Bouncing back after horrific hand injury
David Scraders depends almost entirely on his hands to make a living. For the last 20 years, he’s been working as a sign maker and putting down road markings for the Ministry of Public Works.
He never fully appreciated his hands until he almost lost one in a workplace accident in April 2017.
“I was rushing that day,” the 62-year-old remembered.
“I was given a rush job on a pedestrian crossing sign and I had something else I needed to work on.”
He used a metal template to make the sign, then hung it up, forgetting the template’s sharp edge. Without him even noticing, the template slashed the top of his right hand, almost completely severing a tendon.
“I didn’t know I’d cut myself until I got about 15ft away from the template,” he said.
“I felt something strange, looked at my hand and noticed a cut, but not a lot of blood. Tendons don’t carry blood as veins do. They mainly help to facilitate movement in the hand.”
He went straight to the emergency room where a surgeon sewed him up.
His ordeal was not over. A few days after surgery, the wound started to smell and turn black under the bandage. He had a life-threatening Staphylococcus infection.
“They were saying they might have to amputate the hand,” he said.
“I spent nine days in the hospital hooked up to this vacuum that sucked out the poisons in my body.”
His situation was further complicated by diabetes.
“I was diagnosed about 20 years ago and try to eat healthy,” he said.
“Still my sugar numbers were a bit too high. If it had just been a cut, I probably would have been all right, but this wound was so serious my body just couldn’t deal with it.”
Emotionally, he didn’t know what to think during the experience.
“At first, I was really down on myself,” Mr Scraders said.
“My brother Ronald, got to talking to me and said ‘hey, that’s why they call them accidents. You didn’t mean to do it. Stop bringing yourself down because it happened’.”
After that, Mr Scraders was determined to be positive.
“I tried to stay upbeat,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the miserable guy, all hurt.”
After his infection cleared up, doctors sent him to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for further surgery on the tendon.
“I went up there, but they sent me home for a bit,” he said.
“My fingers were still too stiff for the surgery. They wanted me to do some exercises to build them up.”
In the meantime, he was getting far too intimate with the inner workings of his hand, which was left exposed under a bandage.
“I had to look at it every day,” he said.
“I could see quite deep into my hand. It was like a horror movie. There was some pain, but the hand was more stiff and uncomfortable, than anything else.”
In May 2017, he went back to MGH, where doctors finally repaired the tendon.
“They cut 17 inches of skin from my thigh and sewed it over the wound on my hand,” he said.
“They put a lot of it there, at first, to take into account shrinkage.”
He spent a week at MGH, and then five weeks recovering in a hotel in Boston. He was finally able to return to work in January.
Today, his hand is doing well, but he admits to sometimes feeling a little self conscious.
“The funny thing is the patch from my leg has completely different hair growing on it, than the rest of my arm,” he said.
“They assured me the hand will be all right, but it will never look the same way again.
“I’m happy that I still have the use of my hand. I can’t quite fully make a fist yet, but maybe over a period of time.”
Getting back into the rhythm of work was no problem for him, but it was difficult for him to get into his hobby, tai chi, again.
The former North Village football player started tai chi after experiencing back pain 20 years ago.
“It brings me a sense of calm and peace at times when I need it,” Mr Scraders said.
“I am like other human beings, I have my frustrating times. It opens my mind and gives me something to look for. It is very stimulating and helps me feel young again.”
After his hand surgery, he found it too uncomfortable.
“I took up walking for a little bit to compensate,” he said. “It is only recently that I got to feeling more comfortable with tai chi. Nine months off took away a bit of my muscle memory, and memory of the form, but I am trying to regain it back.”
Ironically, he said this is the happiest he has ever felt in his life.
“The accident was a kind of spiritual awakening,” he said.
“It gives you the chance to sit down and really think about the blessing of still having a hand. When you see that side of it, you can be happy. I am just happy they could save my hand. If I had been a little bull-headed and left it for a few more days, it might have been fatal.
“I want to say my heart goes out to the people at KEMH and MGH who worked with me, particularly my hand surgeon Kyle Eberlin. They were there for me, and I will never forget what they have done for me. I am so thankful.”