JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Thumbs, Knives And Recliners

Some things you just take for granted. Like opposable thumbs. When you lose the use of one (temporarily, I hope), you realize what a great invention they are. Here’s the rest of the story.

I got a new recliner a couple of weeks ago, replacing a 10-year-old one that had served its duty. It was host to many naps, football games, books, magazines, naps, glasses of wine, television shows, conversations with my wife and, did I mention, naps?

I bought the new one from a local furniture store, but it had to be custom-made at the factory to satisfy Lillian’s living room color coordination scheme. So it was delivered to our door in a giant box.

The empty box sat outside the garage beside the garbage can for a few days. On a Sunday afternoon, the day before our garbage and recycle collection trucks were to arrive, I decided to be a good citizen and cut it up into pieces small enough to fit into the green recycle bin, which was going out to the curb in the morning.

I just about got it done, with the assistance of the very sharp Swiss Army knife. OK, now you can see where this is going. I hope you don’t read fast because I’m typing this very slowly with one hand, and it’s going to take me a while. So just be patient and take your time.

Out there in the garage that Sunday afternoon, I gave that knife a good pull through one of the last seams on that box, and it kept right on going, right across the back of my left hand just, above the thumb, leaving a gash about 2 inches long and severing the tendons that connect my thumb to the rest of my body.

Dang! That’s what I said. Or something like that. It was a pretty short word. Only four letters.

I dashed into the house, right to the sink, and washed it out good. That knife has been a lot of places. Lillian grabbed me a big red towel and wrapped it around my hand, loaded me into the car, and we headed for the emergency room.

What happened next is worth a short digression. As we pulled into the garage at the ER, a friendly faced white-haired man opened the car door, welcomed us to the ER and asked if I needed a wheelchair. I was so taken aback by the greeter I could barely mumble, “No.” I KNEW this man.

His name is Bob Hubal. He’s a little older than me. He used to be a Greek Orthodox Catholic priest but retired long ago. I met him in 1998. My fiancée at the time, Rita, and I were in the process of buying a home just before we got married. It needed new carpet. We were shopping at Carpet World and met the friendliest carpet salesman ever. We picked out the carpet we liked and sat down at a table with him to discuss details, like haggling over the price and installation.

During the course of our conversation, we learned he was a former Orthodox priest, was married (they can do that) and had taken this job at the carpet store. Rita and I looked at each other as the lightbulbs went on in our heads simultaneously. We told him we were about to get married. He asked casually where the wedding was going to be. We said we hadn’t gotten that far along in the planning. We were both divorced Catholics, and therefore unable to get married at either of the Catholic churches we attended.

“Well, I could marry you,” he said.

We struck a deal. We’d take the carpet and in return, he would perform our wedding. We all laughed and agreed it was the strangest carpet sale deal ever. Two weeks later, the carpet was installed in our new home. The following Saturday Father Bob Hubal married us in the small chapel he kept in his home in a south Bismarck neighborhood.

Our paths crossed from time to time. Rita died from cancer just three years later, and Father Bob, which is what we called him, apologized later for not being able to attend her funeral because he was out of town.

In the ER waiting room that Sunday, some 20 years later, I threw my arms around him, we hugged, I thanked him once more, he said again how sorry he was that he had not been able to attend Rita’s funeral, I told him how fortunate I was to have found Lillian after Rita’s death, and how lucky I was to be greeted by an angel named Father Bob Hubal in the ER that afternoon. I just knew everything was going to be OK after that as the nurse hustled me into an examining room.

Nurses cleaned my wound and put a small bandage over it. The friendliest ER doctor ever, Dr. Nigeria Stahl, came in, took a look and ordered X-rays to see if I had cut into the bone. (They showed I hadn’t.) An IV tube went into my arm and I was given a dose of Dilaudid intravenously. Dr. Stahl took out a needle and thread and sewed me up. Sterile pads, wrapped first in gauze, then Ace bandages to keep them secure, and within about an hour I walked to the car and Lillian drove me home, where I settled into that new recliner for the evening.

My Swiss Army knife.
My Swiss Army knife.

Now then, a word about recliners and Swiss Army knives.

I have carried one of the small multiuse knives in my right front pants pocket for most of my adult life. When I change pants, I just automatically put the two things I need most often in my day-to-day affairs in that pocket — a red knife with a little white cross on it and all the little tools I need, and an ink pen.

