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Editorial: Safety first

A few years ago I had what I now ruefully refer to as a series of unfortunate events.

It began innocently enough with a phone call one Saturday morning from a friend, wondering if I could help him move a couch.

An hour or so later, on a frosty March morning, we were wrestling it out of the side door of his house when I suddenly felt both feet slip out from under me and one ankle jammed against the foundation of his house so loudly I heard a pop.

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Being a man I insisted it was just a really bad sprain and hobbled back to my place to ice it. After a couple of days it hadn’t got any better. In fact, the bruise was so pronounced the whole foot was turning black. Upon seeing the damage first hand, one friend announced, “Gord, that looks like a corpse’s foot. I’m taking you to the hospital.” Turns out I’d broken the ball off the big bone in my lower leg and required surgery to repair it.

A couple of days later, I got surgery and an overnight hospital stay, and was released to the world hobbling around on my crutches.

If the story ended there, you’d think, “so what?” But of course there’s a punchline.

About three days later, clumsy fellow that I can be, I managed to fall off the crutches and sever the connection between my patellar tendon and kneecap on the other leg.

Back to the hospital I went for a second, and even larger and more invasive, surgery to fix this new problem. For those of you keeping score at home, this left me with one leg I couldn’t put weight on for six weeks and another that I couldn’t bend for about the same length of time.

A good friend put it best when he came to visit me in the hospital and inquired, “So, basically, you’re just a really mouthy paperweight for the next while?”

All I could do was agree. I certainly couldn’t chase him down and make him take it back.

I don’t tell this story looking to garner any sympathy. It’s years in the rear-view mirror. I’ve made a near-total recovery and picked up some new weather prediction skills while I was at it. And the perspective of time has turned the whole experience into a bunch of funny stories and a few valuable life lessons on important topics like patience and empathy.

Still, if I could go back to prevent it from happening I would. It was painful, disruptive and that knee will never quite be the same. And doubly so because I know with crystal clarity I could have prevented both injuries if I’d just slowed down for a few seconds and made sure I was progressing safely.

I saw the patch of ice I slipped on when moving the couch, but it looked like it was well out of the way of the path. I recall thinking, “we should put something on that,” but of course we didn’t. Then the reality of moving an eight-foot-long piece of furniture forced me off the path and right onto it so my friend could clear the door frame. The rest is very painful history.

As for falling off my crutches, I knew that I was struggling to adapt to them. I also knew there was better technology available for rent, such as knee scooters. I just hadn’t got around to getting one yet before it all caught up with me.

I do tell this story to you as a cautionary tale. Every accident that’s ever happened always has multiple points when the whole chain of events could be stopped dead. It’s the reason safety advocates and even some law enforcement and emergency responders are loath to call events “accidents,” because baked into that wording is the assumption nothing could have possibly prevented it — when nothing is further from the truth.

The fact of the matter is Manitoba farms are just entering one of their busiest seasons, as the hard work of the spring and summer culminates in harvest.

The days will be long, the pressures high and too often inclement weather will loom. There will be a terrible temptation to cut corners. Fatigue will catch up with you. Sometimes risks will flat out be missed in the hustle. I know all of this and I know little can change this reality.

But taking just a bit longer can often be the most efficient way to accomplish your work. After all, an injury is at best a time waster and at worst a crisis. And I suppose a fatal accident would free you from the tyranny of the calendar but I don’t think I’m putting words in anyone’s mouth when I say we’d all probably be happy to give that option a pass.

Accidents always spring from error of the human kind. They can happen very quickly and are irrevocable. Once they happen, all the wishing in the world won’t take away the effects.

With harvest underway in parts of Manitoba and right on the verge in others, I just want to wish you all the best for a smooth, profitable and safe harvest.

You deserve it — and so do your families.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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