turned to look back over its shoulder for a second, the last look-around it ever had.
The kids were thrilled; they wanted to take the whole wallaby home to show their younger siblings. I should have just carried it out whole, but decided to gut it first. Light was starting to get poor, so I was hurrying. The knife I had borrowed had a sharp edge, but the point had been turned and blunted on something. When I realized the tip was so dull, I should have stopped. The shape of the blade was different than i was used to and it felt awkward to me. The guts were ruptured by a bullet fragment, but not a mess yet, so I was trying to handle it in a way that would prevent making a mess of the job. I was still opening the abdominal cavity, using a type of knife that I don’t usually use, and trying to go fast to beat the dark. I was on uneven ground, and I shifted my right leg a bit for better balance, putting it closer to the wallaby. I was working near the tail and trying to push the tip of the knife through the skin from the inside, using way to much pressure. I don’t know if the wallaby moved first or if the tip punched through first, but suddenly the wallaby was sliding sideways while the knife punched through the hide and came free with the full force of my effort behind it, with no directional control at all. It stopped against the bone in my thigh. I stood and took a few steps away without saying anything, but the kids had seen it and knew what had happened. I smiled at them and told them I was fine, but I was actually slightly concerned; I was unsure of the exact location of the wound. I made them turn around and stand behind me, but as soon as the cut was exposed they came around to see and became quite alarmed. Hopefully they learned a lesson from my mistake, preventing future injuries of their own.
Mistakes I made:
• Did not bring my own knife
• Rushed the job
• Used a dull knife
• Cut in the general direction of my own body
• Working with unstable footing
• Did not bring good first aid supplies, other than a tourniquet.
The hike out, skiff ride across the lake, and drive back to town was not too bad. It could have been much worse. I could easily have severed a tendon, stuck the knife into my knee joint, or have been wearing a tourniquet (I had one with me).
I didn’t get back from the emergency room until 11:45 pm, and was headed out at 7:30 the next morning to hobble around wrestling, castrating, ear tagging, and vaccinating calves, making me painfully aware of what damage to a thigh can do for mobility, and, of course, taking an unmerciful ribbing from everyone who had heard the story by then.
I will soon post a recommendation for simple first aid supplies to be carried when hunting, working, traveling, or shooting.