So when I went out to cut up that box, I just reached in my pocket and took out my newly sharpened knife to cut it up. Really sharp. My brother-in-law, Jason, brought his dad’s fancy sharpener — his dad used to own a hardware store — over when he came for Thanksgiving and sharpened all our knives — my Swiss Army Knife first.

I really do use that little sucker a lot — it has everything I need right there in my pocket: two knife blades, a screwdriver, a bottle opener, a tin can opener, a saw, a little scissors, a file, a tweezers, a toothpick and, most importantly, a corkscrew, which has saved my ass on quite a few camping trips.

There was a time a few years back when it seemed like I was always losing my knife. From time to time, I’d get up in the morning, put on my pants, and the knife would be gone. I’d search everywhere — the cushions on the couch and chairs, the washer and dryer, under the seat in my car, jacket pockets, the back patio — all the likely places I might have dropped it or set it down and forgot to pick it up — to no avail. After a day or two of feeling really naked, I’d stop by K-Mart and plunk down $13.97 for a new one.

All my Swiss Army knives.
All my Swiss Army knives.

One spring day, Lillian and I were giving the house a deep clean, and I was assigned the living room. Instead of just sliding my recliner off to the side to vacuum under it, I tipped it over on its side, and as it settled down onto the floor, I heard “thunk, thunk, thunk, thunk.” What the heck? I tipped it back up and there on the floor beside the chair laid four Swiss Army knives. Huh.

I picked them up, laid the chair back down on its side and discovered a sort of pocket of fabric under there, put there by the manufacturer, obviously, to catch things like knives that fall out of pockets and slide down between the cushions. Mystery solved.

And not only that, but I picked up almost enough change to buy a new knife, if I had needed one.

So now, I have five Swiss Army knives. No problem. I found a home for each of them. One’s still in my pants pocket — the sharp one — and one in my hiking daypack, one in my traveling backpack, one in my fishing tackle box and one in my hunting duffel bag.

Back to matters at hand (pun intended). On Monday, I weaseled my way into the office of a young hand surgeon for a decision on what to do next. Dr. Brock Norrie looks like he’s probably younger than my grandson, and that’s always a little unnerving. (By the way, have I told you more than once that I became a great-grandpa a couple of weeks ago? Grandson Thomas James (ahem) Murdoch and his wife Adair brought a little boy named Xander James (ahem) into the world January 9.)

The view from my recliner. A fire to keep me warm on a cold winter day.
The view from my recliner. A fire to keep me warm on a cold winter day.

Dr. Norrie’s a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with a special extended residency in hand surgery. I was in good hands (pun intended). We scheduled reconstructive surgery for Friday. All seemed to go well. So now, 10 days after the “incident” and five days after surgery, here’s the report:

It hurts.

Dr. Norrie said he thinks everything went well. I’ll be wearing a brace to protect it, wrapped in an Ace bandage, supported by a sling to keep my arm at a 90-degree angle, for about six weeks. And typing with one hand. I hope it didn’t take you as long to read this as it did me to type it.

Oh, they gave me some good drugs, but they raise havoc with my sleep and bowel habits, so I’m trying to just stick to Tylenol. And I’m sticking real close to that new recliner. It owes me one. Luckily, there’s some real exciting things on TV right now, live from our nation’s Capitol, greatly enhancing my napping capabilities. It’s a great napping recliner. It’s 9 a.m. I’m going there right now.

2 thoughts on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Thumbs, Knives And Recliners”

  • Kevin Bonham January 23, 2020 at 1:00 pm

    To quote a recent president, I feel your pain. I had a similar experience back when I was living in Pennsylvania. I was using a bow saw to cut a couple of branches off of a Christmas tree so the trunk would fit in the stand. Well, the saw jumped out of the groove and right across the top of my left hand, opening a 3-inch gash just above my thumb — and fortunately, just a tiny fraction of an inch from a vein. After finally getting the bleeding stopped, at least temporarily, I decided to skip the ER because I had bowling league that night. It was the ‘70s, after all. Well I made it through one game before the blood started oozing through my homemade bandage. I finally went to the ER, where I got a few stitches, some drugs and a lecture from the ER doctor and from my wife. I still have a faint scar.

  • LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Winter Notes No. 5 – UNHERALDED.FISH February 11, 2020 at 8:20 am

    […] This January and February have been anything but “normal,” whatever that is. My laptop died for good a couple of months ago. The holidays happened. Badlands Conservation Alliance hired a new executive director. Jim had a mishap with a pocket knife. […]


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