On the farm or in the fields, accidents and first aid come with the territory

A metal first aid box with a giant red cross on it.
First aid kits are a must on any farm or homestead. Just be sure to check the expiration dates of any and all contents, lest they be expired or, worse yet, rendered to dust.|Photo by Julia Bayly

There’s an inescapable reality when you live on a farm or spend a lot of active time out of doors: Accidents happen and you can get hurt.  Which is why every farmer, homesteader and outdoors enthusiast knows the value of a good field first aid kit and woodland wound care.

Certainly, on our more than three decades here on Rusty Metal Farm, there have been countless instances that have necessitated immediate, on the spot care. And, not that Patrick and I ever really kept score, but if we did, it’s not an exaggeration to say that a vast majority of that care was needed by yours truly.

It’s not that Patrick never got hurt on the farm, it’s just that it did not happen all that often, and when it did, he largely took care of it himself with a minimum of whining or complaining — two things at which I excel. I’d see him come in at the end of the day with one or more fingers or a thumb wrapped in rags and secured with duct tape.

“This?” he’d say, holding up the slightly grimy and wounded digit. “It’s not that bad, my hand just slipped a bit while I was —” (fill in the blank). 

Patrick was the kind of guy who was extremely competent with hand and power tools and took most of the safety precautions. I say most because there times either due to a desire to rush the job or save on parts, he took some questionable shortcuts.

Like the time he was replacing some sort of widget on his beloved brush hog. A brush hog is a giant mower that pulls behind a tractor. Instead of mowing lawns it cuts brush, small trees and pretty much anything else that gets in its way with rapidly spinning four-foot steel blades.

He’d been out there a while, and when he finally came back inside, he was holding his right hand as if it were in pain. Turns out, instead of removing a section of the mower to get to the widget he reached down into the bowels of the mower to grab it. And got his hand completely stuck between the widget and some steel plating.

There he remained for a good hour, as he tried slowly pulling, twisting, turning and just plain yanking his hand back out. I honestly have no idea how long he would have stayed before yelling to me for help or chewing his handoff.

When I asked him why he did not yell for me, he just grinned and admitted the whole thing was embarrassing and he was afraid I’d laugh.

Point taken. While I certainly would have helped, there would have been laughing. However, in my defense — and certainly in the forefront of Patrick’s decision making — was an incident just a few weeks earlier when yours truly was finishing up some laundry for a camping trip the next day.

Wanting to make sure the dryer lint trap was totally cleaned out, I stuck my hand down into the hole in which the trap is placed so I could scoop out any lint that the trap had not caught. It was a good plan, right up until I tried to get my hand back out. Yeah, super stuck

I called Patrick to come down and help and when he saw what was going on, I don’t think he’d ever laughed quite that hard. However, he did get a screwdriver and some other tools to extricate me. Taking the dryer camping with us as an extension of my arm would have been somewhat unwieldy.

So, would I have laughed when he got stuck in the brush hog? Hell yes. 

It was actually quite rare for Patrick to be out working on things solo. I was often there to keep him company or to run and fetch parts or tools. And that’s where I often got hurt — tripping over things in my excitement to be of use. 

For accidents that could be treated on the farm, he liked to remind me of his fully stocked, government-approved first aid kit he kept hung on the wall in the shop. Oddly, it hung there for years without being opened. I can’t tell you why, other than when we had to patch each other up, it was just easier to grab some bandages and whatever else we needed from the bathroom.

But when we’d go hiking that kit came with us. And, one of the happiest days of his life was the moment he finally could open it up to use the contents to treat a burst blister on my foot sustained while hiking along the Gaspe Peninsula.

Carefully Patrick pulled the white metal box with the red cross emblazoned on the front out of his pack. Almost reverently he flipped open the two metal catches and slowly lifted off the lid. Inside, packed with military precision were boxes of aspirin, bandages, gauze and other first aid necessities.

Did I mention this kit was manufactured in 1962? Or that I seriously doubt Patrick had ever opened it since 1962? To his horror, as he opened box after box of first aid materials on that fateful day in 1989, only dust, scraps and chunks of sticky goo would fall out.

Contents of old first aid kit, including a booklet of first aid procedures from 1961.
A well-stocked first aid kit is important. In this case, the kit was well stocked, circa 1961 and today could be better described as “Safety Then.” | Photo by Julia Bayly

While he morosely swept that all up from the forest floor and dumped it back in the box, I looked around for some moss to cover my oozing wound and tried to keep a straight face. My foot ended up being fine, we continued our hiking trip and when we got home a week or so later, that first aid kit was hung right back up in Patrick’s shop. And was never spoken of again. We did however not long after go shopping for a new first aid kit.

That first aid kit is still hanging there, and I’d like to say not am I older, but far wiser when it comes to not getting hurt working on the farm. But that would be a lie. I will say there is a new, modern first aid kit when I need it. That, and — to date — I’ve not had to chew my hand off to escape a tractor implement or an appliance.

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