A recent accident is the focus for this week's column: Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic's encounter with a snowblower and his expected three-month absence from hockey. Who'd a thunk it? Well, not me nor him.
These machines have been around for decades and since the early 1980s are equipped with "deadman safety controls," usually a lever on the handle, which when released, will stop the motion of the auger or discharge in five seconds. Blade motion should cease before the operator can contact moving parts.
The snowblower's dirty little secret is that there may be energy stored in the auger blades (if jammed by rock, heavy wet snow or ice) or similarly in the discharge chute, even though the engine has been shut off. It also is possible that there may be some compression left in the engine cylinder or in the drive train. A clogged or stuck machine should be considered a sleeping dog awaiting provocation to bite. Thus, Sakic reached in to manually unclog his machine, suffering three broken fingers and a cut tendon last December.
From a little research, I soon discovered that snowblowers are the fourth-leading cause of finger amputation, about 1,000 of 5,000 annual emergency room visits are for snowblower-related injuries.
The bottom line: use a stick (an old hockey stick?) or other instrument to clear out a jammed snowblower (or any other machine).
Fingers are precious, especially the thumb and the index finger. Sakic, talented and well-spoken, is lucky to retain a full set of 10. An estimated 30,000 finger amputations occur annually in this country. Children are highly vulnerable. For kids ages 4 and younger, three out of four amputations happen when fingers are crushed in closing doors, often pushed shut by the child himself. The simple ounce of prevention is a U-shaped piece of foam or plastic placed on the jamb side, above the child's reach, to prevent full closing. Paper shredders also were subject to a recent Consumer Product Safety Commission alert in children ages 14 months to 2 years.
The most common source of finger injuries and amputations are power tools, especially in men older than 55, and, predominantly, power saws. A few examples might suffice. A friend, who recently had purchased the designs and machines for reproducing antique chairs, was working late to turn out materials. A jointer got his dominant thumb.
Using a lathe, an experienced machinist brought in a part in which he had just turned an inside thread. Deburring it with a piece of emory cloth, the piece threaded onto his index finger, tearing it off.
A neighbor reached out to clear something in a sickle bar mower. As he reached out and forward, his foot rose from the clutch pedal of his Ford 8N tractor, snipping his index finger.
Restoring amputated parts is very complicated. Bone, tendons, tiny nerves and blood vessels must be reconnected.
The results, after months of rehab, are not always good. Original equipment is superior.
www.alanfraserhouston.com Dr. Fraser Houston is a retired emergency room physician who worked at area hospitals after moving to Southwest Colorado from New Hampshire in 1990.