In High School my Construction Technology teacher shared a story about something that happened in the field; it illustrated the need to stay calm under pressure. He was working a steep pitched roof with a coworker. He was installing the shingles while the co worker made any custom cuts that were needed. A slip of the knife caused a very deep laceration which triggered shock and then panic in the co worker. Stuck on the roof with his bleeding friend with no one around (and before the days of cell phones) he had to think fast in order to save his friend’s life. Unable to get him off the roof by himself, he tore fabric from a shirt and wrapped the wound. Unable to leave him while he was thrashing about while in shock for fear that he could fall off the roof; he literally nailed his friend’s clothing to the roof so he could not fall off. He then climbed off the roof and found help. Due to the calm but quick response, the hand and life were saved.
I have been accused of being devoid of emotion in times of crisis; it just occurs to me that emotion and reason do not necessarily go together when it hits the fan. If I have to make a choice between the two, I will take reason and save emotions for the happier times.
Labor Day brought changes to my schedule that were unplanned. Last minute cancellations brought the opportunity to work at Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm. I fired up Red, loaded with my old Craftsman chainsaw and sawing helmet and headed out to clear some trees that were blocking the trail that leads to the upper meadow. I was working alone (not a good idea when felling trees) and the trees which were once Christmas trees that were never selected and became very intertwined and tall, made for close confines and some tricky cuts. Though the trees were over twenty feet tall or so, a few remained standing even after being cut down; this was not a good choice for solo projects for a relative newbie such as myself (less than a year of part time chain saw experience under my belt). The cutting went well for a while until one tree got away from me and required some fast moving of my arms and legs; it turned out that my arms are must faster in tight quarters than my legs and the moving chain (my saw lacks modern safety devices that lock the chain when triggered; those came after mine was built) was briefly introduced to my left quadriceps (thigh). At times such as this, you need not even look down to realize you are in trouble. Still, without a yell I did look down and found that though I had about 8 slices in my leg from the glancing blow, the blood was flowing slowly and it did not appear to be life threatening. I remained calm, and assessed my situation. It became clear that my best option was to partially limb (saw off the branches) the tree that I just fell in order to have a path out of the tree grove and access to my tractor Red which would bring me back to the barn. As I drove to the barn I waved at my mom who was walking our dog Helen and did my best not to cause alarm. I did the same as I neared the barn and saw that my wife was walking toward me. She noticed the blood, I assured her that I was ok and continued to the barn, when once inside I pulled the fabric from my clothes aside and began pouring on my “farmer’s friend” which is a quart of rubbing alcohol that I keep handy in case of emergency (*I am not endorsing this method of first aid mind you. Clean water and soap for washing wounds is hard to come by when you lack running water.). Once thoroughly cleaned out I set out to bandage it; put away the equipment and go home and rest. Debreading (removing the dead/ torn skin with scissors) and antibiotic ointment would come later once home. Plenty of reassuring those around me assisted in making the situation calmer…
My teacher helped prepare me for the proper mindset for when a crisis should occur. We as clinicians also play the role of teacher both inside and outside of the counseling setting. By modeling behavior, “practicing what we preach” and maintaining proper emotional balance, we can help minimize many a potential catastrophic event.
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).