Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Old Lumberjacks Don't Have All Their Fingers.

   This is a parable I've thought about putting here for years.  It's my own, I think.  And- I just conducted a nice proof of it; so it's highly relevant.

   My excuse for dropping off for a few days (this time) - I got bitten by a cat; on the hand.

  Bitten hard, is the thing, and right on the ball of the index finger; down to bone, maybe.  Dumb, huh?

  Cripes.  I'm a trained animal behaviorist, and have been handling cats- including in highly difficult circumstances; literally for decades.  So why did I allow myself to get bitten?  Same reason why Old Lumberjacks Don't Have All Their Fingers.

   There's a real reason- and it's not all that obvious.  It's a really good thing to keep in mind.  Since I made the parable up, at least 25 years ago, you'd think I'd remember- but the fact that I didn't- is actually a proof of the parable- and "a warning to those who would be warned", in the words of the Thousand And One Nights.

  Cat bites are no joke; don't get bitten.  The Mayo Clinic hand surgeons recently published the information that 30% of the cat bite patients they see- wind up hospitalized, for an average of 3.2 days.  I'm on two antibiotics, after the emergency room visit.

   The Parable Of The Old Lumberjacks And Their Missing Fingers

   Young lumberjacks are not dumb.  When they get into the business, they look to their seniors to learn how to do the job.  It's known to be dangerous; deadly, indeed.  People die every year doing this.  Trees are massive, and gravity is absolutely unforgiving.

   Old lumberjacks are, frequently, missing a finger or two; or some pieces of fingers.  Young lumberjacks see this instantly.  They ask the old lumberjacks how it happened - and why.

   The old lumberjacks are universally just a bit embarrassed about it.

   "Got careless."

   "Why?  How did you let that happen?"  Puzzlement.

   "Well.  It was late; the end of the day.  Had this one job left; then I could go home."

   A pause occurs.  And a sigh.

  "I broke a rule.  Knew I shouldn't.  But it was just this little quick thing- thought I could get away with it.  Stuck my hand where I shouldn't.  There's a damn good reason for the rules.  Broke one- here I am.  Paid for it."

  The young lumberjack, in awe of the expertise of the old lumberjack, is nonetheless just a tad scornful of anyone stupid enough to break work rules like "don't put your hand in danger".  "Man, I'm NEVER going to break a rule!",  they swear to themselves, and they mean it.

   And?  They don't.  Break rules.  They are very, very careful- and never, ever, break a rule; or put their body parts in danger.  The image of those missing fingers is extremely durable- and forceful.  Why would you ever take a risk like that?

   And?  They don't get hurt.

   Year after year.

   And there, my dears, is the problem.

   Year after year- the young lumberjack works safely.  No injuries; good hard work done.  Year after year, the rules keep him safe.  And; little by little; insidiously, inevitably, he begins to believe - that it is never going to happen to him.  The years add weight to that belief that it is almost humanly impossible to ignore.  "I'm careful.  Always.  I don't take risks."

   Then, years later: it's late.  One last thing to do.  It'll just take a fraction of a second to do this... I've never had an accident... just this once...

  And.  Whammo.  Missing fingers.

  It's a trap our own brains and humanity set for us.  Be warned, those who would take warning.


  So why did I get a cat bite on the hand?  Um.  It was late... I've been handling difficult cats for flipping decades... never had a real bite... used gloves when medicating...

  : - )  My other excuse is, I'd had to manhandle this cat's father a few days prior- he sneaked into the root cellar behind me, and I needed him out, so I could close it, and he was evading me... it was late...  And the father is a big, tough, originally semi-feral intact tom, who has never been a lap cat.  I was quite rude about it; dragged him out from under a shelf by one hind leg, picked him up... and the tom was extremely polite about it all, and very careful of me; claws fully retracted at all times in spite of it all.  I had reason to expect him to be polite, actually, we have a great relationship.

  So this half-grown cat, potentially in training to be an inside-outside cat (one lap cat can be nice, yes?) had been naughty, and knew it; up on the table, grabbed a chicken bone, while I was upstairs singing to Smidgen... I was trying to move him out the door, he evaded, I grabbed- and he BIT.

  Dumb, dumb, dumb- and expensive.  And I so knew better.

  Just call me Sven.


Jan said...

That is a great parable.

My father was an electrician as a young man. He worked his way up to electrical engineer. There was nothing he didn't know about electricity.

One day when he was in his 50s he was working on repairing my electric stove. I don't know what happened, but there was a arc in the air, he was thrown across the room and we had a small fire.

All he said was, "Guess I learned something today."

Ruben said...

The thing is, my cat Mabel had a soft and pure white belly. But she hated having it stroked--she kept all that downy softness for herself.

One day she was lazing around, lying on her side. I started stroking her belly, thinking I could pull back before she got me. But get me she did; I went to the hospital when I found the red streaks had hit my shoulder. Five days of visits for intravenous antibiotics and $1500 worth of drugs. Thank you Canadian Medicare!

The doctor said cats teeth are like syringes of bacteria--very nasty.

Chos said...

Take care of that hand.

Always full of appreciation for your generous posts, so thank you for that!

We'll be sending healing thoughts your way.

Mark P said...

It's true. All of it. Lumberjack rules and cat bites. My wife was bitten twice by the same cat, almost exactly a year apart. Once all she needed was shots. The second time she ended up in the hospital. Our vet says any time a cat bites him he gives himself the antibiotic as a matter of course.

Susan Och said...

I dealt blackjack to a woman who had a hand in an elaborate brace/bandage. She told me that her elderly cat had to be put down and, on the vet's table, as her last act, bit her owner and held on, resulting in a wound that required hospitalization for the infection. Months later and she was still recovering. She also still had fond feelings for the cat.

Greenpa said...

Susan- good to hear from you, and - yike. My normal rule for wrassling cats is- only with serious leather gloves and heavy long sleeves. The thing about hand bites - that my emergency room doctor explained, but I never saw during my web homework - is that the very sharp cat's tooth only has to nick into a tendon sheath, and you can wind up with an infection inside the sheath or the tendon itself. Antibiotics don't penetrate the tough tissue well enough, and it's surgery at that point. And your hand is totally full of tendons, ligaments, and all the accompanying bits.

Greenpa said...

Susan - "She also still had fond feelings for the cat."

And I understand. I think the proof of self- awareness in other species is completely convincing, and I include cats and dogs there.

I would have to believe her cat knew what was going on- and cats are exceptionally tenacious of life. Besides the ancient "they have 9 lives"; my own vet once told us, when we brought a cat in to be stapled back together after a run-in with either a raccoon or coyote - "What vets say is; with cats, if all the parts are in the same room, the cat will get better."

I don't blame the cats. They're being cats. Most mistakes with animals come from our human tendency to see them as humans; and of course, they aren't. Their minds, senses, and intelligences are very, very different from ours.

Susan Och said...

I'm thinking that you might want to read what I wrote about ads when I first put them on my blog in 2005:href="">Artificial Intelligence and Chickens

Susan Och said...

HA! I'm so out-of-blogging that I can't write a proper link tag anymore! I see from my Reader that you wrote a review of the ad program, but it doesn't show up when I click on your blog. I'm guessing that they are sensitive about reviews of their product. I'd love to hear about your experience.

Susan Och said...

I see from my Reader that you wrote a post about your experience with ads, ("How Rude") but I can't seem to actually read it. Are you being censored?