“Life moves too fast. Time to slow things down.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Nine

Steel Trap

This is a “T” Beam. It serves a variety of purposes in the steel industry.

If a series of T Beams are placed side by side, (upside down with the flat part on the ground) placing each individual beam three feet apart from one another, structural steel can then be placed across them length wise.

Typically, the T’s I worked with at the mill, were twenty feet in length.

Configuring the steel in this fashion, placing and spacing them like railroad ties, created a “beam bed” of sorts. A place to keep heavy steel elevated, off the ground, and at knee height.

Heavy steel can rust if not covered and protected with special paint. Sometimes structural steel is subjected to the harsh unpredictable elements; piled in neat stacks outdoors, waiting to be delivered to their designated work site. In the event the fabricated steel needed to be outside, it requires a protective layer of paint. In the mill I was employed at we had what we named, the Paint Bay.

An open space within the building with a large ventilation system built into the wall. Each piece of steel we worked with varied from small parts that fit in the hand, to fifty foot long dangerous heavy beams. Some weighing many tons and transported into the painting room by crane.

The sprayer was connected to a compressor and with the squeeze of a trigger, crimson paint ejected from a nozzle in a wide spray. Not unlike many tools used to paint a home, an outside deck, or a car.

When I was first released from the mill I had a position creating stairs and hand railings. Constructing material needed for handicap ramps and winding multi floor staircases in office buildings. We had contracts for hospitals, schools, businesses and local projects. The experience was educational and forced me to think.

But most of all, I enjoyed visualizing and creating a usable and important product.

The contracts dried out. I was let go.

When I returned to the mill I was given an ultimatum. Similar to the print shop basement, the exception being, I hadn’t even seen the door yet. My situation was determined over the phone before even walking through the door and reentering the steel industry.

My equipment allowance stays the same. Benefits remain the same. A dollar an hour pay cut, ten hours less per week, no overtime options, flipping beams in the Paint Bay, or nothing at all. Take it or leave it.

Readjust, move some things around, think it through, budget…

“You’ve got a deal, boss. See you tomorrow.”

I was just happy to have employment again and be reintegrated with a familiar crew.

The work however, was less than satisfying.

A beam enters the bay, lowered by a crane device, and placed along the bed. One side is then coated with thick red paint from end to end leaving no area untouched. The crane operator rolls the beam over, returns it to the bed, and the underside is finished. The crane takes the product away either to be stored, or loaded on a truck.

It had it’s fair share of danger. Paint jammed up in the nozzle once and created a pressurized back spray, coating the side of my face. The only method of removal was an industrial strength paint thinner/cleaner that felt like liquid fire. Making gasoline or other paint thinners on the skin feel like a soothing moisturizer.

The cleaner left the cheek raw and red, sore and tender to the touch. The skin around the eyes swell and the whites become bloodshot. But hey… at least the paint is gone.

During the busy times we became adept and quick on the feet. We could maneuver around the Paint Bay with ease if we walked across the edges of the T Beams and hop from one side of the steel to the other. Attempting a balancing act wearing steel toe work boots.

Walking along the T’s was considered dangerous and frowned upon, but never really enforced.

Guiding a beam to the bed one afternoon, I stepped up onto a T beam and started my walk across the edges towards the center.

Lost my focus for half a second, missed the step, and was flailing in open air as my body kept moving forward and down to the paint crusted beams.

Over time, paint build-up creates miniaturized stalagmites across the tops of the T shaped steel. Pointed daggers of solidified paint. We barely notice as we’re usually walking over them and crushing them flat.

Falling across the surface of the bed my last resort was to thrust out my hand to lessen the impact.  My body crashed along the top, my palm hit the ground and bent it backwards wrenching my wrist. My hardhat was thrown from my head, the wind was knocked from my chest and my co-worker was right at my side to rescue me and get me in a better position.

I was escorted to the central office to file an accident report.

I tripped, slipped and fell.  Report filed.

That evening my wrist was screaming for a doctor to fix it. I couldn’t wiggle my fingers. My thumb swelled and wouldn’t move, and still in my work clothes, I was brought to the emergency room.

“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, rate how your hand feels.”

I clutched the wrist with my good hand and held it above my heart to ease the throbbing, “Nine, I guess.”

She gave it a gentle squeeze in random locations, testing my threshold of pain, half grinning at my winces and jotted her notes on the paperwork. “Seems to be a nasty sprain. We’ll do an x-ray and maybe see about an air cast. You’ll probably get a couple days off. Any other injuries sustained in the fall?”

I reached to my shin and poked my finger through a small incision sliced through my work pants. I had a Band-aid covering a cut on my leg. “I landed on a jagged paint chip and it cut through my pants. It’s tiny,” I lifted the bandage, revealed the pencil eraser sized wound, and her eyes opened wide,  “Just my wrist really. Should I take some Tylenol for the pain?”

The woman jumped to her feet, grabbed a nearby phone from a wall jack and bellowed into the receiver, “I need a gurney in nurse station, number two, stat! We have an emergency! Clear the back room!”

What… in… the… world?

“Now, Jeremy,” She lowered her face to mine, “I need you to be calm and relaxed.  Take deep breaths.”

What are you talking about?

A gurney was wheeled to the nurses station. With the help of an orderly and a second nurse, I was hoisted on the gurney and rushed to a back room. I didn’t even have a limp. I could very well have used my own two feet.

A doctor walked beside me flashing his pesky light in my eye, breathing in my face, “How long ago, nurse?”

She flipped through my chart, “Accident report filed at two this afternoon. Arrived twenty minutes ago.”

“Changes to vitals?”

“None. Blood pressure is a little high. But that can be contributed to the wrist injury.”

My head turned side to side, listening to each one rattle off their replies, and I interrupted, “Yeah. My wrist hurts like hell and its why I’m here. Can someone tell me what’s going on?”

The doctor grabbed my wrist and looked to his watch. “Nurse, I need a full saline and a local numbing agent. Get him to room three at once.”

Are you sure you have the right guy? Can I see my chart please?

I lowered myself into room three’s inclined bed and sat in patience while waiting for someone to return. The medical staff seemed to abandon me in a far corner of the emergency room and I felt clammy and nervous while awaiting their arrival.

The nurse returned with a pair of scissors, hacked through my pants cuff and brought the slicing blades straight up my leg, tearing the material to my upper thigh. She splayed open the fabric, pulled the bandage from my skin and exited the room again.  When she returned a few minutes later, the doctor walked in slow behind her.

“Holy cow, doctor. Can you please fill me in on the big secret?  What’s happening?” I ran my fingers through my hair and down my face.

He came to stand beside me, “The good news is, you showed Carol the cut. If you hadn’t said anything, there would be no chance.”

“No chance for what?”

“The wound sits on top of the shin bone. If it was paint that punched through the skin, there’s a good chance it may get into the bone and a number of things could then happen. If they’re any fragments or residual debris in the wound, we could be looking at blood poisoning, or infections.”

The nurse jammed a needle in my leg to numb it. After feeling the warm sting of the liquid entering my calf, I looked away from the injection and the doctor finished.

“If we don’t get it all out of there right now… you could lose your leg.”

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