Best Laid Plans and Operational Risk Management (ORM)
By Anthony R. Kolb
Last Friday started off like any other Friday. Alarm, a groan, a realization that I not only had to go to work, but that I also had to work Saturday too. After my typical morning routine I was off to the office by 0800. My work day went pretty uneventful, and I was back home to my beloved by 1600 (4 pm for civilians).
Arriving home just in time for Julie to start the yard work. This chore is a typical point of contention between us. Not to see who “has” to do it, unlike most couples, we argue over who gets to mow. Julie already had the ole push mower out and fueled, I decided to weed whack while she used the push mower. I went in to change out of my uniform and into more comfortable attire. I actually thought about going ahead and weed whacking in my uniform, it was after all Friday, and having steel toed boots and a camouflaged pattern, why not? I was already in them after all, right? Well for those of you who do not believe in “Guardian Angels”, I decided, as an after thought, to change into something way more comfortable. Rugby shorts and toe shoes and sun glasses.
In the garage I grab my trusty cordless weed whacker and head to the yard. After finishing the front and side yards, both of us took a small break. Inside we went for some lemonade and a snack. I polished off some leftovers and Julie asked me to finish the mowing. She actually had been quite tired and rather cranky most of the week, so I readily agreed, especially since I also like to mow. This was the first mow of the year, so I knew the backside was the worst and thickest area. The slope between our property and the neighbor’s field is particularly hard to mow this time of year. It is usually extremely muddy, because of the water and amount of sun; the thickest area of grass is there. We have always mowed all the way to the other side of the ditch, and around the neighbor’s old Maple Tree because the riding mowers they use typically get stuck and can’t handle that slope as easily as we can with the push mower. Plus, right after we moved in 6-7 years ago, a huge section of concrete was dumped next to their tree (we finally had that removed last year), but I have always felt it my responsibility to mow around it.
So I actually think to myself, since the concrete is finally gone, I can just mow straight across my property line now and it will be so much quicker. As I make my first swipe along our property line, I realize two things. First, I should have mowed this section at least a week earlier. Secondly, the neighbor had gotten their riding mower stuck in the mud, there were numerous ruts on their side of the maple tree. I figured it would just be easier if I mowed that area one more time for them.
On my second pass along our property line, I went back mowing the slope alongside their tree. That was when my left foot slipped in the mud, as I fell I pushed the mower away letting go of the handle. This released the shutoff bar and stopping the engine. Unfortunately, two things happened. The mower stopped abruptly due to the tall grass, raising it up on the front wheels, and off it’s rear wheels slightly. At the same time my right foot slipped out from under me. My momentum sent my left foot sliding under the mower deck. I was able to kick the mower away with my right foot, but not before the slowing blade made contact with my left foot.
I immediately slapped my gloved hand over the shoe and foot, applying pressure to the wounds. As I screamed for help, I decided to remove the shoe and see what kind of damage was actually done. Several rather deep lacerations along the distal inboard side of my foot and big toe. Yes, I counted and they were all there; I could move them all, though it was painful. I immediately returned the pressure to the wounds, and hollered again for help. Zippy was the first to hear and came running down asking what happened. He ran off to get me some towels, and to get Julie. Moments later, he returned with a couple of old clean shop towels, though they didn’t look it. I applied a towel and more pressure. The wounds had nearly stopped bleeding, likely due to the amount of mud caked in them as I pushed my foot down into the mud to get it away from the mower blade. Zachary asked about bringing our drop bag (huge First Aid Kit) down, Julie brought the Jeep down to get me. My survivalist training kicked in; I declined the kit and cleaning the wounds there in lieu of getting to the Hospital. I thought cleaning it would be ineffective and likely start it bleeding again. Zippy and Julie got me into the Jeep and I maintained pressure and elevation. As we sped toward the front of the house, and a wave of nausea hit me. Julie realized the Jeep was nearly empty, so we transitioned to the car speeding away toward the Hospital. We debated about calling an ambulance, or stopping by since they are on the way to the hospital. Since, it wasn’t bleeding profusely at this point we opted to continue our journey. Now the whole way down to the hospital, while holding pressure to my mangled foot, all I could think was, damn I wish I hadn’t changed clothes, I should have kept my steel toed boots on, what a dumb-ass I am. After all the Operational Risk Management I do in the Navy, and I decide to mow my yard in toe shoes, barely better than sandals. Julie was wishing the whole time that she never asked me to finish mowing the yard. I was just glad it happened to me and not her.
Great thanks go out to the staff at Lourdes Hospital and to Doctor Hunt. They cleaned the wounds and set the broken bone. After looking at the angle and extent of the wounds, I was told it was very likely that I would have lost toes, had I indeed been wearing my steel toed boots. The surgical angle of the cut would have likely caused the blade to wedge into the steel of the boot either lodge itself there, where I would have either lost toes pulling away; toes could have been mangled and had to be amputated; or the blades may have mashed the steel of the boot through the toe(s) causing amputation. Thanks Guardian Angel, for making me change into comfortable toe shoes.
Funny how things work out! Instead of having to work last Saturday, I spent several hours in surgery Friday night, getting the wound cleaned, bone set and dressed. My injuries could have been far worse than they were. I spent nearly four days in the hospital getting antibiotics to prevent infection. I really would have rather worked the Saturday.
This weekend alone, other mowing tragedies occurred. Mostly fingers and feet, again many could have been worse. Machinery certainly makes our lives easier, but it must be used with a degree of caution. Check your mower. Make sure all the safety features are installed and working properly, including safety guards and safety switches. Also, check the area you are going to be mowing, and make sure it is safe. Debris picked up. The terrain and condition is safe. Hope everyone has a safe and uneventful summer. No more mower mishaps.
Photo below of my injuries may be to graphic for some to view: