To Catch a Falling Knife

By | September 13, 2002

It’s been nearly two weeks (Monday, Sept. 2) since I had an unfortunate run-in with a suicidal steak knife.

Sandra and I were splitting a frozen dinner (Marie Callender’s chicken parmigiana pasta with a marinara sauce, for the morbidly curious). The included chicken breast wasn’t particularly tough, but we were using a steak knife to cut it. Not just any steak knife, though. We were using a sleek, all steel Henckels steak knife. Slender, attractive, and an utter ergonomic disaster. To hold the knife comfortably, you need really small hands, say like the hands of a four year-old. Pre-schoolers seem like a strange target market for steak knives, but who am I to tell them how to design knives? After all, we bought a set of four. After using them for a couple months, we bought another set of four. What were we thinking?

Anyway, while slicing off a succulent piece of reconstituted chicken, I lifted the knife up and away from the partitioned serving platter and the knife slipped backward through my hand.

Everyone knows that you don’t reach for falling knives. I bet you believe you wouldn’t reach for a falling knife. But in that fraction of a second as the knife starts its downward path, rational thoughts don’t tend to win the battle to get commands sent through the nervous system out to the hands. Hands seem to have their own set of instincts, many of which we live to regret.

The knife fell downward heel first, toward the top of my thigh. The heel of the knife landed on my thigh, leaving the sharp, pointy end aiming straight up at the ceiling. As I moved my right hand down and back, it headed directly into the path of the perfectly balanced knife. The point of the knife entered my palm about an inch directly below the base of my little finger. Since the knife was resting on my thigh, it did not move very much after contact was made. My hand had been moving pretty fast. Ouch.

I leaned my hand slowly to the right and gazed in wonderment at how wide the knife blade was at the point where it intersected with my hand. Then I realized that this meant a substantial part of the knife was inside of my hand. This period of wonderment lasted approximately 34 milliseconds. I moved my hand away and the knife fortunately dropped away to the floor. I quickly grabbed my palm hard with my left hand as the blood started to flood out. I ran to the sink and managed to get there before blood dripped down from my hand.

After about ten minutes standing over the sink and pressing very hard on the wound, Sandra helped me slip a big wad of gauze in between my left palm and the wound. I then headed into the living room and laid down on the floor as my legs started feeling all wiggly.

This story is even more fun when you know that I’m pretty squeamish about the various bodily contents that lie beneath my skin. When I get a shot, I get all cold and clammy and woozy. I would be an absolutely awful heroin addict. I even passed out once during the blind-you-with-the-blue-light-and-poke-you-in-the-eye glaucoma test. But that’s another story.

After about 45 minutes of pressure applied with the gauze, Sandra cleaned out the wound (remember that part about the marinara sauce?) and dressed it with a large bandage. I am so lucky she lacks any squeamishness in this regard. While I think it wouldn’t affect me so much if it weren’t my blood, that’s just a theory. Of course, Sandra once stitched up her own finger with a needle and thread after accidentally deeply cutting her finger while slicing what turned out to be a still partially frozen bagel. But that’s another story.

One thing I was really lucky about is that the cut was lengthwise in the direction of my fingers. This greatly reduced the chances of severing large vessels, tendons, or muscles.

After a couple days of greatly reduced flexibility, my right hand slowly started to return to normal. It’s been 11 days, and there is still a slight tenderness when I press on the wound and a little stiffness when I flex my hand. When riding my bike today, I had a slight bit of discomfort when climbing a steep hill with my hands on the tops of the bars.

Tonight I decided to try to figure out how deep the cut was. Assuming the knife went straight in, which I’m pretty sure it did, comparing the length of the cut to the width of the knife would tell me how deep it went. The knife starts out at a sharp point, and then widens along the serrated edge side as you move away from the point. The cut is 5/16” long. At the point the knife width reaches 5/16″, the length from the point is just over 1/4″. For my metric pals, that would be 0.64 cm.

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