Hurting Hands

by Scott Hewett
Capitola, California, USA

Hurting Hands

During the winter of 1986, I was working in construction near Oakland, California. It is not unusual for construction workers’ hands to become very painful during the winter season from working with concrete, wet lumber, mud, etc. My hands were no exception that year. They were literally cracking open and bleeding at the joints in the fingers and thumbs.

To stop work because your hands hurt is simply not an option in the construction industry. You grit your teeth, keep working, and finish the job —  doing further damage to your hands in the process. The only respite occurs on weekends. My co-workers and I had been consoling each other daily on how bad our hands had gotten. The pain is similar to “paper cuts” occurring many times an hour.

One morning I left for work at 5:00 a.m. to pour concrete, pulling into a gas station to fuel up. As I got out of my truck, I noticed a newspaper delivery van. The driver was struggling with bales of newspapers. I took a second look and noticed that the man had some sort of birth defect and had no forearms. Where most people have elbows, he had appendages that looked more like an otter’s flippers than hands. I was amazed to see him doing a job that would otherwise require a very physically gifted person. Still, he was struggling somewhat with the larger bundles because his arms simply weren’t long enough to encircle the bales. He had to “pinch” the bundles and lift them with his stubby arms.

On my way to pay for the gasoline, I stopped and asked him if I could help him in any way. He politely refused my offer. A few minutes later while I was refueling, he exclaimed, “Hey buddy, I could use some help. Would you mind tying my shoes for me?” As I was tying his shoes, he went on to explain that tying his shoes was the ONLY thing he couldn’t do for himself. He thanked me as I got in my truck and started to drive away.

I came to a full stop and looked back at him as he was getting into his van. I looked down at my hands. Suddenly it hit me: I had been complaining about my hurting hands for weeks. That man back there would do anything, anything at all, to have my cracked and bleeding hands. Every winter when my hands start cracking and bleeding, I think back to that chance encounter in 1986. That man would do anything to have these hands. And just like magic, they stop hurting.

Originally published as HeroicStories #94 on December 7, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.

3 thoughts on “Hurting Hands”

  1. Stories of gratitude, especially of things that we totally take for granted, are not only heart-warming, but a reminder to us to be conscious of what we live with on a daily basis. Our hands are the most extraordinary parts of our totally extraordinary bodies. Scott, thank you for the years when you used and abused your hands during your construction days, and hopefully now they are fully healed.

  2. Wow! Thanks for highlighting that no matter how bad things are for me at times that it’s often better than I realize since I only concentrated on the bad thing(s) and not included the good things.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  3. I had a similar experience when I was fifteen and got my very first “real job” at a sheet metal shop. While loading a heavy steel package chute onto a truck for delivery to a Sears store, I caught the middle finger of my right hand between the chute and the truck bed, ripping off the fingernail and cutting the flesh on the other side to the bone (that fingertip is still a bit numb 57 years later). It hurt and it bled … a lot.

    They took me for treatment to an emergency clinic nearby in the industrial area of town where the shop was. I was sitting in the waiting room with my hand wrapped in a towel feeling sorry for myself and waiting to be seen when the door opened and a guy walked in with three fingers that were all damaged much worse than mine, and, like magic, I felt about 90% better. It’s all relative.


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