Posted by: Dave Neads | January 27, 2009

Have You Got a Hammer?

It was just after 4 on a  -25 degree C afternoon. I had  come in from outside, taken my boots off and put my feet up on the stool, warming myself by the heater when the phone rang.

“Have you got a hammer and a sharp knife?” said the hurried voice on the other end of the line.  “Well… yesssss,” I replied.  “Good, then I come right over and you can cut my finger off”.  Click, the phone went dead and I stared at it for a long moment, letting all this sink in.

The call had come from my neighbour,Klaus,  who runs the ranch in our valley.  Although he usually is a man of few words, this conversation set a new benchmark for brevity.

I put my boots and jacket back on and went outside to wait anxiously for his arrival, while Rosemary collected first aid materials and prepared for the worst.  Within five minutes I could hear the whine of his snomachine.   Up the hill and into the driveway he came, stiff backed and glassy eyed.  With no coat, shirttail streaming behind, his full beard frosty white and hair straight back he looked more like a wraith than my neighbour.  Somehow he had managed to work the throttle and steer the machine with his right hand even though it was wrapped in a big glob of blood-soaked paper towels.

I led him into the kitchen where Rosemary unwrapped the paper towels to expose what used to be a finger, but now was a piece of white bone with ragged pieces of flesh hanging to the side from the middle knuckle to the end.  The nail was  still attached but at a weird angle, the whole finger curled in the fetal position.

“Whiskey ,” breathed Kklaus.  He slugged it back. “Cut it off” , he demanded.

We figured he was in shock.  “No way, ” I said.

Rosemary dressed the finger in gauze and bandages and called the about-to-close clinic to see if someone would wait there, while I went outside, fired up our snow machine and got it ready for the trip to Anahim Lake.  By the time I  got back, Rosemary had dressed our Klaus in some of my heavy snow machine gear complete with down coveralls and jacket,  extra large mitts to accommodate the bandage, and her warm blue toque.  Klaus is  many pounds and several sizes smaller than me so he looked for all the world like a little kid dressed up in his dad’s clothes, although the humour didn’t surface at the time.

The trail was  rough and bumpy  but he stoically hung on.  Forty-five minutes later we were at the car, which is parked at the end of the logging road, in the turnaround where they stop ploughing.   After a nervous few minutes while the car decided if it would start in this cold weather, we drove another twenty five minutes to the clinic in Anahim Lake where the nurse took one look at the blood soaked bandages and after hearing the description of the finger/router encounter said “You guys have to go to Williams Lake.”

It was now after 7pm.  The finger had been mangled 3 over hours ago, but my Klaus still insisted he didn’t need any pain killers.   So, after a coffee at Mort’s place, off to Williams Lake we went.

After three hours and forty five minutes of icy driving on  dark deserted Highway 20,  we were in emergency, the doctor shaking his head and trying to provide options.  All this took a few more hours, and we were both exhausted.

After the trip and the trauma, it was not the time to make a decision so we went to a helpful friend’s home for the night.  It wasn’t much of a night.  We arrived just after one am and left at six thirty, so we could be back to emergency before the doctor’s shift ended at eight am.  By then, my oh-so-practical neighbour had made the final decision: to have the top half of his index finger amputated. Since he is right-handed, the decision was not easy.  But with the spectre of numerous trips to Kamloops or Vancouver for the surgery, to see a plastic surgeon, rehab, and no guarantee that the finger would ever be really useful again, removal seemed the best solution.

It was quickly accomplished and we were back in the car by ten thirty, grabbed a drive-through lunch, and then drove the endless four hours to the snomachine and then another 45 minutes back into the Precipice.  And finally, pain pills were accepted.   Talk about a high pain tolerance!  But the day wasn’t over yet; the cows needed to be fed; huge round bales of hay to be delivered by tractor.  Klaus  insisted he drive the tractor while I cut the strings, kept stuck bales rolling and acted as gateman/ cattle shooer.

Once that was done, we went back up to our place, a couple of kilometers away,  for the good hot meal Rosemary had waiting and a debrief.

And so it goes, one of those little things that can happen when you’re running power tools.  Traumatic anywhere, just much more complicated here in the wilderness.
In any case, the next time someone phones you and opens with “Do you have a hammer?”, be prepared….




  1. Great story Dave. I doubt if there is as good a response team in the country! Good old Chilcotin.

  2. […] router and cut it almost off. He called Dave to take a sharp knife and a hammer (first hand account here) to finish what the router had started. With one bleeding hand in the air he took his snow machine […]

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